Twenty years ago, at the moment of LINKS Magazine’s birth, I was with another publication, knee-deep in another celebration, an enormously successful one that was enjoyed by all but ended, in my case, with some bitterness. I figure this is as good a time as any to vent.
The year 1988 marked the 100th anniversary of the Apple Tree Gang, the group of pilgrims from Scotland who are generally agreed to have
introduced organized golf to the U.S. with the establishment of St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Yonkers, New York. In the summer of 1987, seeing this event looming on the horizon, Golf decided to throw a party—a very big party—to commemorate the centennial of golf in America.
The U.S. Golf Association, PGA of America, and the PGA and LPGA tours jumped on the bandwagon, as did—blessedly—20 corporate sponsors. At the same time, my colleagues and I collaborated with publisher Harry N. Abrams to produce Golf in America, a lavish 400-page celebration of the first century. It would go into several printings and sell more than 100,000 copies—if I do say so myself, it was quite a book.
Meanwhile, we invited the magazine’s readers to submit nominations for “100 Heroes of the First 100 Years,” and formed a blue-ribbon panel to name the final 100, along with 20 male and female players of the decades. The panel also named a player of the century, from a ballot that included Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The vote was taken 10 months before the results were announced because the award was a full-size bronze statue by Leicester Thomas, a London sculptor to both the Royal Family and Madame Tussauds. For 10 months, only three of us knew the winner, and somehow managed to keep it a secret.I was seated at the far-left end of the first row of the dais, and midway through the meal I had the inspiration of getting the book signed by the assembled luminaries. Here was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance to possess a true treasure. I passed it to the dinner companion on my right, Watson, who cheerfully got the ball rolling.
The pinnacle of all this came on the Monday following the 1988 U.S. Open. The celebration began with a “Hero-Am,” wherein many of the living 100 Heroes gathered for a day of competition at St. Andrew’s Golf Club, relocated to Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and culminated that evening in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City with a black-tie charity auction and dinner for a packed house of 1,000 guests.
Jack Whitaker rushed back from the U.S. Open playoff at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, to emcee the festivities, and the three-tiered, 60-person dais that evening included more Hall of Famers than have ever been assembled before or since, including Ben Hogan, who made his first public appearance outside Texas in over a decade. He was joined by Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ken Venturi, and Tom Watson. On the women’s side, there were Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, JoAnne Carner, Betsy Rawls and Nancy Lopez, along with more than a score of other players and contributors—everyone from Chi Chi Rodriguez to Mark McCormack.
This was also the official publication day for Golf in America. We had hoped to place a book on each seat, but didn’t quite make the deadline. Only one copy had come off the press, and I had it with me.
The evening proceeded beautifully with speeches by several honored guests. Snead broke up the crowd with a succession of mildly off-color stories, and each living player of the decades said a few words. But the most dramatic moment came when Ben Hogan
offered an impromptu lesson based on the fundamentals of Harry Vardon. For 20 minutes the huge room was completely silent.
At the end of the evening, the announcement of the Player of the Century fell to me. Each of the three living candidates had been asked to prepare a speech, and former Golf editor Charles Price had been asked to be ready to speak on behalf of his close friend Bobby Jones. After brief videos of the candidates, I made my way to a lectern beside the statue, which was shrouded in a black cloth.
“We won’t keep you in suspense a moment longer,” I said. “I’m pleased to announce that golf’s player of the century is Jack Nicklaus.” As hundreds of cameras flashed, I pulled a cord that unveiled a magnificent likeness of the Golden Bear in the finish of his swing. (Today it is the centerpiece of the Nicklaus museum in Columbus, Ohio.)
Jack was so stunned that he left his prepared speech at his seat. With his entire family seated at a table just in front of him, he spoke movingly, at times tearfully, of what golf meant to him. He later referred to the evening as the greatest moment of his career.
As I think back on it, it was the greatest moment of my career too—nearly a year of work had come to grand fruition. There was an after-party in the Waldorf, and a few after-after parties as well. At the last of them, I suddenly realized I had completely forgotten about the book—signed by more than 50 of the game’s mightiest players and contributors.
I raced back to the ballroom—a dark, empty cavern, the dais dismantled, not a soul in sight. I inquired with the hotel management. No one had returned the book.
I’m not sure who has it now—a retired busboy or whoever was sitting at the right end of the third tier of the dais. But he or she surely knows its value. I can’t imagine what the book might bring at auction—surely thousands of dollars—but to me, it has a significance well beyond the price it may command.
So if you’re the one who has it—or know who does—this is my plea to send it back to me. Send it anonymously, if you want, to LINKS Magazine. At age 20, they’re responsible enough to pass it on to me. If you can’t bring yourself to return the book, at least put it on eBay. I promise to be the first bidder—though probably not the last.