• PGA Philadelphia Section Hall of Fame •

Joseph Henry "Joe" Kirkwood, Sr.
Class of 2010

           

Joe Kirkwood, Sr. was born near Sydney, Australia in 1897. When he was ten years old he signed on to work for a man who owned a sheep station in the outback. He had met the man while working as a caddy. Kirkwood left his family home in Sydney for a 400-mile journey to his new job as a sheep drover. He walked alone, without a compass, map, or watch, following rivers and railroad lines. At the ranch Kirkwood handcrafted some golf clubs using snake skins for grips. While watching over the sheep he practiced different golf shots hitting right handed, left handed and standing on one foot. Kirkwood trained his dog to retrieve the golf balls. He then designed a rudimentary three-hole course at the ranch. Kirkwood won his first tournament six years later and turned pro at age 19. During World War I he entertained Australia’s wounded veterans by hitting golf shots and found that they were even more impressed with the trick shots that he could pull off. He was just 23 when he won the Australian Open, the New Zealand Open and the New Zealand PGA Championship in 1920. At the New Zealand Open he broke the tournament record by 12 strokes. The next year Kirkwood ventured out of the South Pacific for the first time. He landed on the west coast of the United States and played his way across the country. In April he played in the North and South Open, where he was paired with Walter Hagen. At the conclusion of one of the rounds during the tournament Kirkwood showed off his array of trick shots for the spectators and players. When he finished Jimmy Walker, the mayor of New York, passed a hat around to collect a little money for him. When Hagen saw how much money was collected he decided that Kirkwood was someone he should team up with. Kirkwood and Hagen struck up a friendship that would last as long as they lived. From there he traveled to Scotland for the British Open where he tied for sixth and then it was back to the states for the U.S. Open. In 1922 Kirkwood returned for the North and South Open, where he finished second. In 1923 he made what would be a permanent move to the United States and joined Cedarbrook Country Club in Philadelphia. Between 1923 and 1938 he represented clubs in several different cities but he always kept a home in the Philadelphia area and paid dues to the Philadelphia Section. Kirkwood was the first of the great trick-shot artists and maybe the greatest of all time. Kirkwood didn’t like the term “trick shot” because he said it wasn’t a trick at all. He just wanted to show people what a golf ball could do. Kirkwood was the professional at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club from 1938 through 1949. He was a great player but he found his trick shot show to be easier to pull off and more profitable. By 1925 his fee was $500 for one of his performances. Kirkwood traveled all over the world with Walter Hagen and he also made a world tour with Gene Sarazen that lasted most of one year. Kirkwood and Hagen played exhibitions in almost every country that had a golf course including Japan and China. In the winter of 1924 Kirkwood won three PGA Tour straight tournaments in Texas by a total of 28 strokes. At Corpus Christi he won by 16, which is still a record margin on the PGA Tour. Kirkwood won the Philadelphia Open in 1924 and he was runner-up in 1947. In 1948 he and his son, Joe Jr., both finished in the top 30 and the money at the U.S. Open. In his career he won 13 times on the PGA Tour, which included victories in the Canadian Open and the North and South Open. In 1926 he was a member of an American team that opposed a British team in England. His son Joe Jr. played a fictitious boxer named Joe Palooka in the movies and he won two tournaments on the PGA Tour. In honor of Kirkwood, the winner of the Australian PGA Championship received the Kirkwood Cup each year for many years. Kirkwood estimated that he played more than 7,000 golf courses during his career and he probably introduced golf to more people than anyone in the history of the game.
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