By James A. Frank
In 2019, Pebble Beach Golf Links will celebrate its 100th birthday and host its sixth U.S. Open. To commemorate these milestones, each issue of LINKS Magazine and LINKSdigital between now and then will tell the unique story that is Pebble Beach. Those articles will also be shared here on our website.
While Pebble Beach is rightly known for staging exciting U.S. Opens, the course actually has a much longer—but just as thrilling—relationship with the U.S. Amateur, the oldest championship on the USGA’s calendar.
It began in 1929, when the USGA made its first visit to California. Harrison R. Johnston defeated Dr. Oscar F. Willing, 4&3, and while they are little remembered today, the players they beat to reach the final are: respectively, 1913 U.S. Open winner Francis Ouimet and H. Chandler Egan, a two-time U.S. Amateur champion who was instrumental in preparing Pebble Beach Golf Links for the championship.
What the 1929 Amateur is remembered for is getting the great Bobby Jones, already the winner of four U.S. Amateurs and three U.S. Opens (including that year’s), to the West Coast. Jones was the co-medalist in the stroke-play qualifying portion of the Amateur, but then shockingly lost his first-round match to Johnny Goodman. Since he was in California, he took in some of the sights, notably the new course nearby, Cypress Point: The story goes that after playing Cypress, Jones engaged Dr. Alister MacKenzie to work with him designing Augusta National.
The 1947 Amateur was won by Robert “Skee” Riegel, who had been on the victorious U.S. Walker Cup team a few months earlier when the matches were played, at St. Andrews, for the first time since before World War II. Others in the field that year included Chick Evans—who’d won the Amateur, as well as the U.S. Open, three decades earlier, in 1916—two-time Amateur champion Bud Ward, and actor Randolph Scott, who lost in the first round, allowing him to be back in Hollywood the next day to shoot a movie. In the finals, Riegel defeated popular Californian Johnny Dawson, 2&1.
The field for the 1961 Amateur was filled with names we still recognize: Deane Beman (later commissioner of the PGA Tour), Michael Bonallack (later Secretary of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews), Chick Evans (who qualified at age 71), Ireland’s great Joe Carr, and Charlie Coe, who was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in 1959.
And, of course, Nicklaus himself, who was finishing up an outstanding amateur career that included the 1959 Amateur and many other titles. At Pebble Beach, he defeated H. Dudley Wysong, 8&6, for his last significant amateur title. A few months later, Nicklaus turned professional and the next year recorded his first victory as a Tour pro at the U.S. Open.
Among the contestants who began the 1999 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach were a slew of future Tour pros, including Charley Hoffman, Charles Howell III, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Australia’s Adam Scott, Ben Curtis, Bryce Molder, and Camilo Villegas. In the end, it was another soon-to-be pro, 20-year-old David Gossett, who took the title, defeating 17-year-old Sung Yoon Kim from South Korea, 9&8.
When the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship is played at Pebble Beach (and stroke-play co-host Spyglass Hill Golf Course) this August, chances are the field will be filled with names the public doesn’t know. But it’s likely for many of them fame will be just a matter of time.