GORDON WHITE: Demanding Drive: Intensity Marks Macdonald's Career
Charles Blair Macdonald was quite wealthy and a genius of sorts. Like so many of the gifted and privileged, he was also a strong-willed autocrat full of self importance and arrogance, according to his contemporaries. He never enjoyed coming in second.
This character, born in 1855 to naturalized United States citizens, may be more responsible than any other single person for creating the United States Golf Association and thus the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship which will have its 108th version on Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 4, Aug. 18--24.
There were such folks as Theodore A. Havemeyer, the first president of the U.S.G.A., who helped establish this governing body for the sport and the U.S. Amateur Championship. But, by all reports, no one was as vociferous or demanding as Macdonald.
Still, there has always been a question in the back of my mind: Did this middle-aged, quite pompous man from Chicago really want to bring stability to the game of golf in America just over 100 years ago, or did he want to set up a National tournament so he could be the winner? We probably will never know the real answer to that.
The story has been told time and time again of how, in 1894, the new St. Andrews Golf Club, a tad north of New York City, and the Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island staged competing tournaments. Each club claimed its tourney to be the National golf championship. Charles Blair Macdonald was probably very unhappy because he finished runner-up in both of those "National Championships."
This outspoken amateur golfer learned the game from Old Tom Morris when he attended the University of St. Andrews in Scotland as a teenager. His father was born in Scotland, thus the education at St. Andrews. His mother was a Canadian.
Macdonald became the loudest among many voices in 1894 clamoring for one United States National amateur golf championship run by one organization with one set of rules. But there was no such union of golfers in this country at the time. There was just a smattering of new golf clubs scattered mostly around Boston, Philadelphia and New York City with one or two in the Chicago area.
Macdonald came from the Chicago Golf Club where he designed the first 18-hole course in the United States in 1892. Most courses, including the St. Andrews and Newport courses, were nine-holers back then.
This outcry by Macdonald and others led to the formation of The Amateur Golf Association of the United States in December 1894. This organization later changed its name to the United States Golf Association, the governing body of golf in the United States ever since.
This fledgling organization staged the first U.S. Amateur Golf Championship at the Newport G.C., Oct. 1 3, 1895.
And the winner was: Charles Blair Macdonald, the newly elected vice president of The Amateur Golf Association of the United States.
Not only did Macdonald win, he trounced Charles E. Sands of the St. Andrews G.C. of New York, 12-11, in the 36-hole final round. That remains to this day the largest margin of victory in any final round of the U.S.Amateur Championship, the oldest golf tournament extant in this country.
On the following day, Oct. 4, 1895, the first U.S.Open was held at the Newport G.C. at the behest of those pros on hand who accompanied their clubs' amateur players for the new National championship. One month later, the first U.S.Women's Amateur Championship was conducted by the new USGA at the Meadow Brook Club on Long Island.
Charles Blair Macdonald went on to earn his greatest fame as one of the world's outstanding golf course architects of the early 20th century. That was a time when other masters of the art included Donald Ross, A.W.Tillinghast, Walter J. Travis and Alister Mackenzie. Macdonald often worked in conjunction with Seth Raynor, one of those fine architects.
We do not think of the amateur golfer as a professional of the sport, although quite a few winners of the U.S.Amateur Championship went on to make a good deal of money as golf course architects. Among these were Australian-born Walter J. Travis, who won the U.S. Amateur title three times (1900, 1901 and 1903). Travis won twice on Long Island courses, including his first U.S.Amateur title in 1900 on the Garden City Golf Club course which he designed himself. That's really using local knowledge.
Apparently, Macdonald accepted no fees for golf course designing but always insisted upon a lifetime membership at the club where he built a course.
Macdonald and Travis designed and built two of my favorite golf courses. Each is on Long Island.
Macdonald's gem and the course he is best known for is the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, Long Island. This great track abuts the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Macdonald completed the National Links about the same time Donald Ross opened Pinehurst No. 2.
The first Walker Cup matches were held at the National Golf Links in August of 1922 with the Americans beating the Great Britain team, 8-4. This year's U.S. Amateur is the second to be held on Pinehurst No. 2. Labron Harris won the title here in 1962.
Travis' Garden City Golf Club in the middle of Long Island and nowhere near Long Island Sound to the north or the Atlantic Ocean to the south is about as fine a replica of a British Isles links course as you will find anywhere in the United States. It resembles Prairie Dunes in Kansas, a similar links style course located hundreds of miles from the nearest seashore.
I have one major complaint about both Macdonald's National Links and Travis' Garden City Golf Club. Each is a Men Only club.
Travis, who also built such outstanding New York Metropolitan area courses as Westchester C.C. North Course, plus Hollywood, Deal and White Beaches in New Jersey, built a rather innocuous little course for friends who vacationed in Maine. This is the Cape Arundel G.C. course in Kennebunkport, Maine, where both President Bush No.l and No. 2 have hacked away and taken their mulligans while vacationing at Walker Point in Kennebunkport.
The list of golf course architects who won the U.S.Amateur crown includes Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, both of whom are known to have done some other things in golf. Tiger Woods, the only person to win the U.S. Amateur in three consecutive years, is also into golf course architecture now.
I covered John Fought's victory in the 1977 U.S.Amateur at Aronimink G.C. in Pennsylvania. He went on to a short-lived pro career on tour before becoming a golf course architect. It was Fought who redid much of the Pine Needles course to strengthen it for the 2007 U.S.Womens Open that was such a success.
I also covered Hal Sutton's victory in the U.S.Amateur at the Country Club of North Caroliina in 1980. Sutton has gone into golf course architecture like so many other pros on the PGA Tour.
Macdonald made his fortune as a stockbroker and even moved from Chicago to New York around the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries in order to work at a Wall Street firm. Since he did not spend his entire career designing courses and went into that art quite late in life, he did not build nearly as many golf courses as Ross, the most prolific of all of these outstanding course designers. But when Macdonald designed a course, it was one of the best.
Macdonald's other wellknown courses include the Yale University course in New Haven, Connecticut, and other Long Island courses such as The Creek, a magnificent links layout; Deepdale and Piping Rock.
Macdonald designed and built the Mid Ocean Club on Bermuda in 1924. That was done so his wealthy friends could have a place to go and play golf and then drink legally during prohibition. That is what I call one expensive 19th hole.
Macdonald died in April 1939, seven months short of his 84th birthday. Shortly after that, one of the best courses he built was demolished, a victim of both the Great Depression and the U.S. entry into the Second World War. This was the Lido Golf Club he did with Seth Raynor in 1917. It was situated on the south shore of Long Island on the same lengthy sand bar that contains Jones Beach, Lido Beach and Long Beach just a few miles east of the JFK airport.
This links course was considered by some golf experts of the 20th century to be one of the half dozen best courses in the United States and one of the world's finest courses. It was known to be a real tiger when strong southerlies whipped in off the Atlantic Ocean.
The Lido course was a rare example of true links in the United States. Following WW II, Robert Trent Jones built another Lido course on that location in 1947.
During WW II, the Navy took over a big bit of property on Lido Beach, including much of what was that old Macdonald course. When the war ended, the Navy used its Lido Beach Base as a discharge center. That is where the Navy and I parted company in 1946.
Macdonald may have been a nasty, old curmudgeon. But he gave us too many things to appreciate for us to quibble over just another Wall Street personality problem.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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