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Golf in America

Golf in America

George B. Kirsch
Benjamin G. Rader
Randy Roberts
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Golf in America
    Book Description:

    In 1888, native Scotsman and iron magnate John Reid and a fellow countryman played an informal game of golf in Reid's cow pasture in Yonkers, New York. Only months later they founded the St. Andrews Golf Club, the first modern golf club in the United States. Ever since, Americans from all walks of life have been teeing off and enjoying the addictive Scottish sport on public and private courses across the country. In this concise social history of golf in the United States from the 1880s to the present, George B. Kirsch tracks the surprising growth of golf as a popular, mainstream sport, in contrast to the stereotype of golf as a pastime enjoyed only by the rich elite. While golf retains a strong association with upper-class, male-dominated, socially exclusive country clubs, it has also boasted a dedicated following among Americans from different social classes, ethnic backgrounds, races, and genders. In addition to classic heroes such as Francis Ouiment, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan, the annals of golf's early history also include African American players--John Shippen Jr., Ted Rhodes, and Charlie Sifford--as well as both white and black female players such as Mildred Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Betsy Rawls, Ann Gregory, and former tennis champ Althea Gibson. Golf in America tells the stories of these champions and many others, including celebrities Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and President Dwight Eisenhower, who further increased the sport's visibility and widespread appeal via television. The book also chronicles the challenges of two world wars and the Great Depression, during which country clubs reduced fees and relaxed admission restrictions to maintain memberships, and many golfers of modest means patronized municipal courses. Kirsch highlights the history of public golf courses in the United States, from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to Boston's Franklin Park, Chicago's Jackson Park, and other municipal and semiprivate courses that have gone relatively unnoticed in the sport's history. Examining golf's recent history, Golf in America looks at the impact of television and the rivalry between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, both of whom in 1996 were impressed by an upstart named Eldrick Tiger Woods. Illustrated with nearly two dozen photographs, this book shows that golf in America has always reflected a democratic spirit, evolving into a sport that now rivals baseball for the honor of being acclaimed America's national pastime.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09638-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 The Rise of Golf in the United States
    (pp. 1-23)

    In June 1902 William Garrot Brown, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, announced that“three new things have come into our American life in recent years.” “Bring together anywhere a company of reasonably alert and reasonably well-to-do Americans,” he explained, “and the chances are their talk will shortly concern itself with one of three subjects which ten years ago would have gone unmentioned. They will talk of money ... as a social and economic force, money massed in billions and warring with other billions.... Or they will talk of things military and naval and diplomatic; of colonies and races,... and our own...

  5. 2 The Americanization of Golf
    (pp. 24-38)

    As golf conquered the United States in the decades preceding World War I, the British import took on new forms. Americans infatuated with golf established country and golf clubs, built ornate club-houses, laid out inland park courses, experimented with new types of equipment, and even modified time-honored rules. Scottish and English officials resented the upstart Americans who dared to challenge the traditions and authority of the sportsmen of St. Andrews and other hallowed centers of British golf, but in the long run the British had little power to stop or even slow down the inexorable tide of change. Enthusiasts in...

  6. 3 Nationalism, Early Champions, and War
    (pp. 39-67)

    On Saturday afternoon, September 20, 1913, Francis Ouimet rolled in a nine-inch putt on the eighteenth green of The Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts, to win the nineteenth open championship of the United States Golf Association. It was an improbable achievement, to say the least, and it proved to be a pivotal moment in the history of American golf. Ouimet was just twenty years of age, and his caddie, little Eddie Lowery, was a ten-year-old who had played hooky from school all week. The pair had defeated the two best golfers in the world, the visiting Englishmen Harry Vardon and...

  7. 4 A Game for the People
    (pp. 68-84)

    On June 26, 1910, the New York Times magazine section featured a satirical article about male and female golfers on the public course in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx in New York City. The author believed that the reader would find it hard “to keep from laughing outright at the self-conscious man who tries the game for the first time.” He added: “If he is a large man dressed in the up-to-date golfing attire which only the veriest novice affects, it is all the more pitiful.” The writer could also not resist ridiculing “the woman golfer,” whom he believed...

  8. 5 First Golden Age
    (pp. 85-108)

    In January 1919, Sam Solomon of the American Golfer reflected on the views of pessimists who doubted that Americans would retain the same passion for sports after the Great War that they had displayed in the more innocent times before the horrific conflict. He remarked: “We are told that sport, of all things, will not be the same again, that men will be too busy, too earnest, too serious, and too mindful of past griefs to strike a ball with a club as was their wont and try to guide it to a little hole in earth. . . ....

  9. 6 Depression and War
    (pp. 109-127)

    In a sobering piece published in the American Mercury in February 1933, Kenneth P. Kempton outlined the daunting financial predicament that threatened his posh White Brook Country Club. Although he probably used a fictitious title to conceal its identity, its plight was no fabrication and certainly was shared by many other private golf organizations across the nation. He explained: “We have a $50,000 house equipped with every known convenience and luxury; we have a championship course offering fresh beauties, fresh challenges to skill, on every tee; we have a practice green, tennis courts, a skating rink, a swimming pool, a...

  10. 7 The Post–World War II Boom
    (pp. 128-145)

    During the fifteen years that followed World War II, American golf celebrated its second golden age as the sport’s growing popularity exceeded its progress achieved during the flush times of the 1920s. Although many commentators have attributed this boom to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s obsession with the game during the mid-1950s, in fact it began a few years before his first inauguration in 1953 and resulted from several, more influential factors. Among these were the prosperity of the period that generated a rising standard of living for blue-and white-collar workers, new rounds of suburbanization and the extension of resort and...

  11. 8 African Americans at Mid-Century
    (pp. 146-162)

    Early on the morning of December 7, 1955, Dr. George C. Simkins Jr., an African American dentist from Greensboro, North Carolina, gathered with five of his friends for a regular Wednesday round of golf. Normally the group played public courses open to black golfers, but on this occasion they resolved to visit Gillespie Park, a municipal facility that operated as a private club for white residents who leased the grounds from the town for one dollar. Lease agreements such as the one in Greensboro were common in those southern cities that sought to circumvent court orders that outlawed all forms...

  12. 9 Women at Mid-Century
    (pp. 163-176)

    In October 1964 the editors of Golf magazine published an article that they knew would enrage many of their female readers. In “I Say, Ban Women Golfers!” Oscar Fraley lamented the passing of the male-dominated golf club. He asked:

    “Men, remember when it used to be Our Club? . . . When they didn’t even have a washroom for women, and those who were brave enough to invade our courses had to change their spikes in the car? . . . Look at the scene today.

    . . . Women are everywhere—in the card room, in the lounge, and...

  13. 10 From Palmer to Woods
    (pp. 177-199)

    On Wednesday afternoon, April 10, 1996, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus played a practice round in preparation for the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. Thirty-two years had passed since Palmer’s fourth and final Masters victory; a decade earlier, at the age of forty-six, Nicklaus had earned his sixth green jacket. Joining these two legends of American (and world) golf on the first tee was a twenty-year-old Stanford sophomore, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. Although the young man did not play especially well that day, Nicklaus and Palmer were impressed with his game and predicted great performances from Woods in...

  14. 11 The LPGA, Gender, and Country Clubs
    (pp. 200-215)

    On Saturday, April 12, 2003, a small band of feminists held a protest rally on a muddy and weedy patch of ground about a half-mile from the main gates of the Augusta National Golf Club. The organizer of the demonstration and the main speaker was Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO). She and her supporters were demanding that the all-male Augusta club open its membership to women. After Augusta’s chairman William W. “Hootie” Johnson rejected her proposal, the club obtained a court order that limited the number of demonstrators and moved them far away from...

  15. 12 Golf and American Democracy
    (pp. 216-242)

    On June 19, 1997, the Christian Science Monitor reported that at the Tenison Park public golf course in Dallas, Texas, “anyone with $13 and a bag of sticks can play, and just about every type of person does.” It explained: “Indeed, the emerging melting pot of players at many municipal courses across the nation defies the stereotype that golf is a game played only by rich white men in plaid pants. Not only do public courses nurture the sport’s soaring popularity among women, minorities, and bluecollar workers, observers say, but they also force Americans from all walks of life to...

    (pp. 243-256)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 257-266)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-268)