Philadelphia hosted a long drive contest 3 days after Bobby Jones completed his Grand Slam!

Philadelphia hosted a long drive contest 3 days after Bobby Jones completed his Grand Slam!

On the last Saturday of September 1930, Bobby Jones won the US Amateur at Merion Golf Club. Three days later a competition billed as the National Open Driving Contest took place a few miles away at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium, which had a seating capacity of 75,000.

Municipal Stadium later named John F. Kennedy Stadium was demolished in 1992 to make room for more modern sports venues. The stadium was an open horseshoe. Tees with an elevation of forty feet were constructed at the South end of the field. A fairway, sixty yards in width, extended 422 yards.

The event, held under the lights, was open to professionals and amateurs. Due to the large number of professionals who were sending in entries, only those playing in the US Amateur were allowed to enter, and they were all invited. Gene Homans, who lost to Jones in final of the Amateur, and Boston’s Jesse Guilford, the longest driver in amateur golf were there. Charley Seaver, the father of future NY Mets pitcher Tom Seaver, was entered. Professionals Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour had signed up. The contest was sanctioned by the United States Golf Association.

The contest was sponsored by the Arena Corporation of Philadelphia and supervised by the Valley Forge Golf Club in King-of-Prussia. With total prize money totaling $7,500, entries poured in. The total prize money at the US Open that year had been $5,000. Tickets for the east and west stands were $1, with reserved seats directly behind the driving tees $2 and $3.

The evening of Tuesday September 30, more than 200 professionals and amateurs were at Municipal Stadium for fame and fortune. In order to handle the large number of entries, players were hitting drives from more than one tee at the same time. Each contestant hit four drives, with the average of the best two that ended up inbounds counting. The ten best qualifiers were in the final. In the final each contestant hit five drives. The average of the three best drives determined the winner and where the others placed.  

During the evening there were strong winds sweeping across the field from left to right. Many weren’t able to keep their required drives inbounds. Ed Dudley, who had been on the 1929 Ryder Cup and was the professional at the Concord Country Club, qualified for the final but then could not get the required three drives in bounds. The same went for 1927 Ryder Cupper Bill Mehlhorn.   

Clarence Gamber

The winner was Pontiac, Michigan’s Clarence Gamber. His three best drives averaged 256 yards, 5 and 1/3 inches. His longest drive, which was the longest of all contestants, was 262 yards, 1 inch. Cliff Spencer of Baltimore finished second at 252 yards, 2/3 inches. Tops among Philadelphia area professionals were Reading professional Al Heron in sixth place and Atlantic City professional Alex Hackney in seventh place.

In 1925 the USGA had allowed the use of steel shafted clubs for the first time. There may have been a reason why the USGA sanctioned the Municipal Stadium driving contest. For seven years the USGA had been studying why the golf ball was being driven farther, nearly every year. On January 1, three months after the Philadelphia driving contest, the USGA came out with mandatory changes to the golf ball. Instead of the ball having to be no less than 1.62 inches in diameter and not more than 1.62 ounces in weight the ball now had to be at least 1.68 inches in diameter and no more than 1.55 ounces. The larger/lighter ball solved the distance concern, but presented many problems on windy days.

Ed Dudley fared well with the new ball. In 1931 he won the Los Angeles Open and the Western Open along with compiling the low scoring average for the year on the PGA Tour. On September 15 the USGA pulled the plug on the changes to the golf ball and came out with new specifications, which are still the regulation today. The 1.68 inch ball size stayed the same but the ball could weigh up to 1.62 ounces. 

{See Treasure Trove article–Once upon a time the USGA let the air out of the golf ball!}

One thought on “Philadelphia hosted a long drive contest 3 days after Bobby Jones completed his Grand Slam!

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  1. Pete; I always thought that changing the golf ball would have helped shorter courses stay play. So much for that idea.
    Thanks again for your website and information.


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