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'Championships and Friendships: The First 100 Years of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association'

By: Jay Flemma


Although I only have time to name a few, I love Jeff Shelley for a million reasons. First, he's honest, hard-working and loves golf to the marrow of his bones. Second, he's the best kind of editor; he hardly touches anything I write. Finally, and just as importantly, when he writes a piece, it's accurate, informative and interesting. Over his long career, Jeff, now the editorial director for Cybergolf and www.golfconstructionnews.com, has discovered some of the most fascinating pieces of golf history.    

That being said, welcome to the biggest, heaviest and most comprehensive golf book you'll see in your life. "Championships & Friendships" is bigger than a breadbox, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap all seven Harry Potter novels in a single-bound volume. It's not just a golf book but an encyclopaedia: the only place to go when you need any information on golf in the Pacific Northwest.

Indeed, the name is appropriate - both for Jeff, historian Mike Riste and the work. It's called "Championships and Friendships" for two reasons. First, it pays homage to the camaraderie the game inspires, focusing on the warm personalities that brought the game to the masses in the Pacific Northwest. Second, it highlights the rich history of competitive golf in the region. Despite being larger than many a dictionary, it reads easily, indeed cheerfully, bringing to life its subjects with a sincere vibrancy.

The book is not meant to be read cover to cover, but as a reference work. Organized into short vignettes and era, it covers the rise of the game's popularity in the region from 1895, describes the formation of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association, and tells the stories of important tournaments and players. At 437 pages, five pounds, 8 x 11 inches and three back spasms waiting to happen, I can't give more than a thumbnail sketch of everything Jeff and Mike cover, but here are a few nuggets.

Get ready to fall out of your chair, but the authors have discovered that Royal Montreal, founded circa 1874, may not be the first golf course in North America. Pouring through the records of the Hudson Bay Company - one of the original settlers of the Northwest - and surveys of both Methodist missionaries and scientist Charles Wilkes, primary source records indicate that a clerk from the Hudson Bay Company fashioned a rough-hewn six-hole golf course in south Puget Sound sometime in the 1830s. That course, now sadly lost in the shadows and dust of antiquity, would predate Royal Montreal, Chicago Golf Club, Shinnecock and even the Philadelphia Cricket Club, which opened its doors for cricket in 1854.

In the late 1800s, a Scotsman, Alexander Bailee, tried to bring the first golf clubs into Washington State. Jeff recalls with a chuckle: "Apparently, when he brought the golf clubs across the border into America, he was stopped at customs and questioned about the clubs. When Bailee explained what they were for, the perplexed customs agent remarked, 'I'll just list them as agricultural tools because it sounds like you'll be tearing up the ground.' "

Happily, these astounding revelations are only the beginning. Golf history buffs eagerly recall that the USGA was founded on December 22, 1894, in New York City and that the first U.S. Open was held at Newport Country Club the following year. But accounts by Riste, a golf historian and the curator of the B.C. Golf House in Vancouver, and Shelley clearly show that golf was first played in the Pacific Northwest in the 1880s by some of the numerous Scottish immigrants in Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia, Tacoma, Wash., and along the northern Oregon coast. This news is almost as staggering as Dutch mercantile records which indicate that perhaps golf was actually imported to Scotland by natives of the Netherlands. Records also indicate that Vancouver Golf Club was founded in 1892 and Victoria Golf Club in 1893. Therefore, both clubs predate the USGA and the first U.S. Open. The PNGA itself is the fifth oldest golf association in North America.

As the tome progresses, myriad photographs lovingly depict the founding of early courses and the organization of sanctioned tournaments - both medal-play events and team matches between clubs. "Some of the courses now have thousands of trees, including Fircrest, which when it first opened had wide-open views of Mt. Rainier that are now completely obscured," noted Shelley. "The same thing happened at my club, Sand Point in Seattle, which only had 30 trees on it when opened in 1927, but now has over 1,800. These courses were designed by Scotsmen for crying out loud," he laments. You can almost hear him slap his forehead in frustration.

Over time, all the greats of the game added to the golfing lore of the region either by winning tournaments contested in the Northwest or by dueling fiercely with local favorites. Oregon's most prolific U.S. Amateur entrant, Dick Yost, famously upset Jack Nicklaus in the 1957 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. "I was a little unlucky," Nicklaus lamented. "I was out in 32, but Dick was so hot I was still 1-down."

Later on, Tiger Woods won his third consecutive U.S. Amateur at Portland's Pumpkin Ridge in 1996, returning to the city where he also won his third U.S. Junior Amateur. Tiger shot a morning round score of 78. Steve Scott fired a stellar 68 and had a 5-up lead over Woods. Scott shot a bogey-free 70 in the afternoon, but incredibly, Woods authored a 65, making up the entire five-hole deficit and forcing sudden death and finally winning on the 38th hole. "I wouldn't have been happy until I had him 10-down or something," Scott lamented. Years later I met Scott while playing in Florida. He's tried to put it in the past, but some wounds still run deep and hurt years later.

Covering all the bases, Riste and Shelley highlight the great golf course architecture of the area by introducing us to an obscure but important designer, Arthur Vernon Macan. Vernon, as he was called, was inspired by the design concepts of John Low and Max Behr. As you can image, he eschewed the vapid spoon-feeding we now call the doctrine of framing and is particularly noted for his sneering dismissal of flat lies and flat putts. Accordingly, Macan's greens are fiendishly contoured and his fairways wide and rich in strategic options, although many courses have diluted his holes with tree-planting campaigns. "Many of his courses have lost options because trees encroach," wrote one modern architect and design critic. Even so, his legacy is astounding: he designed roughly 60 courses from British Columbia, throughout the West Coast and all the way to Honolulu.

Macan was also notable as a scientist and player. He's credited with inventing a style of course drainage called "Herringbone" (the fish skeleton, not the clothing style), where a long central drain runs the length of the fairway and side drains run perpendicularly off the length of the hole. It also eliminated the accumulation of water around putting surfaces. Macan is also renowned as having been a scratch golfer, but who lost his left foot during World War I's Battle for Vimy Ridge. Incredibly, he rebounded from the amputation to once again become shoot scratch!

The authors highlight other famous local players and personalities. Pat Lesser Harbottle is not only one of the first women to play on a men's collegiate golf team (for Seattle University in 1952), but she won the 1950 U.S. Girls' Junior, the 1953 Women's National Collegiate Championship, the 1953 Canadian Women's Amateur and the 1955 U.S. Women's Amateur. Amazingly, when you look at her pictures you notice two things. First, the bobby-soxed phenom was as tall as the rest of her college golf team and, second, dressed elegantly in her evening gown and posing with her trophies, it's easy to see why she earned the nickname, "Princess Pat."

JoAnne (Gunderson) Carner followed Harbottle, surpassing her feat by not only claiming a record five U.S. Women's Amateur titles (1957, '60, '62, '66 and '68) and winning the 1960 National Women's Championship as an Arizona State Sun Devil, she also had a hall-of-fame LPGA career.

Other local greats won national acclaim as players, architects, and even instructors. Yakima's Kermit Zarley - surely a starter on the "all-name team" - had some modest success as a PGA professional. Ben Crane became the slowest player ever to win a PGA event and was a sympathetic victim of the mercurial Rory Sabbatini during one of the South African's frequent meltdowns. Not only did John Fought (pronounced "Fote") win the 1977 U.S. Amateur at Aronimink, but he has become a well-respected golf architect. One of his greatest contributions is his outstanding restoration of Pine Needles Golf Club, which will soon host its third U.S. Women's Open. And one of the nation's top instructors, Jim McLean, is a native of Seattle who won PNGA Men's Amateur titles in 1969, '71 and '72.

With its broad and deep coverage of the early years of golf history in the region, the players and personalities from the Northwest, the tournaments contested and the golf courses that grace the region, "Championships and Friendships" is the most comprehensive and accurate book on its topic: a one-stop shop for answers to any questions concerning golf in the Pacific Northwest.

Shelley and Riste have a casual but informative tone tempered with a deft touch. They bring stories to life with a vibrancy and sincerity that makes the book a terrific volume for the coffee table. Leaf through it a little at a time in between losses by the Seahawks (or whichever your team may be) and keep it handy on an accessible shelf to research any questions that might pop up. With an interesting anecdote on every page, this book is a must for any complete golf library.

"Championships & Friendships: The First 100 Years of the PNGA," 438 pages, $49.95 (plus shipping), available from the PNGA (206/526-1238; email: mailbox@thepnga.org); each volume is numbered.     



Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.