A Look Back at the USGA’s First One Hundred Years

Golf: The Greatest Game

Golf: The Greatest Game








One Hundred Years of the USGA.

An Essay Written for Golf, The Greatest Game, published by HarperCollins in 1994.

To commemorate its centennial, the USGA sponsored the publication of a coffee table book organized and designed by Brennon Jones and Amy Janello of Jones & Janello.  Golf, the Greatest Game featured an introduction by John Updike and essays by a notable group of writers, among them Curt Sampson, Jaime Diaz, Tom Doak, Arnold Palmer with Thomas Hauser, William Hallberg, David Noonan, and Peter Andrews.  I was asked to write about the USGA’s founding and the trajectory of its evolution.  The book jacket featured a wide angle shot of the 17th at Sandpines, a recently opened Rees Jones-designed course on the central Oregon coast which had been anointed by Golf Digest as the “best new public course” to debut in 1993.

sandpines 17

Sandpines 17th hole in background

Bandon Dunes was not yet a mote in Mike Keiser’s eye, so the new Rees Jones’s course, which was primarily a parkland course with some links-like holes, was a welcome addition to Oregon’s golf scene.  Though built on and among dunes, Sandpines did not hug the coast; the Pacific is not visible from anywhere on the course, although the ocean winds certainly have an effect on play.  The 8th hole is a long par three; I won a closest-to-the-pin prize at the grand opening by hitting a driver, my ball just creeping onto the front edge of the green from perhaps 230 yards into the face a driving wind.  But the passion for links golf was not yet evident among America’s avid golfers, and the course Jones designed was well received, although it did not do well financially.  Today it’s played mostly by locals and by Portland area golfers driving to Bandon, who partake of a round at Sandpines as an hors d-oeuvre for the main course of a visit to Bandon Dunes.

Coffee table books are regarded primarily as compendia of pictures, and Golf, The Greatest Game does have wonderful illustrations.  But my guess is that the essays were not widely read, and I have no idea how many copies of the book were sold.  You can buy a “very good” used copy on Amazon today for ninety-nine cents.  Perhaps because the USGA’s sponsorship suggested that the essays would be constrained by institutional censorship, the book was not reviewed anywhere that I remember.  But no one told me what to write, and I observed the USGA’s history of accommodating itself to racial and gender discrimination without any pushback from the sponsor.  I hadn’t looked at this essay for many years, but I am proud to have written it and pleased with the company it’s keeping.  Twenty years on it still has relevance, especially as the USGA has continued to evolve.  We are playing the national Open on muni courses–in 2015 at Chambers Bay, a course I was involved in as the CEO of Robert Trent Jones II–while the Publinks is about to fade from view.

This is the text of my essay on the USGA’s first one hundred years.


Charlie Macdonald was a stubborn man, and in the infancy of American golf, when not merely the best players but every golfer in the United States could have gathered in a single smoking car, Macdonald was eager to affirm his reputation as the country’s finest golfer. His chance finally came in the fall of 1894, and it was out of his fury at failing to win—a failure he blamed on irregular conditions and arbitrary rulings—that the United States Golf Association was born.

Macdonald had learned the game at its fountainhead, on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Though only sixteen, he had traveled from his Chicago home to his father’s native Scotland in 1872 to “complete my education at the university.” The summer before Charlie matriculated, his grandfather, a resident of St. Andrews and a member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, bought him several clubs crafted at Old Tom Morris’s shop and set the boy loose on the links. His initial impression was that golf was “a silly game for old men,” as he recalled in his 1928 memoir, Scotland’s Gift-Golf. But, given that there was “nothing to do in St. Andrews but play golf and bathe,” he acquired the game’s skills quickly. In foursomes with local artisans and lairds, among resident scholars and celebrated summer visitors like Anthony Trollope and John Stuart Mill-come to savor St. Andrews’ long, soft summer days-Macdonald ultimately surrendered to golf’s charms.

Playing with Old Tom and his brilliant son, Young Tom—winner of the Open championship thrice in succession and triumphant once again the year Macdonald arrived in Scotland—Charlie mastered the robust, rocking swing suited to St. Andrews’ blustery winds. He foreswore Old Tom’s habit of bathing every morning in the frigid waters of St. Andrews’ East Bay, but the force of the old man’s rectitude, his golfing righteousness, saturated Charlie’s soul like the chill of a corrosive haar, the piercing fog that stalks the links from the North Sea.

“Golf was so simple at St. Andrews,” Macdonald recalled. The plain pieties of Scottish golf, its guilelessness, captivated Macdonald, who could chant the golfer’s litany with a convert’s zeal: Play the ball as it lies. Don’t touch the ball with anything but a club until it’s holed out. Abide by the spirit of the game.

Macdonald returned in 1874 not just to a golfless Chicago, but to a United States with no golf courses at all, an Edmund Hillary languishing on the plains. On business trips to Britain Macdonald played, but he was unable to stir up any interest in golf among his friends in the Midwest until 1893, when a group of English golfers working at the Chicago World’s Fair talked up the game. That year Macdonald and his friends built the first eighteen-hole golf course in the United States, the Chicago Golf Club.  (The handful of courses that had recently sprung up on the East Coast were all nine holes or fewer.) The course Macdonald designed veered right in a gentle arc, perfectly accommodating his natural slice.

In the meantime, a group of New Yorkers led by a transplanted Scot named John Reid founded in 1888 what is today the oldest continuously existing golf club in the United States, St. Andrew’s, playing first on a three-hole course, then a six-hole course, then briefly on yet another six-hole layout rambling through an old apple orchard in Yonkers. The gentlemen of the American St. Andrew’s—women were excluded from their company—were thereafter known as The Apple Tree Gang, and Reid, Macdonald’s senior by a generation, was lionized as “the father of American golf.” But Macdonald was its godfather, and with his missionary certainty, his proselyte’s fervor, he compelled every golfer and every club in America to heed his St. Andrean convictions about golf’s proper playing.  The United States Golf Association owes its existence to Charlie Macdonald’s fury at finding his golf ball nestled against a stone wall after a “foozle”—a topped shot—on the day he expected finally to confirm his exalted reputation.

Macdonald’s mishap occurred in September 1894 at Newport, Rhode Island, Golf Club, presided over by Theodore Havemeyer of the sugar trust. Macdonald and nineteen fellow competitors had gathered there for what was advertised as the first American golf championship-two days of medal play, eighteen holes each day over Newport’s nine-hole course. Assessed two penalty strokes for the ball he struck against the stone wall, Macdonald lost the medal by one stroke. In the words of Herbert Warren Wind, “Charlie Macdonald took the defeat hard.” It was not merely that a real golf course would not have stone dikes bisecting its fairways, Macdonald protested, but that amateur championships in Great Britain were exclusively match-play tournaments.

The St. Andrew’s club had scheduled just such a match-play event that October. Macdonald won his first day’s matches easily, then went to a dinner party given by the architect Stanford White and stayed up until five o’clock in the morning. A bit shaky at breakfast, he followed White’s suggestion to take strychnine pellets to perk himself up before setting out for his morning match. The remedy worked well enough for Macdonald to play himself into the finals, but the steak and champagne White decreed for lunch bred “wretched golf that afternoon,” and Macdonald was runner-up again, as he had been at Newport. Well, so what? Macdonald argued. With no national golfing association to organize and sanction a championship, how could there be a national champion? The St. Andrew’s match-play championship was utterly ersatz. What was needed was an organization whose members were disinterested and above the fray, detached from commerce and ruled only by love of the game, to authorize an authentic national championship.

Three days before Christmas In 1894, heeding Macdonald’s complaints, Henry Tallmadge hosted a dinner at the Calumet Club in New York, at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Twenty-ninth Street.  Havemeyer of the Newport Golf Club was there, and Reid of St. Andrew’s, and Laurence Curtis and P. S. Sears of The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, and Samuel Parrish and General J. H. Barber of Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, the finest of the East Coast’s new courses. And from the west came Arthur Ryerson and Charlie Macdonald of Chicago Golf Club.

Over claret and through a pall of cigar smoke, one assumes, Havemeyer moved “that the Amateur Golf Association States be, and hereby is formed ….”  The motion carried unanimously, according to the minutes preserved at Golf House the USGA’s headquarters in Far Hills, New Jersey. The Amateur Golf Association soon changed its name to the United States Golf Association, reflecting its willingness to sanction an Open championship, which would inevitably involve professional players. Havemeyer was chosen as the organization’s first president, and then—no surprise—Charlie Macdonald took the floor to move the adoption of the association’s five objects,” or goals.

The first, predictably, was “to promote the interests of the game of golf.The second was “to establish and enforce uniformity of the Rules of the game,” while the third made the USGA’s Executive Committee the “final authority in matters of controversy,” of which there would be plenty. The USGA also expected to establish “as far as possible a uniform system of handicapping,” a job it has struggled with now for a century, sifting through mountains of sand. Its final task was to decide where its two national championships—the Amateur and the Open—would be held. Thus, with grand aims and a charming simplicity, and fueled by Charlie Macdonald’s indignation, the USGA was launched.


I dwell on the USGA’s youth not out of an antiquarian interest, but because I think the USGA’s personality was formed when its bright-eyed ideals congealed in an inherently conservative organizational structure. There has always been continuity on the USGA’s Executive Committee, and the current members serve with the man who served with the man … who parleyed with Charlie Macdonald. Only now that man might be a woman. Had the bylaws provided for the periodic election of an entirely new slate of members, rather than for a steady but modest turnover, the USGA would not be what it is. The USGA has changed along with the game, but the ancient spirit persists.

In its first one hundred years, the United States had spread across a territory so extensive Thomas Jefferson thought it would absorb a thousand generations. The historian Frederick Jackson Turner, a contemporary of Charlie Macdonald’s, argued in a famous essay that the supply of cheap public land, the social safety valve of America’s celebrated western frontier, had dried up by the end of the nineteenth century—at, coincidentally, almost exactly the moment the USGA was formed. More people now lived in cities than on farms, and the public health was threatened by fouled air—from coal smoke, not cars—and crowded living. Parks were seen as an antidote to the stifling conditions of city life; golf courses, blending the benefits of a rural excursion with the safety and control of a well-managed landscape, were specialized parks. And if Turner’s thesis was correct, they would have a plentiful supply of caddies.

The USGA was an instrument in borrowing the great Scottish pastime and making it America’s own. Henry James, an émigré to the Old World, regarded the country club as America’s only contribution to civilization. The country dub meant power, and status, and finally it meant golf. No matter how carefully its players adhered to the rules and spirit of the game Charlie Macdonald loved, golf was transformed in America by its social settings, by the great economic power of the United States and the creative energies of its people. Americans built courses on land the Scots would have left for the woodsman. Americans grew better grass and irrigated the turf to make fairways green in drought and heat. The USGA, through its Green Section, was a pioneer in supporting the study of turf grasses, and because its work was so successful, American golfers came to expect perfect lies.

Not long after the USGA was founded, an American named Coburn Haskell—a friend of Charlie Macdonald, no less—invented the rubber-cored ball, as great a technological leap as the gutta-percha had been over the feathery. The Haskell ball inspired the first lament that equipment was ruining the game, a cry that echoes through the annals of the USGA like the wail of a murdered ancestor. Before it was even a decade old, the USGA was toiling to defend its members’ poor, beleaguered golf courses from the power of innovation, against more resilient balls and novel clubs. Banning the pool cue one player hoped to putt with in the first Amateur was easy, but what about scored faces on irons, concave-faced clubs, or a center-shafted putter? In 1897 the USGA considered a par-four hole as one of more than 165 yards but fewer than 310. By 1911 the par four’s length had been extended to between 226 and 425 yards. The present scale, adopted in 1956, has endured for nearly four decades because the USGA, having previously determined a golf ball’s minimum size and weight, in 1976 imposed an overall distance limit on the ball.

Haskell had offered Macdonald an interest in his rubber-cored-ball company, but Macdonald told him, “I have made it a principle never to receive any profit … from my association with the game of golf. She is a mistress whom I adore, and I can do nothing that would taint the relationship with commercialism.” Macdonald, a businessman himself, had no objection to Haskell’s making money with his new golf ball, but for a USGA committeeman to have done so would have been unconscionable. Would there not be the temptation to urge the adoption of the patented Haskell as the standard ball? The strict ethic of the USGA forbade such conflicts of interest, and not just for members of the USGA Executive Committee.

Anyone older than fifteen who caddied, for example, was barred from amateur competition by the USGA’s first codification of amateur status, along with golf course architects, sporting goods salesmen, and greenkeepers. These strictures were relaxed over the years and seem niggling today. In 1926 the USGA ruled that Philip Turnesa, member of the famous family of golfing brothers, enjoyed “unusual opportunities to practice” because he was working for his father as an assistant greenkeeper. Therefore, he could “no longer continue in his position and retain his amateur status.”

In his annual address an early USGA president railed, too, against “clubs which are not germane to the spirit of this organization—clubs which are gotten up for the purpose of making money, [for] booming worthless real estate, or it may be hotels …. I strongly feel that this Association cannot take too high ground in treating with such clubs.” Golf, he concluded, was a gentleman’s game—golf s grand illusion. What he meant to emphasize, of course, were sportsmanship, honest conduct, and fair play, qualities he thought exclusive to men of his race and class.

American golf was not, in its early days, the game of the people Macdonald had learned in Scotland, where plasterers played with rectors and carpenters with deans. American golf was a game of blue bloods—and mostly male at that. However, women were attracted to the game, and their own Amateur championship was first held in 1895. British clubs—even the R&A—tended to play over public links, but until the past few decades, golf in America was yoked to the private country club, and its championships are still held largely on these venerable member courses. Public golf has a long history in the United States—the first public course, Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York, is almost as old as the United States Golf Association. But though public clubs could and did join the USGA, their players did not participate in its governance, and the popular image of golf as a pastime of the wealthy persisted. The USGA created an Amateur Public Links championship in 1922, and now more than half its member clubs are associated with public courses. Some cynics suggested that the Public Links tournament was a way of keeping “them,” meaning the public course golfer, out of “our” Amateur championship. But, whether at country club or muni, all real golf in America was played, as the golf card said, “under USGA Rules.”


The USGA’s history inevitably reflects the country’s social evolution.  When segregation governed American race relations, the USGA accommodated itself to its member clubs’ restricted practices, and it long honored a gentlemen’s agreement. But the USGA never formally adopted a racially exclusive policy, as the PGA had done in limiting its membership to professional golfers of the “Caucasian race.” At the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 1896, both John Shippen, an African-American whose father “was a minister to the Shinnecock Indians, and Oscar Bunn, a member of the Shinnecock tribe, played, over the objections of at least some of the golf professionals, most of whom were transplanted Scotsmen. USGA president Theodore Havemeyer didn’t blink. “We will play the Open with you,” he said to the grumbling professionals, “or without you.” Shippen, who finished fifth among twenty-eight competitors, would play in five more U.S. Opens, the last in 1913, and is celebrated today as the first native-born American professional golfer.

In 1938, however, the USGA refused to accept an Open entry from an African-American golfer. And when the Miami Country Club notified the USGA “that it would not permit Negroes to compete in the 1952 Amateur Public Links championship on its course,” the USGA, reluctant to intrude on what it regarded as the prerogative of a member club, acquiesced. But the USGA moved in cautious conformity with America’s cultural shift, and in 1959 William Wright won the Public Links in Denver, the first African-American to win a USGA championship. In 1987, Judy Bell, a longtime USGA volunteer and amateur player from Colorado, took her seat as the first woman elected to the USGA’s Executive Committee. Five years later John Merchant, a Connecticut lawyer and the first African-American graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, joined the Executive Committee, the same year that Leroy Richie, an African-American lawyer, was appointed the USGA’s general counsel.

The USGA is an almost exact contemporary of the modern Olympic Games, the only organization in sports that ever had anything like the USGA’ s obsession with preserving unsullied amateurism. The committee members of the USGA have always been volunteers serving without compensation. Golf is the only sport whose welfare is overseen and whose Rules are set by amateurs. Today the Executive Committee’s work is supported by a large staff, but its mission remains the one conceived at the Calumet Club in 1894—tending to the good of the game. As in all matters of value, there have been disagreements over what constitutes the good, but the weight of the USGA’s traditions has effectively held conflicts of interest at bay.

The USGA intended from its inception to play according to the Rules prescribed by the R&A, but then straightaway opened a tiny breach when Macdonald, as the first chairman of the committee on Rules, suggested just a couple of little changes to make golf “more adaptable to American links.” The USGA would part company with the R&A over the out-of-bounds rule, over the penalty for an unplayable lie, over the center-shafted putter—the USGA condoned it, the R&A banned it—and over the legality of steel-shafted clubs. Arguing that “it conferred no playing advantage” and “would conserve the supply of hickory to an important extent”—for what purpose, heaven knows—the USGA permitted the steel shaft in 1925. The R&A followed its lead three years later. Golf’s two governing bodies sometimes drifted apart, like figures in a dance, moving with different steps to the same music, but seemed always to embrace at the end of the evening.  After fifty years of ad hoc accommodations, the USGA and the R&A established their joint authority at a summit conference in 1951, agreeing to a periodic mutual review. The world now plays golf by the same set of rules. In 1901, USGA President R. H. Robertson of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, addressing the delegates gathered at the annual meeting at Delmonico’s in New York City, said, “Nothing can come to America and stay very long without being Americanized in character; and I hope this game will be no exception to this rule. I should like to see American golf.” Robertson’s comments made Macdonald apoplectic—”The troubles,” he wrote, “began right here”—but Robertson simply spoke the truth about what was happening to golf in the United States. Just as American culture was being enriched by the traditions of its new citizens, then passing by the millions through Ellis Island, America’s sporting culture was learning new attitudes from golf In the cauldron of American culture, golf was transfigured and, with it, perforce, the Rules.

Americans have always preferred four-balls to foursomes, stroke play to match. A bent for keeping an individual score for every round has traditionally distinguished American from Scottish golfers. Americans loved to measure themselves, to know where they stood, because the social structure they inhabited was fluid, its distinctions rarely fixed. Americans hated the stymie, too, because it affronted their sense of justice. Americans, an Englishman observed, play golf “with pain that is almost pleasure.”

The stymie was the closest thing golf ever had to a goalie. In match play, a player could “lay a stymie” by stopping his ball between his opponent’s ball and the cup. The Western Golf Association, soon joined by other sectional organizations, stopped playing the stymie in 1917, standing against the USGA’s authority. Nothing in golf was more controversial. The debate raged for three decades, in the golf press and at the annual meetings of the USGA. The stymie was finally abolished at the great Rules summit between the USGA and the R&A, effective in 1952.

The English language preserves the word, but the stymie is gone from golf. Once the stymie was abolished, there were two games of golf: the shots from tee to green and the putting game.  American golf forced this transformation, and now we routinely mark and clean our balls on the green, scarcely comprehending what an abominable act this would have seemed fifty years ago. Players mark and clean even at St. Andrews. (And, as further evidence of the influence of American golf, the Old Course has irrigated its fairways.) As Joseph Dey, the USGA’s executive secretary who shepherded American golf into the modern age, said, the rule against the stymie “was made by the people—which is the best kind of law, because an unpopular law is generally unenforceable and so pointless to have on the books.”

The Amateur was the championship through the first third of the USGA’s history—of the four major championships in Bobby Jones’s grand slam in 1930, two were amateur titles—but the best playing inevitably shifted toward the professionals. Ultimately the U.S. Open, as the greatest challenge in golf, would outstrip the Amateur in prestige. The Open was last won by an amateur in 1933, and the next year the USGA hired Dey as its executive secretary-later director-dual milestones marking the end of American golfs travels through childhood. Dey manned the bridge as the USGA negotiated its modus vivendi with the R&A and accommodated itself to the ascendancy of professional golf. A former sportswriter who also penned forgettable short fiction under the nom de plume Howard Holt, Dey became the USGA’s leading expert on Rules. The organization he joined in 1934 had never sold broadcast rights to any of its championships, but by the time Dey left the USGA to head the PGA Tour in 1969, the USGA’s revenues from telecasts of the U.S. Open had given it financial muscle, funds to support an expanded program of turf research, to scrutinize and test equipment, and to devote the same attention to the championships that didn’t bring in money as to the U.S. Opens. There are now thirteen USGA championships-not just the Opens and Amateurs, but Senior Opens and Amateurs, Junior championships for boys and girls, and the Mid-Amateurs. The creation of the Mid-Amateur championship marked the reluctant recognition that in tolerating golf scholarships for college players, the USGA had effectively turned over the Amateur to what Frank Hannigan called the “pre-professionals,” and needed an event to test the skills of slightly more mature players. Many reinstated professionals play in the Mid-Amateur, and the USGA has long been generous in its willingness to restore players to amateur status.

Professional domination of the U.S. Opens—a Women’s Open was started in 1953—bolstered the USGA’s determination to maintain its strict Rules on amateurism. Men and women who made their living from golf had an advantage over players for whom golf was a hobby. But in what, exactly, did making a living at golf consist? Here the USGA committeemen struggled endlessly to make clear distinctions.  When Frank Hannigan—who would later serve as the USGA’s executive director and, like Dey and his successor, P. J. Boatwright, earn acclaim for his expertise on Rules—drafted a white paper on the evolutions of the USGA’s view of amateur status, it was forty single-spaced pages long. The great breach in what Hannigan called this “awful realm” was the USGA’s decision to allow college golfers to accept scholarships without compromising their amateur status. But long before casting that blind eye, the USGA had bumped up against the wall of its own certainties, and never more so than in the aftermath of its troubled decision to exile Francis Ouimet.

When it banned Ouimet from amateur competition in 1917, because he had an interest in a sporting-goods company, the USGA learned just how fiercely the golfing public embraced its heroes. Ouimet was not just any golfer. In 1913, as a twenty-year-old playing at The Country Club in Massachusetts, where he had once caddied, Ouimet won the U.S. Open over the great British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted RayRayRay.

The year before, the USGA had designated those eligible for the Amateur by publishing its first handicap list, naming all the 450 or so golfers in the country with a handicap of six or lower. Ouimet was then playing off three. By 1914 he was at scratch, a more suitable stature for the U.S. Open champion—it is hard to imagine someone with a three handicap winning the Open.

Ouimet’s determination to play as an amateur was unusual. The great professionals of his era, like ‘Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, and their younger successors, like Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret, were drawn from the caddie ranks. Before the rise of college golf, caddying and professional golf were inextricably linked, with caddies lured by the purses on the PGA Tour—so much so that when golf carts came on the scene in the 1950s, the PGA abhorred their use, sure that the pool from which professional golfers were drawn would dry up. The early professionals learned to shave hickory shafts and repair broken clubs, and their lives were financially insecure.

The first Open, an afterthought to the first official Amateur championship in 1895, was a thirty-six-hole tournament played on the day after the real championship’s final match. The winner pocketed $150 and a gold medal. It was not until the 1920 Open at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, that professionals were granted the privileges of the clubhouse. Bobby Jones, a Harvard-educated lawyer, was the age’s quintessential amateur-not simply because he was an incomparable player, but because he refused, in the spirit of Charlie Macdonald, to commercialize his success. Jones was revered by the USGA, and never more so than when he turned down the gift of a house from his friends in Atlanta-an act the USGA president called “a magnificent thing,” because accepting it ‘would not have violated any USGA stricture.

The USGA’s decision to declare Ouimet a professional  was greeted with hostility, especially among western golfers, for  whom the magazine Coif spoke. It referred to the “Ouimet outrage,” labeled the USGA the “five per-cent corporation,” and denounced it as unrepresentative and a “disintegrating force in golf” These were the same contentious westerners who were abandoning the stymie.

In 1918 Ouimet was inducted into the Army, giving the USGA a way to reinstate him without admitting any wrong in having banned him in the first place. The dispute died with a whimper, and not even the western golfers could sustain their outrage in the golf boom of the twenties. Ouimet, who won his first Amateur in 1914, the year following his Open victory, and his second in 1931, served for years on the USGA’s Executive Committee and in 1951 would drive himself in as the first American captain of the R&A. In no player were the USGA’s ideals more firmly fixed.

The Ouimet case helped the USGA earn a reputation for hairsplitting, and it’s no surprise that lawyers have long been heavily represented on the Executive Committee. In January 1934, for example, the Amateur Status Committee considered the case of “an advertisement containing a photo of Mrs. Nicholas Biddle, a member of the Huntington Valley Country Club in Philadelphia, endorsing a certain brand of cigarettes.” The USGA’s policy was not to look for infractions but to pass judgment on any potential violations brought to its attention. “The underlying question presented” by Mrs. Biddle was whether she had capitalized on her skill as a golfer. She appeared in the ad, the committee decided, “not on account of her golf playing, but rather on account of her social position and attractive appearance, and, therefore, no action should be taken in the matter.”

Don Cherry was a popular singer who was a good enough golfer to play in the Amateur and Open, and to compete on Walker Cup teams. An advertisement referring to him as “the recording and singing golfer” came to the USGA’s attention. Now if people were coming to see him sing because he was a golfer, he would lose his amateur status.  But if he sang for his living, was he supposed to keep his golf a secret?  Insurance salesmen could pitch a policy on the links without threatening their status, so why couldn’t Don Cherry croon?

All this apparent captiousness contributed to a popular view of the lJSGA as a rather stuffy outfit, a constellation of aging preppies who strolled the championship grounds dressed as the prototypes for Ralph Lauren, men who took delight in setting up the Open course to humiliate the professionals and in ruining the game for the beer-and-a-shot set by forbidding the Calcutta. Gambling and prizes always gave the USGA fits, as it struggled to distinguish a friendly wager-essential to golfs joy but in no way a threat to one’s amateur status-from private competitions where real treasures were buried. Like moral Masons and Dixons, the USGA surveyed the boundaries of propriety.

Treason is rare in the country of golf, where cheating in championships is unheard of and players call penalties on themselves, but flawed comportment is not unknown. Bobby Jones once injured a spectator with a thrown club and was famous for his temper. Eventually his chagrin at actually quitting in frustration over his inept play during the middle of a round in the British Open cured him of bad manners. He was thereafter the Paragon. The USGA once “noted with alarm the tendency of professionals to throw clubs,” and vowed to keep an eye on Tommy Bolt when he came to Oakmont for the 1953 Open. Bolt, decorous at last, won the Open in 1958 at Southern Hills. Lee Trevino, the two-time Open champion with a genius for apt summary, caught the USGA’s public image in his sights. “When I reach sixty,” he said, “I’m gonna buy a blue blazer and a can of dandruff and run the USGA.”

But the USGA, with a measured pace and an occasional stumble, walks to the music of time. Its force derives from consent, like all good government. Its Rules are hallowed, graced by the whisper of ancient voices. Keep the game of golf clean.

Charlie Macdonald rode back to Newport in the fall of 1895 to play in the first Amateur, easily winning his first four eighteen-hole matches. No qualifying rounds had been necessary, there were so few entrants. In the thirty-six-hole final, he was twelve up with eleven to play—to this day, the greatest margin of victory in an Amateur final.  Vindication, at long last.  Charlie Macdonald was the one true Amateur champion. Then someone noticed that Macdonald and his opponent had each recruited a professional to “follow them over the course to coach them and advise, a questionable proceeding in what should be strictly amateur in every respect.”












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