Golfing Before The Arch

St. Louis Golf:

1930 - 1950

The Great Depression effectively stopped golf in its tracks. The wealthy had lost much and were having to cut some extras and golf would be one of them. But for most of America, it was more serious than just giving up a round or two a week. Many would struggle just for food. As a result, hundreds of courses went bankrupt or just fell into disrepair during this period. Many would never come back.

The Tour continued, but with fewer events. Despite the desperate situation which existed, we still needed our heroes and golf provided us with a few. Winning a $500 top prize during 1933 would go a long way. Many regular stops were canceled from 1935-38 while others ceased from 1932 through the end of World War II. Many of the tournaments that are part of today’s Tour began immediately following the War, with others coming on board in the 1960s. A few from the 1920s or 30s remain; the LA Open, Western Open, Pebble Beach, Greater Greensboro Open, USF&G, and Phoenix Open being the exceptions. Touring professionals would seek jobs at courses to pay the bills, and hopefully, still give them time to pursue their dreams. Ralph Guldahl, a back-to-back US Open winner in 1937 and 1938, was a pro at St. Louis CC in 1932-33, before winning the Opens. Guldahl would finish 2nd to Johnny Goodman for the ‘33 Open while the pro at St. Louis. After leaving our town, he would rejoin the Tour and win his Opens and the 1939 Masters before hanging up his competitive clubs for good.

In 1934, as St. Louis CC was about to pick a new head professional. Joplin, Missouri native Horton Smith, who would be the 1934 & 1936 Masters winner, had applied for the job and most thought he had a lock on it. But the board gave it to another, Alex Ayton. A good player in his own right, Alex held the course record of 62 at St. Louis for many years and was a favorite among area players during his stay here.

During World War II, the US Open Championship was also halted. Chicago Businessman George May began a series of events at Tam O’Shanter CC that offered the richest prizes in golf at that time. May attempted to make his event the richest of the year with prize money double that of any other event. But for this honor, he asked the pros to parade around like jockeys with numbers on their backs during the rounds. Many balked at this unseemly concept, but the money was too big a temptation; and while the numbering never caught on, the pros flocked to Chicago for the $50,000 top prize.

Another Tournament which took place during the War years was called the Hale America Tournament. Ben Hogan won this event in 1942, in what would have been his 5th US Open crown. A medal almost identical to those given by the USGA was his prize and all the top pros were present. The Tournament was co-sponsored by the USGA, the PGA, and the Chicago District Golf Association.

The USGA has steadfastly refused to recognize this victory, so a 5th Open crown remains unclaimed by any male competitor. Part of their reasoning is that despite the similarities between this and the Open - local and sectional qualifying, ticket sales, and USGA officials - it was never deemed a championship; only a Tournament.

Depression Era Golf

Golf in St. Louis followed the national trend. A few courses were built in the late 20s and early 30s (Belleville CC (Westhaven) in 1926, Cloverleaf GC, Alton, and Ruth Park in 1931), but after that only Joachim opened during this period. Greenbriar Hills did come into existence in 1937, but it was only a name change from the recently bankrupt Osage CC. This short spurt was brought on in large part by the WPA projects in the mid-30s. The federal program allowed many municipalities to hire course architects to design and build public courses. Donald Ross was particularly active in this period as each course required about 200 men to create the layout, and any project that put people to work was looked upon very favorably! Most of the WPA courses were built with limited earth moving equipment, and the WPA courses were literally hand-built by men using hand tools and wheelbarrows.

Tillinghast in St. Louis

Another aspect of the period was the presence across the country of Albert Warren Tillinghast, creator of such courses as San Francisco CC, Indian Hills in KC, Winged Foot GC, Baltusrol GC, and Bethpage GC. He was hired by the PGA in the mid-30s to tour the country and make recommendations to clubs that would improve the courses and, in the hope, save money. Courses merely trying to avoid foreclosure could seldom take advantage of his ideas, but he performed this task for almost three years. He claimed that over this period he eliminated over 7,000 “useless bunkers” that were either used as cross-bunkers or as penal fairway bunkers. The effects of this were dramatic, both on course maintenance, and player enjoyment. He came to St. Louis in 1938 at the request of Sunset pro Johnny Manion, who was president of the Eastern Missouri PGA. He visited Glen Echo, Westwood, Greenbriar Hills, and Sunset. Unfortunately, the correspondence with the PGA as to his recommendations for each course has been lost, though we do have his original communication regarding his visits to each course. However, there are two exceptions: his notes at Wingfoot list Westwood CC as one of the courses he did work for in the 1930s as well as Kansas City’s Swope Park, which he redesigned in 1934. “Tillie” as he was called, is also given credit with coining the term “birdie” as the shot holed in one less stroke than par, a term not used previously.

Area courses may have adopted some of the recommendations for cost-saving measures advocated by the PGA without having Tillinghast present at their club. If your favorite course dates back to the depression days, look around to see grass bunkers instead of sand. This could be the result of such recommendations. Pictures from Sunset, and Westwood from the 1920s, and then similar images from the 1950s, show where bunkers were removed, an indication that perhaps Tillinghast’s impact on area courses was significant.

Surprisingly, though the depression was world-wide, many new courses were built outside of the US. In Britain alone, almost 40 courses a year were built. However, just as it seemed that the golf boom might continue as the US began to dig itself out of the depression, the Second World War erupted and those plans were altered.

Adapting to the War

World War II had a much greater effect on golf than the Great Depression. As people were put back to work on war-related activities, golf was the last thing on most of their minds until 1945. Courses in major areas had access to some gas and oil products, though limited by rationing. Still, only a few courses in the area closed; most just scaled back and tried to ride out the storm. Even clubs that had no financial issues found things difficult. Without sufficient oil, fertilizer or manpower their fairways soon became pastures. Even Augusta National fell into disrepair during this period. Many courses closed during the week as the pros took jobs at War production plants. Jim Cockburn, the professional at Westwood, for example, worked at McDonnell Aircraft during the week then opened the golf shop on weekends! Course construction would effectively come to a standstill in the area until almost 1950 as the War effort took most essential materials.

From 1941 till 1945, only about 25 courses were built nationally, with most of them completed in 1944 or 1945. The Pro tours had gone from events to exhibitions to promote War Bonds. Byron Nelson traveled the country giving exhibitions and raising money for the War effort with his pal and fellow “Gold-Dust Twin” Jug McSpadden from Kansas City. Many celebrities did likewise in their sport; Joe Louis and Joe DiMaggio are two examples, as well as many actors and musicians.

Area Golf During The War

The District Golf Association still held tournaments, but they were to raise money for the Red Cross. Trophy presentations were deferred during this time as well. Reading the minutes of the District Golf Association during this period gives the feeling that you are being thrust back into time. On occasion, a moment of silence was in order as members such as Cornelius “Corny” Schnecko were remembered following his death in service.

The local Hale America weekend tournaments were advocated by the USGA as a way of showing support and cooperation of the member clubs across the country for the War effort. Prizes that were given were usually war bonds and stamps.

The second St. Louis Victory Open Tournament, held in 1943, raised $1,650 for the USO of St. Louis. These events helped provide a degree of normalcy to the time. Walking the fairways to watch an exhibition by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby at Meadowbrook in May 1942 made your day a little brighter. Watching local pros you knew, such as Frank Moore or Clarke Morse, took your mind off events half a world away.

When the war finally did conclude in 1945, the soldiers returned to find that much of the life they had left had changed dramatically. The post-war baby boom began and the 65-70s-year-old group today reflects that growth. From 1946 to 1949 over 150 courses were constructed. Many of these were built by the military on their facilities as space was freed-up. Architects like Billy Bell, Dick Wilson, William Diddel, Robert Trent Jones, Joe Finger, Perry Maxwell, and Donald Ross (until his death in 1948) were active during this era. This period is also significant for the beginning of a major golf course development in Hawaii. Before the War, only a handful of courses were present. However, several courses were completed just before 1950 which, as we all know, would mark the start of Hawaii as a great golfing destination.

Players & Titles

Locally, in the early 1930s, the holdovers from the roaring 20s were still competing, with most playing well. Elliott Whitbread, Bryan Winter, Ted Adams, and Eddie Held were still competitive as was Chester O’Brien, who won the 1938 District and two State titles. On the Kansas City side, players like Walter Blevins and Warren Riepen were formidable as they claimed state titles. Held would capture the 1937 District title, his second, as he continued to be a solid competitor. He would turn professional in 1940 as he operated his driving range on Manchester Road. He also had an indoor “range” — at least it was indoors — at the Warson Woods shopping center, where he had a storefront that allowed you to come in and hit balls into a net! Bryan Winter had moved into the area in the late 20s and would immediately challenge Jim Manion as the top player. But he would have to wait until 1931 before claiming his first District championship, the same year he would win his State crown. The 1938 Western Open, the only major men’s event held locally during the 30s, saw Ralph Guldahl take the title at Westwood CC with the Women’s Western also coming to Westwood in 1939. That title was claimed by Helen Dettweiler. Two Legends of the game, Betty Jameson and Patty Berg battled at Glen Echo at the 1940 Trans-Miss, with Jameson taking the title.

In addition, the St. Louis Open continued during the late 20s and into the 30s, with the likes of Walter Hagen, Guldahl, and Armour - along with a few local players - taking titles. The last event of the pre-War era was the 1941 Trans-Miss at Sunset CC. Won by the Champion spark plug heir, long-hitting Frank Stranahan, it would not be until 1946 that another significant event was held in the area.

However, the area would find a resurgence in the post-War era as we began to host a number of major events.

Post-War Golf

Beginning with the 1946 Western Open at Sunset CC, we would host the 1947 US Open at St. Louis CC and the 1948 PGA at Norwood Hills. The latter two would be significant, one for who didn’t win and the other for who did!

During the 30s and 40s the balance among the men was remarkable as only Chester O’Brien would win multiple state titles. As a consequence, St. Louis golfers would lose their dominance in the Missouri Amateur, winning only eight of the seventeen crowns available. This was in sharp contrast to the earlier decades when Manion, Wolff, Bockenkamp, Whitbread, and Held dominated the scene.

The Grey Fox - Bob Cochran

Bob Cochran made his first move on the scene during the early 30s, winning the 1931 Western Junior and then back-to-back District titles in 1933-34. He followed that up with his first state title in 1940. Then came December 1941. Like others in sport, Ted Williams and Stan Musial, for example, players in their prime during this time suffered the fate of losing some of their most productive years. With most tournaments during this period canceled, or severely curtailed, professionals and amateurs alike were relegated to scrambling to keep their careers on track.

Cochran was in this mode, as were Nelson, Hogan, Snead, and others, as the various Opens were canceled until 1946. Bob won most of the events played in the area; the St. Louis Open in 1942, 1943, 1945 and 1946, competing against area amateurs and professionals, such as Benny Richter and Frank Moore. While he had won three District titles before 1942, he would win three consecutive again from 1946-48, then come back in 1961 and 1965 for his 7th and 8th.

Other local events saw Cochran win the 1942, 1943, and 1945 St. Louis Victory Opens, with Benny Richter claiming the 1944 title. The St. Louis Metro Open and Amateur began before the War and continued through the 1940s, but timing and support gradually let these events fade away. But not before Jim Fogertey, Frank Moore, Tom Draper, and others captured their share of the awards.

When Cochran tired of competing locally, he packed his bags and joined the PGA Tour on their weekly stops throughout the Midwest. In 1943, he won the Decatur Open, posting rounds of 66-66-66 for a 198 total to win. During 1945 and 1946 he competed from Memphis to Chicago against the likes of Nelson, Hogan, Harrison, and Snead. Their names alone would send fear through most players. But to a cocky and confident Cochran, they were just targets he would take aim.

In 1946, Bob was considered the top amateur in the country. With that on his resume, he received a personal call from Bobby Jones, inviting him to the Masters that year along with an invitation to join him for a match before the Tournament. It turned out to be Jones and Cochran against Porky Oliver and Byron Nelson. The amateurs won the match.

However, as an amateur, Bob was not alone in competing on the Tour. Freddie Haas, Frank Stranahan, Bud Ward, and Dale Morey were among not just the top amateurs, but the top players during this period. Haas and Stranahan join Cochran as amateurs who won Pro events during the 40s, though Bob may well be the ONLY amateur to have won a pro Tour event who later did not turn professional!

Local Talent

In 1948 another player came onto the scene, and he would make a mark like no other. Like Cochran, his career would span several decades and his head-to-head battles with Cochran are the stuff of legends. His name was Jim Jackson. He began by capturing the 1939 High School State title. In 1941, as a 19-year-old, he lost a 36-hole playoff to St. Clair pro Frank Moore for the Metro Open title, after being tied in regulation and at the end of the first 18-hole playoff. His major accomplishments were in the later years and are covered in greater detail in the following sections.

The ladies faced the same dilemma, but the number of competitive players were much fewer. Kansas Citian Opal Hill, a great champion, LPGA founder, and also USGA board member, dominated the ladies state events in the mid-to-late 30s. Audrey Wallace was winning her last two district titles early in the era, but there were no State titles for the ladies to claim from 1924 to 1934 as all events were canceled.

Sara Guth won a single state title in 1938 following three District titles in 1934, 1935, and 1936 as she was an extraordinary player.

But perhaps the dominant lady of the era was Betty Jane Haemerle-Broz. Following the War, she won three of the four state titles and all four of the District crowns! It seemed that nothing could stop her. But, like many ladies of other eras, her career was brilliant, but short, for she would not continue to compete as much following her marriage. Her main competition had come from ladies representing Triple A and Normandie; Mrs. R.I. Caughey, Georgia Dexheimer Schwartz, and Jeannie Dobbin-Lewis.

Marilyn Herpel would be on the rise as Betty Jane stopped competing, but Marilyn would never defeat Betty Jane for a significant title. Caughey and Dexheimer claimed the last three District crowns of the 30s and the opening 1940 event with Georgia capturing the 1939 title and Caughey taking the rest. Jeannie Dobbin would begin the 50s with two victories in the District having fought Betty Jane for titles in the late 1940s.

New Courses

As the 1940s ended, the problems of course access continued; only one course had been constructed following the war, Indian Meadows, bringing the number of courses in the area to 34, having lost four courses during the War. However, only 14 of these were public access facilities (8 in Missouri and 6 in Illinois) with only 18-hole layouts at Forest Park, Indian Meadows, Crystal Lake, Lake Park (Grand Marais) and Creve Coeur, as private clubs continued to dominate the landscape. No new private facilities had been constructed since Westwood in 1928 and not until Old Warson in 1954 would there be another.

However, on the drawing board were fourteen courses that would come in the next decade as we began to savor golf for our free time. Of the new courses, eleven would be public, though only five would have 18-holes! It appeared that, at last, the worldwide events of the previous 20 years were behind us and we were about to experience a resurgence in sport.

Golf Within the Black Community

A suit filed in 1922 by Albert H. Howard demanding that Park Commissioner Pape issue a golf permit for him to play the course. When his request was refused, it led to a 1923 ruling by Circuit Judge Moses Hartmann permitting blacks access to the golf course in Forest Park only on Monday mornings. His rationale for the decision was that in 1922, only four blacks had applied for permits as opposed to over 11,000 whites, making the judge’s decision that much easier. Following the decision, newspapers continued to follow the story and noted that on several Monday mornings, the 27-holes lay open as no black golfers came to play. While there were protests against the decision, led by a number of black pastors when speaking to their congregations, it did little to impact the situation.

It was in this environment, beginning in 1931, that black golfers would take to the course on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. They organized their own tournaments, crowned their own champions - both men and women - and, in general, had the time of their life on the links.

While scenes like this were duplicated in cities across the country among public golfers, those who wanted to make golf a career were left on the outside looking in: at least until 1948.

That was when Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller, and others, with the strong backing of former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, challenged the norm, demanding to be allowed to compete for prize money on the professional golf Tour.

Like any pioneer, in any new venture, their success was not immediate, nor were they applauded for their efforts. They were forced to endure endless taunts, harassment, and the occasional threat, to force change. In the end, the message was successful, even if the messenger was not.

While men such as Ted Rhodes, Joe Louis, Leonard Reed, Fleming Cody, and others set about to play in what events were available to them, others, such as Bill Spiller, demanded more. He pushed the envelope, eventually causing the PGA to change their “Caucasian-only” policy in 1962. However, for him, by that time it was too late. Earlier, Rhodes had competed in the 1948 US Open and later, in 1952, Joe Louis and three others would play in the Phoenix Open, marking the beginning of a new era on the Tour. By 1963, there would be 25 black Tour professionals playing for titles.

However, the real recipient of the benefits from the work of these early pioneers was one man: Charlie Sifford. Later, he would lay the groundwork for Lee Elder, Jim Dent, Jim Thorpe, and others who would make their mark on the PGA Tour.

Here in St. Louis, while the period from 1923-1931 saw little activity within the black community, 1931 would begin a banner year with the formation of not just a local organization, but also one nationally, which would offer talented black players their first opportunity to compete for titles.

Paramount Golf Club

The Paramount Golf Club was the brain-child of James and Julia Siler. Beginning in 1931 and continuing through the 1990s, it was the primary black golf organization in the area. Their events received limited coverage in the local papers, although apart from the winners and perhaps the runner-up, the names and faces of many of the players are lost to history. Nevertheless, it was Paramount that was the first such organization in the area, and one of the oldest in the Midwest.

Since Forest Park was one of the few public courses in the area, their annual tournaments were held there, with events held on Sundays and Mondays.

As the story goes, there was a bell located in back of the old 13th green, high upon the hill overlooking the old 8th fairway. At noon on Mondays, the bell was rung, signaling that blacks had to leave the course. This continued through the mid-1950s when the Supreme Court banned such practices in public parks.

The opportunities open to them, other than as caddies, were almost non-existent. It took real determination and love of golf to continue despite these hardships. Some of the early champions from the Paramount group included Sam Shephard Jr. and Julia Siler. Ms. Siler was a 30-time winner and Mr. Shephard won at least twice. Another prominent player during the 40s was Mrs. Isadore Channels and Dr. William Smiley, who won the 1942 title.

Another organization, the also held golf events. Though more of a social club, players from Paramount and Lambs joined to play in these events.

Also, during this period, the was formed. Representing black players across the Midwest from Ohio to Colorado, they played their championships on public courses that would permit black players. They played in St. Louis at Forest Park in 1935 and again in 1949. Players came from across the country with former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis among those competing. Others included some of the legends in black golf: Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller, and others. Local players who competed, and frequently won, were Fleming Cody, one of the top black players of the day.

Top Players

Apart from Fleming Cody and Julia Siler, who were clearly among the most talented, there was a strong contingent of good, solid players. Since few of these were permitted to play in events against white players, it is hard to determine how good they really were. Still, while the competition within their events may not have been the highest, the scores they shot would imply that they had all the skills necessary to succeed regardless of who the competition might have been.

This included: Dr. Sam Shepard, Leroy Tyus, Albert Hill, Robert Terrell, Bertha Pease, Duke Reed, Booker Ford, Willie “Pepper” Moore, Willie Bell, Freddie Carter, Renee Burrell, Dr. William Smiley, Charles Johnson, Arthur ‘Chink’ Washington, and many, many others.

Later, as younger members joined, other groups were formed: Gateway Golf, Tee Masters, Cadre19, Pin High, and Par or Better. Most of these were social groups, created to encourage camaraderie and friendship. They took trips, held tournaments and generally enjoyed the social aspect that has always been part of golf.

During this period, and much of the time prior to the present, most minorities were politely excluded from most private clubs, and they were effectively banned from many semi-private clubs. The white players knew what questions to ask, such as “ there a dress code?” with the person on the other end of the phone answering accordingly. At other courses, you had to pay a fee to “join” the semi-private club, with minorities or other undesirables being told that memberships for the day (or week or month) were sold out. Forest Park was the exception. For years it was the center of black golf throughout the area.

Public vs. Private

The powers that be among the private clubs differed on the role of public players. Many persisted in their position that public players should not be excluded from golf activities and favored area-wide championships. Still, others were vehemently opposed to any public players being included. Whether this opposition had any basis other than the traditional public vs. private battles can never be truly known. As in other sports, most minorities would be excluded from professional play until the post-war period, but during the 60s, “the Park” was the center of area golf for many public players, regardless of race or color. Many future champions would rise from the dust of the Park to compete at the national level in select events. Among them was professional Earl Parham, who would win several St. Louis Publinx titles and would compete in two US Senior Opens in later years. Like others, Earl grew up playing the Park, learning the game over those hills. Others included Otis Dolphin, the first Park black player to qualify for the US Senior Open, and Cal Tanner, a Chicago transplant who won the first Bogey Hills Invitational and made many friends in the area. These were just some of many black golfers who competed throughout the Midwest during this era.

Golfing Before The Arch