Three golf professionals made a “Big Swap” in 1916!

Three golf professionals made a “Big Swap” in 1916!

It was like “musical chairs” except everyone ended up with a seat. The three golf professionals were Gil Nicholls, James Fraser, and Wilfrid Reid. The three golf clubs involved were Wilmington Country Club (DE), Seaview Country Club (NJ) and Sound View Golf Club (NY), (often called Great Neck GC).

In July 1915, Wilmington CC’s Gil Nicholls won the Metropolitan Open for a second time, on Staten Island. After being tied at the end of 72 holes, Nicholls defeated Bob MacDonald in an 18-hole playoff. Walter Hagen finished third. First prize was $150.

Nicholls, Met Open 1915

Before returning home, Nicholls visited Sound View Golf Club on Long Island, where he lost a friendly 18-hole match to the professional James Fraser. With that the Sound View members put together a ten-round match in early August between Fraser and Nicholls for $1,000, $100 per round. All rounds would be played at Sound View. The members thought that with all rounds at Sound View the match would be competitive, but Nicholls, a two-time runner-up in the United States Open, won most of the matches. The members had money and were willing to spend it. At the conclusion of the challenge match, they offered Nicholls a contract to be their professional. It was the largest that had ever been paid to any golf professional in the country. Nicholls accepted. His first assignment was to revise some of the golf course and to build another nine holes, which was to be for the exclusive use of the ladies.

Seaview was in its first year in 1915, with Wilfrid Reid as its professional. Reid had a large ego which clashed with Seaview’s owner Clarence Geist. Even with a three-year contract, by early August Reid and Geist had parted company and Seaview was looking for a golf professional. Not wanting to blame the owner, Reid blamed it on the mosquitoes. Within a few days of Reid’s departure, James Fraser was the professional at Seaview.

It was still August and with the exodus of Nicholls, Wilmington CC needed a golf professional. Reid stepped up and was hired. Three changes all made within a few days of each other. 

When the PGA of America was formed one year later, in 1916, both Nicholls and Reid became members of its Executive Committee.

James Fraser was born in Scotland. In 1916 he won the Philadelphia Open. He died in 1923 when his automobile collided with an Atlantic City trolley car. Years later his son, Leo, would own the Atlantic City Country Club and become president of the PGA of America.

Before emigrating from England to the United States in 1915 Wilfrid Reid had won many titles in Europe. In the USA he designed or remodeled 100 golf courses. When Leo Fraser bought Atlantic City CC in 1946, he brought Reid back to Atlantic City as his teaching pro.

Born in England, Nicholls was an early exponent of forming the PGA of America. Along with his success in the US Open, he won the North and South Open, two Metropolitan Opens, two Philadelphia Opens, two New England PGA Championships and the Shawnee Open. Eight times he finished in the top ten at the US Open.

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