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Early Golf in the United States

In 1889, a year after the opening of the American course named the St. Andrews Club of Yonkers, it was still evident that there were vast misconceptions about the nature of the game. In Philadelphia (later to become a hotbed of golf) the Times described golf as a game where “Each player places his ball at the edge of a hole designated as a starting point. He then bats it…toward the next hole. As soon as it has started he runs forward… and his servant, who is called ‘caddy,’ runs after him…”  Then the Times delivered the ultimate bit of nogolf in america a practical manual photo 120x120nsense, “…it is sometimes agreed that the game shall be won by him who makes the largest number of holes within a given number of minutes, say twenty or thirty.”   The true story of American Golf appeared in a small book called, simply, Golf In America: A Practical Manual. Published in 1895 and written by James P. Lee. (Link to Bookstore - The First American Golf Book) 

The first book on golf in America, this little tome started with a photograph of the St. Andrews Club of Yonkers as a frontispiece and went on from there.

yonkers on the map

Part 1 told about the history of the game, which is a pretty good place to start and Lee got it right! He quoted Sir W. G. Simpson who wrote,“A shepherd tending his sheep would often chance upon a round pebble, and having his crook in hand, he would strike it away; for it is inevitable that a man would stick in his hand should aim a blow at any loose object lying in his path as that he should breathe. On pastures green this led to nothing: but once on a time (probably) a shepherd, feeding his sheep on a links-perhaps those at St, Andrews-rolled one of these stones into a rabbit scrape.first usa golf photo standrews golf club ‘Marry,’ he quoth, “I could not do that if I tried, a thought (so instinctive is ambition) which nerved him to the attempt. But a man cannot long persevere alone in any arduous undertaking, so our shepherd hailed another, who was hard by, to witness his endeavor. ‘Forsooth, that is easy,’ said the friend, and trying, failed. They now searched the gorse for as round stones as possible, and, to their surprise, each found an old golf ball, which as the reader knows are to be found there in considerable quantity even to this day.” However, Lee was not writing a whimsical book. He was documenting the earliest golfing clubs in America and the inception of the United States Golf Association; Constitution, By-Laws and all.

The book shows a topographical view of Shinnecock Hills, where a U. S. Open was held in 1896. In this drawing the course layout was quite unusual, requiring the player to cross the Long Island Railroad twice, Tuckahoe Road twice, Spring Road twice, Saint Andrews Road twice, and Raynor's Road three times! That’s definitely not the way it was played in 1986 when the U. S. Open came back to Shinnecock Hills (and returned again in 1995).

He went on to describe the format of play in golf, “There is no racing or any effort to accomplish a hole in less time than your opponent; on the contrary, a good golfer will take time to play each stroke carefully, for the beauty of the whole game consists in dealing skillfully with the ball as you find it; and in order to keep the players together, he whose ball is farther from the hole to which he is playing, continues to play until he has passed his opponent. Then his opponent plays until he has holed out his ball. Account has been taken of each stroke in the meanwhile, and, as has been said, the player who played this particular hole in the fewest strokes is the winner of this hole. One round of the course, as had been said, is a match, unless otherwise agreed upon, and he who is the winner of the majority of the holes is the winner of the match.”

Lee shows us a picture of “MODERN GOLF CLUBS”, no golfer should be without a set just like them... To tell you the truth, I’d LOVE to have a set just like them because today the 11 piece set would be worth, conservatively $25,000.

Lee also told us about the rules of the game. Interesting. There were only 40 of them. There were also special rules for medal play, all 14 of them. Hmmm.

Oh, how I long for the good old days!

Dr. Robert Weisgerber

Dr. Bob’s Profile: Childhood Home: Philadelphia. Education: PhD University of Indiana, MBA Notre Dame de Namur, undergrad West Chester University.  Favorite Course: St. Andrews, Sentimental Favorite: Green Hills CC.  Favorite Golf Memory: meeting Arnold in Latrobe at his office 1975. Most significant Golf Artifact: Acts of Parliament 1682-85. Favorite Collectors Artifact: Tom Morris Spoon. In five-or-less words why collect golf artifacts: History, Appreciation, Nostalgia.  Estimated number of books you read per year: 50+.  Most memorable championship you’ve attended: Shinnecock Hills 1986 U.S. Open.  All-Time Favorite Golf Personality: Joe Murdoch.

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