Greenbrier Classic: Old White has a deep, rich history
When the largest and best collection of the world's best golfers to play in West Virginia take to the Old White course next week, it will mark the first PGA Tour stop at The Greenbrier, and in the Mountain State, in 72 years.
Oh, there have been major golf attractions in the state and in particular at The Greenbrier since a budding tour's White Sulphur Springs Open was last played in 1938. For instance, the LPGA stopped at Wheeling's Oglebay Park for 11 years.
The past six summers brought the PGA's Nationwide Tour to the Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, a run that ended with the $1 million Players Cup falling victim to the $6 million Greenbrier Classic's six-year contract.
The Greenbrier hosted the Ryder Cup in 1979 on the Jack Nicklaus-redesigned Greenbrier course. Nick Faldo's return to the resort as a CBS analyst next week might remind him of his 3-1 record in a 17-11 loss for the first European Ryder team (not exclusively from Great Britain) to Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite and Co.
The U.S. women gained a Solheim Cup win on The Greenbrier Course in 1994. The Greenbrier had the prestige of being the first course to play host to both Ryder and Solheim cups.
There were three PGA Senior Tour events at the Greenbrier in the mid-80s, all on the Greenbrier Course. It's now known as the Champions tour.
And back when the Greenbrier reopened in 1948 after being used as a military rehabilitation hospital during and after World War II, Sam Snead returned as pro.
He hosted what morphed from the Greenbrier Open, a pro-am, into the Sam Snead Festival, an event that attracted major Tour names from 1948 through 1961, when it became strictly an amateur tournament. Snead, Ben Hogan and George Fazio were in the inaugural field.
The Greenbrier Open was part of the Spring Festival, a major social event that for its debut in 1948 attracted the duke and duchess of Windsor, John Jacob Astor, William Randolph Hearst Jr., Oleg Cassini and Rose Kennedy and four of her children, Patricia, Kathleen, Eunice and 30-year-old John, a former PT boat commander and future president.
If you want to go further back than a Bubba Watson tee shot way back in 1918, Bobby Jones and Chick Evans squared off in a Red Cross fundraising match on Old White, which saw its first round played about 95 years ago.
In 1927, Gene Sarazen defeated Walter Hagen in a 36-hole exhibition match over those two Greenbrier layouts. Flash forward eight decades, and five-time British Open champ Tom Watson is the Greenbrier pro emeritus.
There are so many reasons to consider why it's right that The Greenbrier is finally on the PGA Tour. For example, Arnold Palmer won his first professional check at the Snead Festival in 1955.
More on some of that later, but if you're talking strictly PGA Tour events - those recognized by the Tour as "official" events or those later given the stamp of approval by the PGA of America - the 2010 Greenbrier Classic is only the sixth major men's Tour stop in the Mountain State.
All have been at The Greenbrier, and five of the six were, or will be, Old White events.
Dr. Bob Conte, the longtime Greenbrier historian and archivist, and Bob Denney, senior writer at the PGA of America, helped unearth some of what follows. While all of it is in black and white, some of it, understandably, is fuzzy.
The PGA of America dates to 1916. The PGA, while not having a formal schedule dating back that far, did recognize and sanction tournaments in those days.
In the mid-'20s, a loosely organized "tour" boasted $77,000 in annual prize money. The first playing professionals organization didn't take root until 1932, Denney said.
PGA Tour and PGA of America records, while incomplete, show that five tournaments were played in West Virginia from 1921 through 1938. The late Snead won two of the five.
In 1921 and 1922, the White Sulphur Springs Open made its debut.
Jock Hutchison, born near the famed Old Course at St. Andrews on which the British Open ended Sunday, took the 1921 White Sulphur title.
The native Scot had won the 1920 PGA Championship and the 1921 British Open in his hometown. It was the first victory by a U.S. citizen since he was naturalized in 1920. He also had two seconds in the U.S. Open. Hutchison later won the inaugural PGA Seniors Championship at Augusta National in 1937.
It seemed Old White brought out the best in the very best back then.
The 1922 White Sulphur Springs Open, held April 6-8, was won by the great Hagen. By then, Hagen already owned two U.S. Open titles and a PGA Championship.
That same summer, he became the first American-born golfer to win the British Open. His Old White rounds were 72-70-70-72-284, and he won by six shots over Johnny Farrell. Joe Kirkland was another shot back at 291. Sarazen and Hutchison were in the 22-player field, too.
Later that year, in September, Glenna Collett won the U.S. Women's Amateur championship on Old White. That remains the only USGA major championship ever staged at the Greenbrier.
The West Virginia Open, won for a fifth time by David Bradshaw last week at Sleepy Hollow and won 17 times by Snead, began its 77-year run in 1933. But that's not the same West Virginia Open that lasted one year and is recognized as a PGA victory in 1928 on the Old White by Phil Hart.
Snead won the last two PGA tour events at what was his home course for so long. He began as an assistant pro at The Greenbrier for $45 a month in 1936, according to Conte.
Snead actually started me down this cart path. I had saved a copy of his biographical sketch from an old PGA Tour media guide. It lists two tournament wins in his adopted home state, the only two events played in West Virginia since the Tour officially began.
The first of Snead's record 81 Tour wins, in 1936, came in the West Virginia Closed Pro tournament. Two years later, Slammin' Sam won a reborn - and the last - White Sulphur Springs Open.
Here's where the historical fun begins.
In doing research, I contacted Denney at the PGA. He located not only the results from the 1938 White Sulphur Springs Open, but also a page from Snead's biographical sketch in the 1938 PGA guide.
It says Snead "played in the (1936) West Virginia Closed Pro championship and scored a 61 on the Old White course at White Sulphur." However, there is no record, Denney said, of the Closed Pro event in PGA annals.
Snead, well known for buttonholing PGA officials as he tried to get his victories stamped as official wins, likely "petitioned, and the tour allowed it as an official event," Denney said.
At The Greenbrier, historian Conte seems to have figured out the 1936 Closed Pro when he found a one-paragraph mention of Snead - UPI called him "Sneed" - shooting a 61 on a clipping in a scrapbook at the resort.
"It appears that there was a professional tournament tacked on to the end of the annual West Virginia Amateur," Conte wrote in an e-mail. "The Amateur was played July 6-9 (Tom Brand, of Kingwood, won it). I am quoting (very limited) newspaper stories here:
"'Starting on Thursday afternoon, there will be a professional-amateur tournament, the participation limited to professionals accredited to member clubs, for 18 holes of medal play and the final 36 holes on Friday morning (July 9-10).'
"The Amateur generated way more coverage than this professional event ... "
Accounts in the scrapbook say Snead shot his first 18 on the Greenbrier course, and that is where he posted a 61. He followed that with a 70 on Old White. Snead's 131 romped over runner-up Clem Weichman of Logan (74-73-147). Weichman later won four West Virginia Opens.
Conte also discovered that "apparently back then, the men's and the women's (West Virginia) Amateur championships went on simultaneously, with the men on Old White and the women on Greenbrier. This (Closed) pro event seems like almost an afterthought. It was literally played after the Amateur concluded."
So, Snead's 61 was on the Greenbrier Course, not Old White. Here is the Associated Press version of the event:
"On the record-breaking 61 round Snead never was over par on a hole. He shot birdies on the second, fourth, seventh, eighth, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th. He drove 293 yards to the green on the sixth and 286 for the ninth, but three-putted each with a chance for deuces. They were his only three-putt holes on the round."
Conte backs up the 61 being on the Greenbrier Course with this:
"If you look at that AP quote about the birdies, it also says that Sam drove the green on six and nine. I just happen to have a scorecard from the Greenbrier Course of that vintage and No. 6 is 293 yards and No. 9 is 286 yards - the exact yardage they quote. (Those holes) on Old White would have been much longer."
It also was later reported that Snead entered the 1938 White Sulphur Springs Open with the Old White course record of 62 (not 61) ... which brings us to the last PGA Tour stop at The Greenbrier until next week.
The 1938 White Sulphur Springs Open was played Nov. 8-10, with two of the four rounds on the first day. Snead entered the tournament with the all-time high winnings for the PGA in a single year - $17,353. He won seven tournaments that year.
To show how dominant Snead had been, in second place was John Revolta, with $7,353.
The purse was $3,000, a far, far cry from the Greenbrier Classic, where $1.08 million of the $6 million purse will go to the champion. Snead used his local knowledge to advantage on the par-70 Old White, shooting 68-68-69-68-273, two shots in front of Ky Laffoon.
Byron Nelson was in the field, as well as Billy Burke, Lawson Little, Tony Armour and Johnny Bulla. A few West Virginia Amateur champs competed, including Fred Bannerot of Charleston. Actor Randolph Scott was another amateur entry. Snead had played a practice round with him to generate press coverage, Conte found.
The '38 WSS Open was the beginning of a winter swing through the South, with the next stop Pinehurst, then Columbia, S.C., Augusta, Ga., and Miami.
Anyway, Snead won $700 with the last White Sulphur title, and "he was paid it completely in nickels," Conte said. "They gave it to him in a bushel basket.
"They always joked that Sam still had the first nickel he ever won. That's why they did that. There are pictures of it here in scrapbooks."
Since that Snead win, the 12th of his 81 on Tour, the major tour's primary exposure at The Greenbrier came in those Sam Snead Festivals. Henry Cotton won the first of those in 1948, three months before he won the last of his three British Opens.
Snead won six of the 14 Festivals, where in 1955 Palmer got his first pro paycheck (splitting $850 with amateur Spencer Olin for their share of the Snead pro-am title). Snead topped Gary Player in a playoff in 1958. Top West Virginia amateurs Bill Campbell and Ed Tutwiler were regulars in the event.
Snead shot a 59 in the third round of the '59 Festival. But perhaps the most memorable year in a Festival, historians say, was 1950. Ben Hogan, launching his comeback from a near-fatal auto/bus crash, shot rounds of 64-64-65-66 (259) to top Snead. The Texan then won six of his nine majors after that.
Next week, recently committed players like Angel Cabrera, Paul Goydos, Andres Romero, Lee Janzen and Jim Furyk, likely to be joined by many even bigger names within a few days, will take to the Old White's 6,826 yards.
They will be chasing more than that little dimpled white ball.
They will be chasing big bucks at the stately old resort. They will be chasing deep history, too.
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at ja...@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.