American Golf’s Distant History

How Did the U.S. History of Golf Start, and Who Were the Greats?

Those of us who have been around a while and walked a few fairways tend to believe that we know the story of golf here on the North American continent. Canada and the U.S. have a separate history, but the timeline is fairly parallel.  In the American’s case, the game was started by troublemakers – wouldn’t you just know it?Yes, before the colonies got together, a group of men were apprehended hitting balls with sticks – through the windows of their neighbors. Two years before the Declaration of Independence was created and signed, shipments of golf equipment landed on American shores in Savannah, Georgia from where else – Scotland.

The Savannah Golf Club is a contender for the oldest , claiming 1794 or the following year. Charleston asserts that it wins out by starting in 1786. I suppose that it was good for post-war national jitters. Our first course was St. Andrews, in New York. There, the similarity to Queen Mary of Scot’s lavish club ends. Three holes in the middle of a cow pasture was nothing to brag about to English friends. Most courses were naturally created in the east. Lewis and Clark didn’t run across very many on their overland route to the Pacific during the Jefferson administration. The best were Shinnecock in New York, and the Newport Club in Rhode Island. Someone in the west was apparently paying attention, though. Tacoma, Washington built one in 1894.
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In the same year, the USGA came into being, originally called the American Golf Association of the United States. Their first dilemma was to decide which prestigious tournament would symbolize the national championship. Charles Blair McDonald had finished second in two of them, but once the problem was solved, he won the first official U.S. Amateur.

With the primitive nature of the American game, it doesn’t seem fair that MacDonald , the “Grandfather of American Golf” trained at St. Andrews University with Old Tom Morris. now there was some real history.  A gifted course designer, he created the Chicago Golf Club Course, and set out to establish high-level courses in his home country. One of his holes remains at Shinnecock. MacDonald never charged for his services.
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The first U.S. Open was taken by Horace Rawlins, which didn’t seem fair, either. American golf was certainly dominated by a lot of British players in the early years. Actually, Rawlins hailed from the Isle of Wight where he caddied with his brother. From a group of fine players at the Isle of Wight Club, he found a position in Newport, Rhode Island, and soon won his first tournament. His take was $150,, a gold medal, and the cup, which went to his club.

We know that the LPGA wasn’t established until later, but women were playing the game, too. However, considering the vintage photos, back swings must have been short. In the modern day, those elaborate get–ups would be torn to shreds by the heavy hitters. And the hats! If they didn’t keep the head down, they would at least keep it still.

The woman to win the first U.S. Women’s Amateur was Lucy Barnes Brown. The tournament went 18 holes of stroke play. Barnes set the course record, walked away with the trophy, and never played in the event again. As the 1950s had their heroines of the new tour, the generations before had theirs as well. i am certain that we could look back even further and run into a host of equally unfamiliar names.

Around the Roaring 20s, caddie Francis Quimet took golf back for the non-wealthy, and became a hero to working class Americans. Now, they had something to brag about, as Quimet defeated the British giants who showed to teach America what it was all about. The American history of the game doesn’t strike me as all that grand, but things did improve. it started with a felony, and ended up at Augusta.

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