In 1913 the USA showed its golf was on a par with British golf!

“Did You Know”
In 1913 the USA showed its golf was on a par with British golf!

With the 1913 United States Open scheduled for September, Great Britain’s leading golfers were heading to the USA. Harry Vardon and Ted Ray were leading the way. As their passenger ship was nearing New York City, Ray asked Vardon, who had been in the states in 1900, “What is it like in America?” With one word Vardon said “Frantic”. 

A few minutes later they were handed a telegram from Alex Findlay, their stateside manager, stating that they were booked to play an exhibition the next day in Philadelphia at Whitemarsh Valley CC.  Ray said “I see what you mean.”

On embarking from their ship they were met by a horde of reporters. Then they boarded a train to Philadelphia, arriving after midnight. In Philadelphia they were interviewed on the steps of their hotel by more reporters. 

The next morning, Saturday August 16, Vardon and Ray were at Whitemarsh Valley for a 36-hole exhibition. Designed by George C. Thomas on his family’s estate, Whitemarsh Valley was Philadelphia’s first great golf course. Playing catch-up to Great Britain’s golf, America was hell bent on getting there.

Vardon and Ray’s opponents for the match were Whitemarsh Valley’s professional Ben Nicholls and his brother Gil. Philadelphia’s Johnny McDermott, winner of the previous two US Opens, was unavailable as he was in New York, finishing second in the Metropolitan Open.

Nicholls, Gil (TGH)

Born in England, the Nicholls brothers had credentials. Gil, the professional at Wilmington CC, had won the Metropolitan Open and North and South Open, along with twice being second in the US Open. Ben had won championships in Europe along with defeating Vardon on two occasions during Vardon’s 1900 exhibition tour of America, which some dubbed “The Vardon Invasion”.  In spite of still being on their “sea legs”, Vardon and Ray lived up to their billing by defeating the Nicholls brothers 3&1. On what a newspaper described as pitiless heat, the Brits wore waist coats while their opponents were in shirt sleeves. In the afternoon round Vardon shot a 71 for a new course record. Nearly 2,000 turned out to view the golf and it was said that there would have been a larger turnout if the course had been more accessible. 

At the two-day 72-hole Shawnee Open McDermott came from behind to win by eight strokes. Vardon tied for third and Ray tied for sixth. At the US Open Vardon and Ray ended up tied with a young American amateur, Francis Quimet, which Quimet won in an 18-hole playoff the next day. The Shawnee course had been the first course design of Philadelphia’s A.W. Tillinghast.

Findlay, a transplanted Scot who had managed Vardon’s 1900 US tour and was now building golf courses for the Florida East Coast Railroad, had booked Vardon and Ray for a wide-ranging series of exhibitions. They traveled the country from coast to coast playing 45 exhibitions before heading home in November. Vardon stated that the best amateur he played against was Chicago’s Chick Evans.

Golf in the states had moved to a new level. McDermott and Quimet had showed the world of golf that there were American born golfers who could compete with Great Britain’s best. Walter Hagen had entered the picture. With architects like A.W. Tillinghast, Donald Ross, C.B. MacDonald and Walter Travis, world class golf courses were opening every month. Pine Valley Golf Club was in the works, and Merion’s East Course had opened in late 1912. American golf was now on a par with Great Britain and Philadelphia was a major part of it.  

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