The Amazing Carnoustie Oakmont Connection

Fred Brand, a Carnoustie village boy with a rangy build and thick, powerful hands, showed up at his home links one day in 1900 to play the round of his life. The Scottish Open was underway at Carnoustie and Freddie, straight out of high school, had somehow scrapped his way to the semi-finals. Brand’s next opponent would be the English champion, J.H. Taylor, holder of three British Opens titles and destined to win two more. But Taylor couldn’t keep pace with the local boy that day. Brand sent him back home to Surrey and advanced to the finals, losing the medal to another titan, Alexander Herd.

Watching from the gallery as Brand upset Taylor were two brothers from one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest families, Eben and J.F. Byers. Members of the fledgling Allegheny Country Club, they were helping plan the club’s move to a site in Sewickley that offered superior golf terrain. When the transition was complete, Allegheny would need a full-time club professional. Brand’s showing against Taylor made a strong enough impression to earn him a job offer from the Byers, which came through two years later and provided Pittsburgh with its first Carnoustie-bred golf pro.

There would be others. Not long after Brand’s arrival in 1904, the Steel City’s clubs would employ a dozen or more golf transplants from Carnoustie, which for its small size produced an astounding number of émigré pros, clubmakers and greenkeepers to nurture golf’s expansion. Carnoustie’s turn-of-the-century golf diaspora is confirmed by a roadside plaque in the Tayside town, filled with the logos and crests of golf organizations its sons helped establish. These span the globe from North America to Australia, South Africa and other far-flung ports. But of all U.S. cities, Pittsburgh was the most significant and enduring terminus of this so-called Carnoustie Exodus.

At Oakmont, the Carnoustie connection began in 1905 with Peter Robertson, the club’s first pro, who arrived in Pittsburgh not long after Fred Brand. Robertson was a keen competitor who during his tenure would vie with the club founder’s son, W.C. Fownes, over the honor of who held the Oakmont course record. Records show that Robertson’s 69 stood up for several years against W.C.’s 70. Robertson played in all seven U.S. Opens during his Oakmont tenure, which ended in 1912. His brothers, Davie and Willie Robertson, had followed him over from Carnoustie and each worked for a time as Oakmont assistants. Willie is identified as the clubmaking specialist, a common division of labor in the shops.

When Peter Robertson left for a job in Fall River, Mass., Oakmont founder H.C. Fownes hired Tom Anderson of North Berwick. Two years later Fownes went back to the Carnoustie well by bringing in Macdonald Smith, a first-rank player who didn’t last in the job, then Charlie Rowe, who did. The question of Rowe’s Carnoustie roots is unsettled. A roster of emigrants compiled by amateur historian Stewart Hackney in his 1989 book, “Carnoustie Links: Courses and Players” doesn’t list Rowe’s name. However, a written account by a Princeton-educated businessman who was part of the Pittsburgh club scene in the 1930s says Rowe, who stayed on as pro until 1927, was indeed Carnoustie-bred.

While Fred Brand’s club-pro career in greater Pittsburgh never included a stop at Oakmont, his two sons certainly became fixtures there. Graduates of Penn State and tournament golfers themselves, the brothers joined Oakmont after college and military service and contributed vigorously to the club’s high profile in American golf. The younger brother, Jack, who died at age 87 earlier this year, chaired or co-chaired two U.S. Opens at Oakmont, along with the 1969 U.S. Amateur and the 1978 PGA Championship held at the club. His older brother, Fred, Jr., was a USGA Executive Committee member who received the 1997 Bob Jones Award for distinguished service. Fred, Jr., is also known for having recruited U.S. Open winner Lew Worsham to Oakmont as its golf professional, a position Worsham held for three decades.

Carnoustie allegiance ran deep in Jack and Fred, Jr., even as they assimilated swiftly into the American corporate class. (The boys were steered away from golf as a profession by their father and prospered as partners in an insurance group.) As children they would sail back to Carnoustie to see their relations, enjoying the visits despite their confusion over the parentage of Fred, Sr. Later in life they speculated that the noted Carnoustie cleekmaker, Charlie Brand, was their grandfather, although the family never had any contact with him.

Fred, Jr., would become a life member of Carnoustie Golf Club and made trips across to play the old links when time permitted. When he amassed enough wealth to build a large estate in Ligonier, Pa., he named it Carnoustie Acres. The sons’ relationship with Allegheny, where they had grown up in a club-provided cottage by the 16th hole, was compromised by their status as children of an employee. This precluded their ever joining, according to Jack, who was also deterred by the uncomfortable fact that his father had been dismissed by the club in 1910 for problems related to excess drinking, only to be rehired several years later.

If the Brand brothers’ recollections are to be trusted, their father was the catalyst for much of the migration out of Carnoustie and over to Pittsburgh. And surely the arrival of Eddie Melvin, Dave and Willie Mckay, the three Lawson brothers, George and Joe Swankie, Jock Kennedy, caddie master Alister Soutar and others were partly due to his example or exhortations. Stewart Hackney echoes the Brands’ own contentions when he writes of Fred, Sr.: “Each spring for a good many years he provided a home for a Carnoustie newcomer setting out in U.S. golf.”

But the sons do overreach in their USGA oral histories when they claim that Stewart Maiden, the Carnoustian who taught Bobby Jones the golf swing, was led to America by their father. Maiden’s biographer, Sidney Mathew, while acknowledging the boyhood friendship of Maiden and Fred Brand, Sr., gives credit for Maiden’s emigration to Maiden’s brother Jimmy, who was well established in the U.S. when Stewart arrived in 1907.

In researching Maiden’s early years, Mathew came upon Carnoustie club notes that depict some of the town’s Pittsburgh transplants participating musically in Stewart Maiden’s send-off party. “Orchestral selections were given during the evening,” the notes read, “by…David McKay on violin [with] …songs rendered by…George Swankie, Fred Brand and others.”

In the earliest days, it was common for Brand, McKay and other Carnoustie men to find passage home from their American postings for winter visits. Mixed into their native brogues, says Hackney, were flattened American pronunciations and odd phrasings (“A bully fine shot, sonny” or “That one’s gone some”), which the clan members back home would greet with amusement and disdain.

Records of the Carnoustie diaspora—in reference to Pittsburgh and other destinations—tend to be upbeat and even romantic in tone. But there are exceptions. Herbert Lawson, who in 1915 followed Brand and others to a job at Pittsburgh’s Thornburg Country Club (since renamed) before moving to nearby Edgewood Country Club, fits that category. Lawson’s career is summarized in the Hackney monograph thusly: “Gave up his position [at Edgewood] in summer 1930; after being in low spirits for months, poisoned himself just before Christmas, leaving a widow and son.”

In his recounting of Peter Robertson’s adventures in the New World, Hackney mentions that the former Oakmont pro played a farewell round back home with countryman Willie Smith, winner of the 1903 U.S. Open. It was to be the last any of lads saw of Smith, who left soon thereafter for Mexico to become that nation’s first-ever golf professional. Willie died 18 months later from shrapnel wounds inflicted by Zapata-led troops as the guns of the Mexican Revolution descended on Smith’s place of employment, the nation’s only country club.

Dave and Willie McKay (they pronounced their name “ma-KI”) are the most prominent brother act in the Carnoustie-Pittsburgh connection. In 1918, after a decade of work at other clubs, Dave began his 35-year tenure at the Pittsburgh Field Club, where H.C. Fownes himself, the Oakmont founder, had learned to play. A Field Club historian, James C. Hayes, writes fondly of McKay that, “in an effort to keep players from dawdling on the first tee, he would utter a standard exhortation. ‘All right, gentlemen,’ he would say in his Scotch accent: Ye’ may slice off now.’”

McKay’s final year as head pro at the Field Club was ’53, the year Hogan won the Masters at Augusta, the Open Championship at Carnoustie and the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Of the two brothers, Dave was the more diligent and reserved. He surely  walked Oakmont’s grounds with heavy emotions that week. Dave’s brother Willie was that Scottish rarity, a bon vivant who dressed with flash and didn’t mind being seen enjoying himself. During his years as head pro at Pittsburgh’s Longvue Country Club, Willie could be found at the racetrack every Monday on his one day off. His peers, by contrast, generally exhibited what Bob Jones called the “courageous timidity” of the Scotland-bred golf professional in America.

“Brave enough to take on the challenge,” the Jones biographer Mathew has said in paraphrase, “but ever aware of a catastrophe around the next corner.”

There is one living member of the Pittsburgh PGA chapter, Joe Bonadio, who connects back to the Carnoustie era by dint of having worked under Dave McKay at the Field Club. Bonadio recalls McKay patiently teaching him how to whip black nylon thread around the neck of a persimmon driver or fairway wood, as necessary reinforcement. Following his official retirement, Mackay stayed on for a while as professional emeritus, a period during which he and Bonadio would take lunch together often. “Dave still had the thick accent,” Bonadio recalls, “and he told good old stories, although he was starting to remember them differently from one day to the next.”

Over at Fox Chapel was another Carnoustian, the garrulous Jock Kennedy. A member of the Princeton class of 1933, Bill Evans, enlivened his alumni magazine’s notes some years back with a brief remembrance of the Carnoustie group in Pittsburgh. Evans noted that “many old-timers even today can recall [these] characters got together to sample the whiskey and tell stories about the old country.” Evans, an accomplished amateur player with many club affiliations in the eastern U.S., wrote in particular about Kennedy, who served Pittsburgh’s prestigious Fox Chapel Golf Club as combination pro-greenkeeper from 1927 to 1949.

Jock’s “infectious sense of humor” and his colorful speech “delighted the membership,” recalls Evans. Playing in a foursome with Kennedy in April of ’37, Evans struck a 7-iron on Fox Chapel’s par-3 11th and watched it fly toward the flag. “Y’ oo me a bottle a’ whiskee,” Kennedy declared, even before the ball had landed. It bounced twice and dropped into the hole. “Needless to say,” writes Evans, “Jock got his reward.”

The Tayside dialect was a saleable asset at these Pittsburgh-area clubs. Fred Brand employed it to lecture his wealthy Allegheny lesson-takers as well as to warn caddies and shag boys against incompetent performance. According to club historian Richard Spatz, Brand would “demonstrate the proper swing with one dozen balls, never more or less. Should the caddie bring back only 11, Fred would fall on him with his Scottish brogue, which could be heard well past the clubhouse.”

Golf lore centering on western Pennsylvania would be incomplete without an Arnold Palmer connection, so it’s necessary to note that Latrobe Country Club had a Carnoustian in charge named Dave Brand (distant relation of Fred) who employed Arnold’s father, Deacon, before moving on and letting the Palmer saga at Latrobe unfold.

Of all the Carnoustie pros in Pittsburgh, only one, Eddie Melvin, seems to have encouraged his progeny to continue in the family trade. Eddie came over in 1911 and worked at several Pittsburgh clubs, principally Alcoma and Wanango, where he enjoyed a long posting. He brought his son Barrett into the golf shop at the tender age of eight to begin the boy’s training as a clubmaker. Barrett became Pennsylvania high school champion at age 14 and played in his first U.S. Open the following year. In all, he played in six Opens, five U.S. Amateurs and four PGA Championships. He worked as an assistant pro at Wanango and yes, at Oakmont as well.

From Carnoustie to Pittsburgh, the Melvin journey skips along to Hawaii golf, where Barrett took a head-pro job at Kalakaua club and became known as a colorful member of the golf community and a strong enough player to win the 1951 Navy-Marine Open championship. He was inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in 2000 along with television commentator Mark Rolfing.

Jack Brand, being a contemporary, crossed paths with Barrett Melvin at clubs all over Pittsburgh back in the day. Of the two, Melvin was undoubtedly the better player. But in looking back 70 years at the paths their two lives took, Jack’s notable tinge of envy seems more owing to Barrett’s ocean-crossing valor than to his superior golf skill. And to how things worked out for his Carnoustie cousin once he relocated.

Barrett “was young and good-looking,” Jack remembers. “I followed him at Fox Chapel the year he won the Penn Amateur. He was a wonderful guy. Then he turned professional and ended up in Hawaii, married to one of the Dole Pineapple girls.”

Courage without the timidity, it would seem.

Bonus: For Swing Freaks Only

Among the artifacts and ideas brought over from Carnoustie was a swing technique called the “free pivot.” To perform it properly, the player turned his head during the takeaway to follow the clubhead back, then kept his gaze turned back until he saw the clubhead returning, so as to follow the path of it all the way to impact. This quirk distinguished the Carnoustie swing from its St. Andrews counterpart and “got [the] shoulders through grandly,” as one proponent of the technique claimed.

5 Responses to “The Amazing Carnoustie Oakmont Connection”

  1. Brian Matheson

    Good article! You mention Stewart Hackney who had seven brothers, Clarence and Dave fine players. However, Carnoustie Links Courses and Players – Stewart’s self published book in 1988 is a bit of a puzzle: the author is one Stewart Hackney but is he the Stewart Hackney who had seven brothers including Clarence and Dave? No amount of research so far has uncovered who the author was – any ideas?

  2. Brian Matheson

    I should have added a comment on the “Carnoustie Swing” sorry but this is a myth. One of the best iron players at the time was Dave Hackney and his swing was flat and a bit hookish at times but it was said he would hole out around six times in a season and was so accurate he put himself in single putt range on almost every occasion and made his share. Some played with the head “pivot” in my grandfathers day others did not, some were flattish on the back swing others more upright but all the good players could ‘lag’the hands and drove the ball – strong wrists and no divot to speak of.Now that was golf!

  3. Brian Matheson

    Who was the author of Carnoustie Links Courses and Players? Stewart Hackney is the name but who was he?


  4. David Gould

    Only answer I can provide is that he was part of the golfing society they had there, at the time. Happened to be one of the bunch who was inclined to diary-keeping and the compiling of records.

  5. brian matheson

    Hi Again – I found the author Stewart Hackney. The full story is in the BGCS magazine ‘Through The Green’ this year. His name was David Ainslie a young lawyer from Dundee. The investigation uncovered a link to an employee of the USGA who corresponded with David. David was a recluse who hid his identity well however in taking the name Stewart Hackney he thought this man had no connection to the golfing family of Hackney’s who left for the USA in the early 1900s. He was mistaken as Stewart was a golf pro in New Hampshire and his relatives still live in that State. Sadly, David Ainslie died in 2006.Kind Regards Brian.

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