Sam Snead played his first tournament on the PGA summer tour at the 1936 Hershey Open!

“Did You Know”
Sam Snead played his first tournament on the PGA summer tour at the 1936 Hershey Open!

In early September 1936 twenty-four-year-old Sam Snead ventured out of the Blue Ridge country to test his golf game in a summer PGA Tour event, the Hershey Open. Before that, only a trip to Florida for the 1935 Miami Open and a missed cut at the North and South Open in March had been his attempts at professional touring golf.  

Having learned golf as a caddy at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia he was now in his first year as an assistant professional at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. In July he had won a tournament called the West Virginia Closed by 16 strokes with rounds of 71 and 61. It was played at The Greenbrier’s 6,317-yard championship course and open only to West Virginia professionals. The 61 was made up of nine pars and nine birdies. He drove the green on two par four holes, only to take three putts for pars.

By late summer Snead had saved up $75 so he decided to try his luck in Milton Hershey’s $5,000 Hershey Open, where the prize money was the same as the US Open and the Masters that year. Snead took a train to Philadelphia and then a second train to Hershey. He arrived on Wednesday for a practice round. There for a practice round as well was George Fazio, who invited Snead to join him. The first hole at that time was a straightaway 329 yard par four, with its green near the Hershey Chocolate factory. (Later the factory was enlarged and the hole was changed to a dogleg left.) Snead’s first two drives were in the factory grounds.  His third drive was on the green.

Snead-1939 Program TT

In the first round Snead toured the par 73 course in 70 strokes, which was two off the lead. After a second round 77 and a third round 70, he was within three strokes of the leaders. In the last round Snead birdied the 343 yard 11th hole after driving the green, but putting failures led to a 74 that left him four strokes behind the winner, host professional Henry Picard (287). A tie for sixth at 291 earned Snead $285. Picard won $1,200. Before Snead could leave town Craig Wood signed him to a $500 contract with Dunlop Sporting Goods to play its clubs and golf balls.   

The world of professional golf had been made aware that a new star was on the horizon, but Johnny Bulla was one who had not gotten the message. In January Bulla and Snead drove to the west coast for the winter tour in Bulla’s automobile. Snead’s auto wasn’t road worthy for a trip to the west coast. During the drive west Snead offered to split all the expenses and winnings, but Bulla declined, figuring he would play better than Snead. That was a mistake. Snead won the second tournament they entered, the Oakland Open, and the rest is golf history.

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