Bobby Jones once said the finest golf swing he ever saw belonged to Joyce Wethered. There were some exceptional female golfers in the early 1900s, once they were allowed on the courses from which they were previously excluded.
Playing with hickory-shafted clubs, they added considerable style and grace to the gentlemen’s game. Some of the early pioneers were Dorothy Campbell, the first woman to win the British, Canadian and American amateur championships; Glenna Collett Vare, who dominated women’s golf in 1920, and the famous Curtis sisters (Margaret and Harriot), Beatrix Hoyt, Lady Margaret Scott and Alexa Stirling, who toured the country with Jones giving golf exhibitions. All these wonderful players had one thing in common: They had beautiful swings and played the game with hickory-shafted golf clubs.
The United States Professional Hickory Golf Championship, which was originated in 2011, has always been open to both male and female golf professionals. It is played at Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club, opened in 1922, just north of Tampa, Florida. The first six contests have been dominated by the guys, but the 2017 and seventh was a different story. For several years, the U.S. Open was dominated by British golfers until American players gained their footing. I guess it just took a little time for the gals to get theirs, as Orlando’s Ki Shui Liao navigated the demanding Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club this past February in 75 strokes to become the Champion American Professional Hickory Golfer of the Year. She secured a spot on the John Shippen Trophy, which is dedicated to America’s first golf pro. Shippen played in the 1896 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he also worked under Scotsman Willie Dunn Jr.
In those days, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur were played during the same week on the same course. So, in keeping with that spirit, the United Stated Amateur Hickory Golf Championship is also a part of the day’s historical celebration. Bill Geisler of Winter Park, Florida, edged out two-time champion Will Peterson of Orlando by a single shot. Geisler’s name will be affixed to the Oscar Bunn Trophy, celebrating the Shinnecock Indian who also played in the 1896 U.S. Open. Bunn began as a caddie at Shinnecock and learned to play under the tutelage of Dunn.
Ninety-two years ago, the best professionals in the land gathered at Temple Terrace to compete in the Florida Open. It was one of the last tournaments where all players used clubs made of hickory and persimmon wood. The purse was $5,000. Jim Barnes was the host pro who welcomed the likes of Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and eventual winner Leo Diegel. The U.S. Professional Hickory Championship of this day is a tribute to those great golfers often forgotten over time. The amateur portion of the day recalls the likes of Bobby Jones, Harold Hilton, John Ball and Walter Travis. Having the ladies included just adds a bit of class and elegance to this remembrance of American golf as it began all those years ago.