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Jock Hutchison Senior PGA Championship
Jock Hutchison (center) won the inaugural PGA Seniors' Championship at Augusta National Golf Club in 1937. (Photo: The PGA of America)

Happy 70th: Senior PGA Championship born from humble roots

The Great Depression was still nearly two years away from releasing the country from its vise-grip, but in sleepy eastern Georgia, the great Bobby Jones welcomed a group of PGA Professionals to Augusta National Golf Club for the inaugural PGA Seniors' Championship. These 37 players represented many of the premier playing and teaching professionals in the country, and here are some of their stories.

By Bob Denney, The PGA of America

The Great Depression had nearly two more years to run its course when 37 senior professionals gathered on the posh grounds of Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia in late November 1937.

The inaugural PGA Seniors' Championship (now Senior PGA Championship) was conducted Nov. 30 through Dec. 2, 1937, at the home of the Masters Tournament, and on the eve of the Championship, legendary Bobby Jones spoke at a banquet at the Forest Hills Hotel. He outlined how the club's board of governors amended its by-laws to allow the Championship to be played at the club.

"They all feel, as I do," said Jones, "that they are glad to make an exception to an established policy in order to make a gesture of appreciation to those members of your association who have contributed so much to golf in this country."

The inaugural field ranged in age from 50 to 72. Competition was split into three divisions: Class C (ages 50 to 54), Class B (55-59) and Class A (60 and older). Thirty-one of the 37 players finishing 54 holes that week represented many of the premier playing and teaching professionals in the country. Here are some of their stories.

Jack Fowler "Jock" Hutchison

A native of St. Andrews, Scotland, Hutchison, who had withdrawn after two rounds of the Masters earlier in that spring, was easily the most decorated player in the field. He also owns a footnote in American golf history that got little attention in his homeland.

Aided by a first-round hole-in-one, Hutchison captured the 1921 British Open at St. Andrews. He defeated Roger Wethered by nine strokes in a 36-hole playoff and became the first American citizen to win the Open Championship.

Hutchison was living in Golf, Ill., when he won the first Senior PGA Championship. He would go on to post 11 top-3 finishes and win the 1947 Championship. In 1916, Hutchison was runner-up to Jim Barnes in the inaugural PGA Championship, captured the 1920 PGA Championship at Flossmoor Country Club in Chicago, and finished runner-up in the 1916 and 1920 U.S. Opens.

After the inaugural Senior PGA Championship, Hutchison played in 24 additional Championships and in 1951, at age 68, lost a playoff to Al Watrous.

When the Masters began its tradition of an honorary starter in 1963, Hutchison and Fred McLeod, also a native Scot, were on the tee. They were major champions and they didn't stop after one ceremonial shot. Sometimes they played nine holes before coming in for breakfast. Hutchison became a standout golf instructor and served as the private tutor of Andrew Carnegie, a fellow Scotsman and one of the most prosperous men in America.

George Gordon

The runner-up to Hutchison in 1937 and a native of Dumphreshire, Scotland, Gordon became one of the most respected club professionals in New England. In 1911, Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I., hired Gordon, who was on vacation, on a temporary basis. Gordon proved to be an excellent clubmaker and was asked to finish the year.

In December 1912, on his way to Florida, Gordon stopped at Wannamoisett to review the devastation of a clubhouse fire. He was asked to stay and help build 88 sets of clubs that were ruined by the blaze. He was named head professional and would remain at the club for 50 years.

Gordon's younger sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret, combined to win eight Rhode Island Women's Golf Association Amateurs in the 1920s. Elizabeth later became one of the first women head professionals at an American country club -- Acoaxet Club in Westport Harbor, Mass.

Gordon's talented sisters went to their brother for help in developing their games, but so did many others, including a young boy from Massachusetts whom Gordon met while teaching in Palm Beach, Fla.

John F. Kennedy and his brother, Bobby, took a few lessons from Gordon, as did Rose Kennedy and two of her daughters, Patricia and Eunice. Gordon also built a friendship and became the favorite instructor of the Duke of Windsor, Edward VIII, and also aided legendary Glenna Collett Vare, a six-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion. Gordon insisted early in Vare's career that she change from the baseball grip she was using to the more dependable Vardon grip.

At age 78, Gordon retired on May 2, 1961, a half century to the day he was hired to serve the membership at Wannamoisett Country Club.

Fred McLeod

The winner of the 1908 U.S. Open and 1938 Senior PGA Championship, McLeod was one of a group of Scottish and English professionals who made an impact on U.S. golf at the turn of the 20th century.

He emigrated to the U.S. in 1903 and found employment at Rockford (Ill.) Country Club. He entered his first U.S. Open in 1903 and later that year finished fifth in the Western Open. McLeod won the 1908 U.S. Open, defeating Willie Smith by six strokes in a playoff. He went on to compete in 22 U.S. Opens and had eight top-10 finishes. He also was runner-up to Jim Barnes in the 1919 PGA Championship. After a tie for fourth in the first Senior PGA Championship, McLeod won the next year when he defeated Otto Hackbarth in a playoff.

McLeod was the longtime PGA head professional at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md., and passed away in 1976 at the age of 94. His ashes were strewn over his beloved Columbia Country Club.

Mike Brady

Inducted in 1960 to the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame, Brady was a native of Brighton, Mass., and one of the finest players and instructors of his time. He was runner-up in two U.S. Opens, in 1911 and then in 1919, losing in a playoff each time.

When Walter Hagen resigned his club professional position at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Mich., the club offered the position to Brady. Brady, who also went on to become a longtime head professional at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., won 11 tournaments during the 1917 season, including the North and South Championship, and captured the 1922 Western Open at Oakland Hills. The second head professional at Winged Foot, Brady won the 1924 Metropolitan Championship. He remained at Winged Foot until 1939, and is largely responsible for the club's start, growth and survival during the Great Depression.

Otto Hackbarth

Hackbarth, who served from 1916-51 as head professional at Cincinnati Country Club, tied for 10th in the first of the seven Senior PGA Championships he entered. He holds the distinction of having been involved in the first and only 36-hole playoff in Championship history. In 1940, while dueling with Jock Hutchison, Hackbarth posted a 1-under-par 70 to force a deadlock at 146 after 36 holes. The two then went on to an 18-hole playoff, and each matched 74s. In the ensuing 36 holes, Hackbarth edged Hutchison for his lone Senior PGA Championship.

George Low Sr.

Born in Carnoustie, Scotland, Low emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1890s and tied for second in the 1899 U.S. Open. He was hired in 1903 by Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey as both head professional and greenskeeper.

He was believed to be the designer of the island green on the 10th hole of the now-extinct Old Course at Baltusrol, a design that was years ahead of its time. Low also became one of the most sought-after clubmakers in the country. Low left Baltusrol in 1925, returning to business interests in Scotland. When the Great Depression sapped his savings, Low returned to the U.S. and served from 1931-37 as head professional at Huntingdon Valley (Pa.) Country Club. Low's son, George Jr., would later distinguish himself as a superb putter, a one-time putting mentor to Arnold Palmer and a marketer of putters.

Fred Brand Sr.

Born in Carnoustie, Scotland, Brand earned a position as head professional at Allegheny (Pa.) Country Club, following an impressive semifinal victory over English legend J.H. Taylor in the 1902 Scottish Open.

John Inglis

Inglis arrived at Fairview Country Club in Westchester County, N.Y., in 1907 and became both head professional and caddiemaster. He stayed for a remarkable 57 years, retiring in 1964. Among the caddies that he guided into serving the membership and later helped develop their own games were the famed Turnesa brothers: Joe, Jim, Mike, Phil, Frank, Doug and Willie.

Grange Alves

Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Alves emigrated in 1904 to the U.S. at age 19 and was hired at French Lick Springs Resort in Indiana. He was a quick study and learned golf course maintenance techniques and much about design. He befriended another Scot, legendary architect Donald Ross. Alves moved to Cleveland and was approached by a group of investors to build a course. He and Ross agreed on a plan, with Alves supervising the construction, and Shaker Heights Country Club opened in 1915 with Alves as head professional. In all, Alves built or designed 12 courses in Ohio between 1924 and 1930. He was named vice president of the National Greenskeepers Superintendents Association in the late 1920s.

Jack Jolly

A native of Scotland, Jolly was credited with the development of a liquid-center golf ball. He joined Elezear Kempshall, who had made a fortune in the production of celluloid shirt collars, and began molding golf balls at his factory in Arlington, N.J. Kempshall was trying to improve on the Haskell golf ball design. Jolly had gotten the idea from viewing baby bottle nipples in a pharmacy window.

He filled them with water, tying off the ends, and wrapped rubber tape around them. He then wound them on a Gammeter winding machine. He was awarded a U.S. patent in 1908. At the 1911 U.S. Open at Chicago Golf Club, Jolly offered a bonus to a player who won the Open using his liquid center ball. Johnny McDermott, the eventual champion, took the challenge, but not before hitting two balls out of bounds. In 1919, Spalding licensed a patent on the design and nicknamed it the Spalding Witch.

Jack Hobens

An outstanding player at the turn of the 20th century, Hobens finished in the top 11 in eight U.S. Opens. His best showing was in 1907, when he led after 54 holes, only to stumble home with an 85 and lose by seven strokes. During that week at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, Hobens recorded the first known hole-in-one in the Open at the 10th hole. In 1910, he was elected president of the Eastern Professional Golfers Association. In 1916 he was one of the charter members of The PGA of America, one of seven chosen to make up the original "Organizing Committee," and one of three professionals who wrote The PGA's first constitution and by-laws.

To nurture a reputation as the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf, the Senior PGA Championship needed solidarity, financial support and a commitment among PGA Professionals. Perhaps it had that foundation from the start in late November 1937, from those 37 professionals at Augusta National. The Championship was granted a second visit to Augusta National in 1938 before moving to Florida in 1940.

The hard-working, passionate and talented contestants who made up that first Championship also were described as humble servants of the game. The source for such a declaration is PGA of America President George Jacobus, who provided a commentary in the January 1938 PGA Magazine. "This really was a reunion more than a golf championship," Jacobus wrote, "because some of the players had not met one another for 25 or 30 years.

"Not one of the competitors knew or asked in advance what the prize money would be or how it was to be distributed. Not until each player opened the envelope containing his check did he have any idea of what he would receive. And each one of them put just as much of his heart and soul into winning as though he were aiming at a thousand dollar prize."

Bob Denney is The PGA of America's senior Association writer. This story appears courtesy of the 70th Senior PGA Championship Journal.
 

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