Golf’s leading touring professionals played in the Wood Memorial at Jeffersonville GC!

“DID YOU KNOW”
Golf’s leading touring professionals played in the Wood Memorial at Jeffersonville GC!

Frank Wood and Joe Capello were introduced to golf as caddies at the Essex Country Club, a Donald Ross designed course north of Boston. As young golf professionals they worked for Ross at Pinehurst during the winter months. When Ross completed Aronimink Golf Club in 1928 he installed Joe Capello as the professional. Capello brought Wood along as his assistant.

When the Jeffersonville Golf Club in Norristown, Pennsylvania, another Ross design, opened for play in 1931, Ross paved the way for Wood to be the professional there. Born in Canada to French Canadian parents in 1902, Wood’s family moved to the states when he was a young boy. Born Francois Dubois, his name was Americanized to Frank Wood.

Wood fell ill while participating in the 1934 US Open qualifying round and died of pneumonia on May 23. In Wood’s memory, the Jeffersonville GC members decided to hold a Wood Memorial tournament open to professionals and amateurs. 

The tournaments were a huge success with early winners from the Philadelphia PGA, like Ed Dudley, Ed “Porky” Oliver, Sam Byrd and Gene Kunes. In the 1942 tournament, 42 professionals and 250 amateurs teed off. 50 more amateurs showed up but had to be turned away. After that the lower handicap amateurs played on Monday with the professionals and the other amateurs playing on Tuesday.

After an interruption for World War II the tournament was resumed in 1946. Fifty-one-year old Charlie Hoffner came out of competitive retirement to play in the 1947 Wood Memorial. At one time the strongest player in the Philadelphia Section and a member of the 1926 pre-Ryder Cup team that took on a British team in Scotland, Hoffner hadn’t made a tournament appearance for nearly a decade. He arrived at Jeffersonville with woods and a putter. He borrowed a set of irons and teed off before 8 a.m. Early in the round his driver broke, so he drove with his brassie the rest of the round. In spite of a double bogey, he posted a two under par 68 before many of the 244 professionals and amateurs had even teed off. No one else broke 70 and Hoffner collected the $200 first prize.

In the 1950s the purse was increased and the tournament began to attract professionals from the PGA Tour. The tournament would be scheduled on a Monday after the Eastern Open in Baltimore, Insurance City Open in Hartford or Reading Open.

Tommy Bolt and Merchantville, New Jersey touring professional Al Besselink tied for first in 1952 with 65s and with no playoff each picked up $275. Oliver, Dow Finsterwald, Jimmy Thomson, Marty Furgol, Dave Douglas and George Fazio, who had been an assistant at Jeffersonville in the 1930s, were in the field.

Tour player Max Evans drove in from Hartford for the 1953 Wood Memorial. After a four hour nap in the lockeroom he posted a 65 that put him in a tie for the top money with Fazio, who had played earlier. Arriving late, defending co-champion Al Besselink joined the Evans pairing on the eighth hole. After putting out on the 18th green he played the first seven holes with a marker and posted a 66 for third money. Besselink was last off the course, just before it was too dark to see. 

Oliver took the top prize for a third time in 1954, winning $500. In spite of a fatted 3-iron shot on the par three 18th hole, which resulted in a bogey, he tied Dudley’s tournament record score of 64 and won by four strokes.

The committee reduced first prize to $400 in 1955 and spread the money over more places. With that, even though the PGA Tour was in Philadelphia for the Daily News Open which ended on Sunday, the touring pros did not stick around for the Wood Memorial and headed north to the Carlings Open in Boston and a more lucrative one day tournament en route.    

The 21st and final Wood Memorial, which Besselink won, was played in 1959. The tournament was always open to all comers including the Negro professionals like Howard Wheeler and Charlie Sifford who each won the Negro National Championship six times. During the 1950s ten professionals who would be Ryder Cuppers were entered.  

3 thoughts on “Golf’s leading touring professionals played in the Wood Memorial at Jeffersonville GC!

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  1. Pete; Glad to see Merchantville CC mentioned. Dad and I spent many hours maintaining the course. I am so glad that I got my start in the golf business. Although we were at different positions, that was a good business to be a part of.
    Thanks for your articles. I always enjoy.

    Like

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