Al Besselink won the Tournament of Champions and donated half to charity!

Al Besselink won the Tournament of Champions and donated half to charity!

Merchantville, New Jersey’s Al Besselink turned pro in 1949. In late July of 1952 he picked up his first victory on the PGA Tour with a final round 64 at the Sioux City Open in Iowa.

A new event was created for 1953 PGA Tour, the Tournament of Champions. To play in that tournament one had to have won on the PGA Tour during the past calendar year. As the tournament was being played in late April, Besselink’s win at Sioux City made him eligible.

The tournament was held in Las Vegas at the Desert Inn Country Club. Before the tournament began Besselink bet $500 on himself to win at 25 to 1 odds, with a Las Vegas bookie. The tournament itself had a large purse of $35,000. The largest purse at any of the major golf championships that year was $26,000 at the Masters.

With rounds of 72, 68 and 68, Besselink led by one stroke entering the final round. On Sunday he made birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to regain that one stroke edge. On the last green, with 5,000 spectators looking on, he holed a six-foot putt for a par to win by one. First prize was $10,000 and he picked up another $12,500 from the $500 he had bet on himself. The $10,000 was delivered to him in a wheelbarrow filled with 10,000 silver dollars.

One year earlier, Babe Zaharias had asked Besselink to be her partner in the 1952 International Mixed Two Ball Open in Orlando, which they had won. Having recently heard that Zaharias had been diagnosed with cancer, Besselink donated half his first prize, $5,000, to the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund.

Being the gambler that he was, it was said that Besselink left Las Vegas that week with about the same amount of money he had arrived with.

The Berks County PA golfers provided financial assistance for the 1953 US Ryder Cup Team!

The Berks County PA golfers provided financial assistance for the 1953 US Ryder Cup Team!

Beginning with the first Ryder Cup match between the PGA of America and the British PGA, the matches always operated at a financial deficit. Over the years the Ryder Cup only existed with the financial assistance of those two organizations. Not only would they lose money on the Ryder Cup, the team members were impacted financially. There was no prize money and due to travel being by ocean voyage until the 1950s, the visiting team members would be away from home for a couple of weeks. As most of those professionals were head professionals at golf facilities, being away meant loss of income from golf lessons, tournament play or exhibitions. Only a few professionals, like Walter Hagen or Gene Sarazen, were able to make a living by just playing golf.

The Ryder Cup was played every other year from 1927 to 1937, only to be put on hold due to the war in Europe in 1939. The 1939 match was to have been hosted by the Ponte Vedra Inn & Golf Club near Jacksonville, Florida. A.B. “Al” Nelson, who had been the professional at the Yardley Country Club, and a Philadelphia PGA officer, was now the professional there.

During the war years the PGA still continued to select Ryder Cup Teams. The Cup Team would play challenge matches against other professionals of note with the proceeds going to wartime charities. Following the war, the matches resumed, but continued to lose money.

In 1953 a challenge match was played with the ten Ryder Cup Team members facing off against ten challengers in the Ryder Cup format on the third weekend of September. The plan was to help defray the expenses of the team members who were going to be competing in the upcoming Ryder Cup match in England. A similar match had been played in Boston in 1949. It was through the hard work of the Berks County Golf Association and its history of having recently hosted five successful Reading Opens that Reading was selected by the PGA. 

On Friday, the 20 professional golfers, along with some local pros, played in a pro-am at Reading’s Berkshire Country Club, which offered $1,500 in prize money. Jackie Burke picked up $350 for the lowest professional score, while putting together a course record 63.

On the weekend the professionals were at Reading Country Club for the challenge matches. There were five two-ball (alternate stroke) matches on Saturday, five four-ball matches on Sunday morning and ten singles matches on Sunday afternoon. Tickets for spectators were $2 on Friday, $3 Saturday, $4 Sunday or $6 for the three days.

Lloyd Mangrum was the playing captain of the Ryder Cup Team. Two of his team members were Philadelphia PGA members, Ed “Porky” Oliver and Dave Douglas. The Challengers captained by Jimmy Demaret were a formidable group, with several players, like Tommy Bolt, Doug Ford and Lew Worsham who won major championships. He also had three Philadelphia Section members, Henry Williams, Jr., George Fazio and Al Besselink, on his team. The Ryder Cup Team members prevailed by the count of 12-1/2 points to 7-1/2. The exhibition drew 3,000 spectators on Saturday and 3,000 again on Sunday. Each Ryder Cup Team member received $850 and each challenger received $400. Another $2,500 was presented to the Ryder Cup Team to help with its expenses.

Reading, a small city of 100,000, had raised $15,000 along with the pro-am money, for the PGA of America and its Ryder Cup team members. The total purse at the PGA Championship that year had been $20,700. It was not a bad three-day gig, even for the challengers. One week earlier a tie for eighth at the $15,000 Eastern Open in Baltimore had earned $460.

A Delaware Valley professional golfer was the military’s longest serving professional athlete!

A Delaware Valley professional golfer was the military’s longest serving professional athlete!

It was January 1941. There was war in Europe and the United States was building up its army.  Ed “Porky” Oliver, a 25-year-old established tournament player with three victories on the PGA Tour, was on the West Coast playing the Winter Tour. In the second week of January he was competing in the Oakland Open when a messenger boy broke through the gallery and presented him with a telegram on the 10th tee. The telegram contained orders to report to his draft board for a physical. Oliver shook hands with his fellow competitors and withdrew from the tournament.  He drove across the country to his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. Even though he was the professional at Hornell CC in New York his home address with the Draft Board was Wilmington. Oliver passed the physical but was given a “Hardship Deferral”, as he was the sole support of his family. His brother was making just $16 a week working in a factory.

Oliver then got in his car and drove back across the United States to play in the Crosby Pro-Am, where he was the defending champion and Bing Crosby’s partner. When Oliver arrived back in California he opened the trunk of his car and discovered his golf clubs were not there. While he had been home in Wilmington his father had taken the clubs out of the car and put them in the garage, thinking that his son would not be playing golf for awhile. Using a borrowed set of clubs Oliver led the two-day Crosby tournament the first day with a 66 but did not win. (For another piece of trivia Ray Watson, a law student at Stanford and later the father of Tom Watson, won the pro-am, helping his partner 15 strokes to a twenty under par 124.)

Porky Oliver–1953 Ryder Cup

A week later Oliver won the Western Open at Phoenix and one month after that his deferral was withdrawn. In late February while playing in the St. Petersburg Open he received a letter from the Draft Board stating that his deferment had been revoked. He was to report for induction into the U.S. Army on Monday. Somehow thinking he had clearance to play in the International Four-Ball that next week Oliver headed for Miami.

On Sunday Oliver and his partner Clayton Heafner won their first round match in the Four-Ball, but then he received a telephone call from his brother saying that he had to report for induction that next morning.  Heafner was given a substitute partner. Oliver hopped on a plane to Wilmington and at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning he was inducted into the U.S. Army at Newark, New Jersey. He was the first big name professional golfer drafted into the U.S. Military.

You can see from the attached letter that Oliver thought he would only be in the Army for one year, but that was before Pearl Harbor. One has to wonder why Oliver had to spend four years and eight months in military service during World War II without serving overseas or reenlisting. That was much more than any professional athlete.

Jim Thomson’s honesty paid dividends!

Jim Thomson’s honesty paid dividends!

Born in 1881, James R. “Jim” Thomson immigrated to the United States from North Berwick, Scotland in 1905 to be the assistant at Merion Cricket Club (later Golf Club). One of the best golfers in North Berwick, Thomson had worked as a plasterer, because it paid better than golf. One year after arriving in the states, he was the head professional at Merion. Thomson won the 1913 Pennsylvania Open. In 1916 he was a founding member of the PGA of America and a board member.

John D. Rockefeller  & Jim Thomson 

In July of 1912 Thomson, now the professional at the Philadelphia Country Club, was playing in the Metropolitan Open at The Apawamis Club in Rye, NY, where he tied for third. After turning in his scorecard, he realized that he had signed for a score, one stroke less than what he had shot and reported it to the tournament committee. Thomson was disqualified. The tournament committee then proceeded to present a check for $62.50 to Thomson for what he would have won if not disqualified. The check for Thomson was extra and not a part of the tournament purse. .

In 1921, Thomson was now the professional at Overbrook Golf Club. Apawamis was looking for a new head professional and remembered James R. Thomson as a golf professional their club might like to be associated with. Thomson was hired and spent the remaining 25 years of his head professional career at Apawamis.

Ed Dudley saved golf during World War II!

Ed Dudley saved golf during World War II?

On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States was at war. As 1942 rolled along our country’s leaders were trying to figure out a plan of attack. One thing they knew was that all raw materials and man power were needed for the war effort. The U.S. Office of Price Administration (OPA) rationed gasoline on the East Coast on May 15 and by December it was nationwide. Based on your type of work, you would be issued a sticker for the car’s windshield. The average person was given an A sticker, which limited them to four gallons of gas a week. As it turned out it wasn’t gasoline that was being rationed, but tires. The Japanese army had cut off the supply of rubber from the Far East. To receive a gasoline sticker, one had to swear he had no more than five automobile tires. Driving to a golf course to play golf or be a spectator was considered pleasure driving and totally outlawed in 1943.

In 1942, except for the Masters Tournament and the US Open, the PGA Tour played nearly a full schedule, but 1943 was a different story. Even with the country at war, there were quite a few great players not in the service. Byron Nelson and Jug McSpaden were 4F. Players like Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour were still competitive, but none of them could assure cities like Los Angeles or Miami that they would play there due to the gas rationing. In 1943 only four PGA Tour equivalent events were played.

Ed Dudley

Ed Dudley, who was then the president of the PGA of America, knew everyone. He had been the tournament chairman for the PGA Tour and a three time Ryder Cup team member. He had been a professional in California, Oklahoma and Philadelphia, and was now the professional at Augusta National Golf Club, even though it was closed for the duration of the war. With Augusta closed, Sonny Fraser engaged Dudley as the professional at his Atlantic City Country Club.

Dudley decided to go to Washington DC to see what he could do for the game of golf. He met with many people, getting the runaround. His efforts took some time, but in mid March of 1943 Paul V. McNutt, chairman of the War Manpower Commission “approved wartime golf provided it does not interfere with the war effort”. The ruling meant that professional golfers could purchase gas to travel to tournaments and people could attend golf tournaments without it being considered joy riding. Even the local golf professionals were able to revive their tournament schedules.

A few days later Joe Dey, executive secretary of the United States Golf Association, congratulated Dudley on “a good piece of work” convincing the United States government that playing golf during the war was not unpatriotic. Dey said “The USGA never had any doubt about this matter, but Dudley and the PGA are to be congratulated. The golfers wanted it, but it was Dudley who made it happen.”

A year later, in 1944, the PGA Tour was back with a schedule of 23 events, one being the PGA Championship. That year at the Tam O’Shanter Open in Chicago, 43-year-old Ed Dudley finished second to Nelson. If not for Dudley’s efforts, Nelson wouldn’t have had 11 straight wins in 1945, because there won’t have been 11 tournaments on the PGA Tour. 38 tournaments were played that year.

Before there was a PGA, there was an Eastern Professionals Golf Association!

Before there was a PGA, there was an Eastern Professional Golfers Association!

Before the PGA of America was formed in 1916 there were several professional golf associations in the United States. One of those and most likely the largest was the Eastern Professional Golfers Association that covered eastern USA from the state of Maine to Wilmington, Delaware. On June 4, 1906 their founding meeting was held at the Astor House in New York City. Officers were elected. Samuel Y. Heebner, a founder of the Golf Association of Philadelphia, was at the meeting and appointed to a six-man advisory board. The organization’s objective was to provide competition for the professionals and assist with employment.

In October they held their first championship at the Forest Hill Field Club in New Jersey. There were 50 entries and the club put up $300, making the prize money $450. The winner was Scotland’s Alex Smith, who would go on to win the US Open twice. Smith also won a gold medal, similar to what the US Open winner was receiving. Smith won their championship three times, but the pride of those professionals was Willie Anderson, who won the United States Open four times from 1901 to 1905. Anderson, who immigrated to the USA from Scotland with his golf professional father and brother at the age of 15, always considered himself to be an American golf professional.

In 1910 the Philadelphia Cricket Club, which was hosting the US Open that year, was looking for a golf professional. Anderson, who had held nine head pro positions in 13 years, was interested. If he could learn how to play that course, maybe he could win another US Open. Anderson was hired. When the tournament was played in June, he finished 11th, while Smith took the title.

In October of that year, Anderson passed away at the age of 31. He was buried near the Philadelphia Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill’s Ivy Hill Cemetery. The Philadelphia Cricket Club members arranged a subscription to create a monetary fund for Anderson’s widow and baby. The Eastern Professional Golfers Association provided a large monument for the grave site, which mentioned his four U.S. Open victories. His father and brother, also golf professionals, are buried next to Willie. The monument nearly bankrupt The Eastern Professional Golfers Association.

It took 55 holes of golf to decide the 1915 Pennsylvania Open!

It took 55 holes of golf to decide the 1915 Pennsylvania Open!

On the second Wednesday of July, 1915, the fourth Pennsylvania Open was held at the Shawnee Inn & Country Club. The tournament was contested over 36 holes, with a strong field which included Jim Barnes, who would go on to win the first PGA Championship one year later. At that time the Pennsylvania Open was open to all comers. The weather was intensely warm.

At the end of 36 holes Tom Anderson, Jr. (Montclair Golf Club), and Eddie Loos (Pocono Manor Golf Club) were tied for the title with 149 totals. Loos had posted rounds of 79 and 70 while Anderson’s rounds were 78 and 71. On the 36th hole Anderson had a putt to win the tournament, but due to his ball being in a cuppy lie, it would be difficult to hole it. Because his ball was in the line of a fellow competitor Anderson was asked to move his marker to the side. A.W. Tillinghast, the designer of the Shawnee course and president of the club was refereeing the match. He said that he watched very closely to see that Anderson replaced his ball in its original lie. He did exactly that. (At that time in open tournaments because of the money, a referee was sent out with each professional pairing but not with the amateurs.) Anderson missed the putt as expected.

The Pennsylvania State Golf Association committee decided that an 18-hole playoff would be held that day. At the conclusion of the playoff, Anderson, who had won the first PA Open in 1912, and Loos were still tied with 76’s. It was 8 pm and the playoff went to sudden-death. On Shawnee’s first hole Anderson won the title for a second time with a par four. It was the 55th hole of golf for the two professionals that day.

Anderson and Loos split the top two prizes of $100 and $70. Tom Anderson was the brother of four-time U.S. Open champion Willie Anderson, who had died in 1910 as the professional at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, at the age of 31. One month later Tom Anderson would die learning to drive the automobile he had just purchased.

Leo Diegel played 90 holes in two days to win the 1924 Shawnee Open!

Leo Diegel played 90 holes in two days to win the 1924 Shawnee Open!

The 1924 Shawnee Open was played in mid July, just three days after the Metropolitan Open ended in New York. Hagen, having won the British Open in late June, was still in Europe playing exhibitions, but another strong field on hand, with players like Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour and Johnny Farrell. The tournament was scheduled for 72 holes in two days. Trick shot artist Joe Kirkwood led the first day at 143 with Leo Diegel at 144. Par was 74. The next day Diegel put together rounds of 72 and 71 for 287 that left him in a tie for the top prize with Willie Macfarland who was also in at 287 with the help of a third round 69. Kirkwood fell one stroke short at 288.

The tournament committee decreed an 18-hole playoff that same day was in order. In those days most important tournament ties were settled with 18-hole playoffs and on occasion they were 36 holes. The 1931 U.S. Open took two 36-hole playoffs to determine a winner. Nowadays anything more than 18 in one day is considered quite a challenge. The players caught a break as the high temperatures in the Poconos, for the two days, was in the low 70s.

Diegel, a superb ball striker who struggled with his putting, but when he was on form he was practicably unbeatable. Diegel known to be a great twilight golfer. With the sun just above the mountain tops, the two professionals set out for another 18. Form held as Diegel equaled the low round of the tournament with a 69 against a 75 for Macfarlane. First money was $500 from a prize pool of $1,300. Six professionals picked up checks. The prize money at the U.S. Open earlier that year had been $960.

A year later Macfarlane won the U.S. Open and Shawnee. Diegel went on to win the 1928 and 1929 PGA Championships. From 1934 to 1945 Diegel was the professional at the Philmont Country Club.   

A Philadelphia PGA founder won the first Irish Pro Championship at Royal Portrush GC!

A Philadelphia PGA founder won the first Irish Professional Championship at Royal Portrush!

James Dunlop “Jim” Edmundson was born in Portrush, Ireland in 1886 and learned golf as a caddy at the Royal Portrush Golf Club. By 1905 he was the professional at the club. In 1907 the first Irish Open was contested. Royal Portrush was the host club, and it will also host this year’s British Open in July.

Edmundson won the First Irish Professional Championship, and in 1908 he was the winner again. Along with that, he finished second in 1909, 1910 and 1911.

He played in The Open four times, with his best showing being a tie for 11th in 1908.

After six years at Royal Portrush, Edmundson moved across the Irish Sea to England as the professional at the Bromborough Golf Club. At Bromborough he instructed Gladys Ravenscroft, who would win the 1912 British Ladies Championship and the 1913 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.

With the onset of World War I, Edmundson volunteered for the British Army’s artillery division, seeing action in France for two years. When the war was over he could not find another head professional position. In early 1921, his brother John, who was the professional at the Llanerch Country Club, wrote to him saying that he should visit the states. John’s letter mentioned that there were clubs with well-to-do members near Llanerch looking for experienced golf professionals.

Jim Edmundson set sail for America, and soon after arriving he was hired as the professional at the North Hills Country Club, just north of Philadelphia. Later that year on December 2, the Philadelphia Section PGA was formed. Having been a member of the British PGA, he became a founder of the Philadelphia PGA, with much to contribute. He was an officer for two years and was elected Section president in 1930.

In 1923 at the age of 39 he won the Pennsylvania Open, and finished second in the Philadelphia Open. He also had a second place finish in the Philadelphia Section Championship in 1926.

After North Hills, Edmundson was the head professional at the Hi-Top Country in Drexel Hill, which had been Aronimink Country Club before moving to Newtown Square.

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