This month we feature the work of the only golf book author with a reduplicated name: Darsie L. Darsie. Darsie set out to answer the question, “What was your greatest day in golf?” and asked fifty leading players of his era to answer it in 1950. His book is a fascinating look at golf from this era and some of the answers he received are surprising. Not all are from championship matches, nor do they necessarily feature record breaking scores.
What was Ben Hogan’s greatest day in golf? His post-crash final day of the US Open at Merion in 1950? His Open Championship win at Carnoustie in 1953? Neither. Was Bobby Jones’ greatest round his 66 at the Open Championship qualifier at Sunningdale? Or his Amateur win at Merion at 1930? Neither.
Darsie, whose parents must have been in a particularly cheeky mood when they named him, was a sports reporter for the Los Angeles Evening Herald Examiner. He was an avid golfer and was a member of both Lakeside Golf Club and Palos Verdes Golf Club. He helped William Wrigley, Jr. organize a tournament for amateurs on Catalina Island off the Southern California coast, an event where Bobby Jones presented the trophy. He was the advertising manager of Del Monte Properties Co. from 1924-1927 an era that saw the 17-mile drive open and when Cypress Point was being built. He also taught a course at the U.C.L.A. Graduate School of Journalism.
Darsie’s My Greatest Day in Golf (D & J D3880) was published in 1950 by A.S. Barnes in the U.S. and is 210 pages. The book was published in the U.K. two years later in 1952 by Alvin Redman (D & J D3910) and is 254 pages. The U.K. edition was done with the assistance of the 1951 British Ryder Cup captain Arthur L. Lacey. The difference in length and content between the two editions is because some of the golfer’s featured are different. Pat Abbott and Paul Runyon instead of Percy Allis in the U.S. edition, for example. In total, about a dozen golfers are different between the two books.
So Ben Hogan’s answer to his greatest day in golf was actually his round in 1938 played at the Sequoyah Club during the Oakland Open. Hogan and his wife were traveling from tournament to tournament in their own car and were struggling financially. This was early in his career before he won any big tournaments. They arrived in Oakland with $85 in remaining funds. The morning of the tournament Hogan leaves his hotel room to find that someone had stolen the two rear tires off their car overnight. If he didn’t do well in the tournament, he and Valerie agreed they would sell the car and buy bus tickets home. As he recounts, “I have never gone into a tournament with more determination that I did that Oakland Open.” Hogan won the tournament and its prize of $385, and he states, “Really the money I won was the turning point in my golf life. It enabled me to put the tires and wheels back on my car, continue the tournament sweep, win more prize money, and get national recognition.”
Jones’ greatest day, by his telling, was a non-competitive round he played in 1924 at the National Golf Links of America when he shot a 73 in cold, rainy and raw conditions. Gene Sarazen’s greatest day was his U.S. Open win in 1932 at the now defunct Fresh Meadow Country Club in Queens, NY. Bobby Locke’s greatest day was when we won the 36-hole Open Championship playoff at Sandwich in 1949. He recorded only one ‘5’ on his scorecard between the two rounds, an impressive feat.
A picture of Byron Nelson hitting out of a bunker at Riviera from My Greatest Day in Golf
Byron Nelson’s greatest day was winning the U.S. Open at Philadelphia Country Club in 1939, where, preceding Ben Hogan’s shot at nearby Merion by eleven years, he “hit a one iron on the fourth hole in his second playoff round.”
Darsie features some interesting lesser known amateurs and professionals such as Joe Novak, professional at Bel-Air Country Club, who states in the book that the Bobby Jones ‘How I Play Golf’ films from the 1930s were largely filmed at the Flintridge Country Club, which no longer exists. I had always heard they were shot at Riviera or Hillcrest. Another lesser known player who tells his story is Ellsworth Vines, a tennis player who won Wimbledon, the U.S. Tennis Open and Roland Garros, who subsequently took up professional golf. Vines won twice on the P.G.A. tour and played in the Masters, U.S. Open and P.G.A. Championships.
Many golfers in the book (Bobby Locke, Ed Oliver, Clayton Heafner, Ellsworth Vines) reference the now-defunct Tam O’Shanter tournament in their discussions of important rounds they played. The Tam O’Shanter Tournament was held in the Chicago area during the 1940s and 1950s. Typically the event offered the biggest prize money of the year and was the first PGA tour event to be broadcast nationally on television in 1953.
The book is a fascinating look back at golf history in the pre-television era when amateurs had a higher profile and before big money had such a large influence, with the professionals having to play on multiple ‘circuits’ and in various exhibition matches to make a living.
Darsie also authored History of Golf in South California published in 1925 (D & J S29230).