OGA History - Part III | Oregon Golf Association


In the first chapter of our undertaking, we covered the years from the formation of the Oregon Golf Association in 1924 until the guns of World War II brought suspension of activities in 1942. Peace came finally in 1945 and the Association resumed tournament play the following year. It must have been a rocky restart, because no minutes exist for 1946. We do know Oscar Furuset continued as president and that the Oregon Amateur was played at Waverley Country Club with victories scored by Tom Marlowe and Carol Freese.

Proper record keeping was rediscovered in 1947 and we find Furuset serving his final year as president and the winds of change beginning to blow strongly. New leaders were on the horizon and a band of very talented youngsters were cutting teeth in junior golf and preparing to take over the competitive spotlight. Such players a Rudie Wilhelm, Frank Dolp, Dr. Oscar Willing, Don Moe and John Robbins were far past their primes and no longer factors. Marian McDougall Herron was busy with a family and rarely competed anymore. Not to worry - that exceptional group of post War players was to keep Oregon in the national spotlight for many years to come.

There were transition years - 1947 and 1948 - before the first of the young players emerged and the new names began appearing on the list of presidents. Dr. Millard Rosenblatt of Tualatin, a long-time OGA leader, replaced Furuset at the helm in ‘48, and Lou Jennings was the dominant player. Jennings, a large, jovial bon vivant with a marvelous game, was one of the nation’s best amateurs before the war. He continued to scourge the Oregon and Northwest amateurs in the immediate post War. He won the Oregon Open in 1946 and the Amateur in ‘47 and 48’ and was an odds-on favorite to threepeat at Astoria in 1949. But, we are getting ahead of our story. The Association adopted a scholarship program in 1947 and moved to adopt the new USGA handicap system. The scholarships had to be abandoned four years later because of USGA and NCAA rules of the time, but the seed had been planted and would germinate later. The Vanport flood of ‘48 necessitated moving the Amateur from Columbia-Edgewater to Rogue Valley in Medford and the Junior Championship from Alderwood to Eastmoreland, but the events were played, and the need for additional tournaments became obvious. A father-son event and a team tourney were suggested. Membership grew by three clubs to a total of 19, but the cash on hand decreased from $654 to $409.

Two Oregon players who never won Oregon Amateur titles accomplished much elsewhere just after the War. Lou Stafford, one of the finest putters ever, was runner-up to both the NCAA championship and the National Publinx championship in 1946. Benny Hughes, noted for both his one iron and his cigar, was a Publinx semifinalist in 1947 and runner up in 1948. Stafford did get to the Oregon Am final in ‘48 but lost a close match to Jennings.

Three men became dominant figures in OGA administration as 1949 began. Ray Chirgwin of Riverside, Sid Milligan of Eugene and Rege Ott of Portland Golf Club held presidential reins through 1951, and their influence continued for years thereafter. During their administrations, the OGA renewed its sponsorship of the Father-Son tournament at Oswego Lake; the Champion of Champions tournament and the Medal Play championship began and an executive committee was formed to handle day by day operations. Also, entry fees were raised for the Oregon Amateur - to $8.50 and $6.00, handicaps were eliminated in flight matches and once the USGA had seen the light, the stymie rule was abandoned in match play. The widening of horizons did not end there, for 30 public links players were invited to participate in the ‘51 Amateur at Tualatin.

The years 1949-51 marked not only the emergence of the new leadership but also the rise to prominence of the first of the young lions - Ron Clark, Dick Yost and Bob Atkinson Jr. Shortly thereafter Bruce Cudd, Don Krieger, Dick Price and Bob Prall would follow, and among them they would dominate the Oregon Amateur for the next 15 years. On the distaff side, Carol Freese (Mrs. Lyle Bowman) was the first of a remarkable group of women who would accumulate as many championships and as much national acclaim as would their male counterparts. Grace DeMoss, Pat Lesser, Mary Mozel Rowell, Helen Thompson-Milne and Carole Jo Kabler-Skala won every Oregon Amateur women’s crown from 1946 to 1958. Cudd and Yost went on to become members of the 1955 Walker Cup team, and DeMoss represented the United States on the 1952 Curtis Cup team. Lesser, a Washington player who later married Dr. John Harbottle, won the 1955 U.S. Women’s Amateur and played on two Curtis Cup teams. Pat was one of a quartet of women who gave the state of Washington a strangle hold on amateur honors in those years. The other three were JoAnne Gunderson, Anne Quast and Ruth Jessen. Skala, who later married ex-Publinx champion Verne Callison, played successfully for many years on the LPGA Tour. It was indeed a golden era of Oregon Golf.

Clark, a 21-year-old from The Dalles, came to Astoria for the ‘49 Oregon Amateur as a virtual unknown. His major claim to fame at the time was an exhibition appearance at The Dalles where Ben Hogan praised his skill and suggested he could do well on the PGA Tour. Clark met Jennings in the 36-hole final and upset the defending champion, 4 and 3. It marked the final Oregon Am appearance for Jennings, who moved to California. Clark went on to win the Oregon Open the same year and become a major factor in OGA and PNGA tournaments throughout his collegiate career at the University of Oregon. He did not pursue a professional career, however, and instead built a successful accounting career in his home town. Jennings didn’t play golf for some years, but he told me not long before his recent death that he did play once - and shot an even-par 72!

The 1950 Oregon Amateur at Eugene Country Club provided two stellar final matches which trumpeted the emergence of the young players. Yost, 20 at the time, defeated the 19-year old Atkinson, 3 and 2, with eagles and birdies flying all over the place. Mrs. Bowman and Miss DeMoss also ravaged par in the ladies’ final which Bowman finally won when Gracie missed a 14-inch putt on the 36th green. They were magnificently played confrontations, prophetic of the great golf to come.

The constraints of space prevent me from reciting the exploits of every fine player and the drama of every torrid match. Let it suffice to say the 1950’s may have been quiet and sedate compared with today’s hectic pace, but Oregon golf was filled with fire and flame. In addition to the young champions, three older men won amateur titles in the 50’s - George Beechler, Eddie Simmons and Ad Huycke. And there was an abundance of outstanding young gunners who didn’t win but came close - Dick Estey, Phil Getchell, Ed Oldfield, Don Provost, Harvey Hixson, Barbara Snook-Cameron, Sue DeVoe, Sue Houston Rose - and some a few years older who also excelled - Ralph Dichter, Bob McReynolds, Dick Hanen, Ray Weston, George Harrington, Bill Langley, Bob Bronson among them. It is interesting to note that Dr. Rosenblatt, who first appeared in the Oregon Amateur at Gearhart in 1917, went to the semifinals at Tualatin in 1959!

As the players increased in numbers and developed new skills, so the Association grew in size and programs. The executive committee bowed to inflation, increased the dues and raised cash on hand to $3,000 by the latter part of the decade. In addition to Chirgwin, Milligan and Ott, leadership was provided by Morrie Braden, Harvey Benson, Bob Bronson, Francis “Hap” Weitkemper, Dr. Russ Kenaga, Dr. Vernon Fowler and Henry Cohen. In 1953 Bob Martin of Riverside was appointed junior tournament chairman. It was a fortunate appointment, for Martin ran an outstanding junior tourney in the tradition of Ralph Tomlinson and Ernie Williams, who had cared for it so well through its years at Alderwood. That course closed in 1953 when the airport expansion doomed it, and the OGA took over the Alderwood team match. The Association now had five events - Amateur, Junior, Team, Champ of Champions and Medal Play.

The OGA’s first move to establish an office came in 1954 when it hired George Bertz as executive secretary for the princely sum of $400/year. George, sports editor of the Oregon Journal, had written golf since Vardon and Ray gave an exhibition at Waverley in 1913, so he know the territory very well, and he already was doing the pairings for the tournaments, so he might as well get a buck or two for his trouble as he looked toward retirement. That year the OGA also agreed to sponsor USGA qualifying events for the first time. The next year saw a major change when Clark County, Washington, was made part of OGA territory and southwest Washington clubs became eligible for membership.

The course ran smooth through the remainder of the 50’s. Another excellent appointment came in 1956 when the OGA agreed to rate golf courses for handicap purposes and Bob McReynolds was named chairman of that committee. McReynolds, who was to become president in 1963, proved to be one of the most effective leaders and even today assists in the areas of history and record keeping. As the decade closed, Forest Hills was awarded the Champions tournament on a continuing basis, the USGA handicap system finally was formally adopted and, oh yes, Bertz got a $200/year raise.

The 1960’s have been called the decade of turmoil in our nation. Turmoil is much too strong a word to characterize the OGA in those years, but change did come about and accelerate as the ‘60’s closed. To begin with, Bertz died late in 1960 and was replaced by this writer. Just as with Bertz, it was a part-time assignment and the pay was a pittance. I had been the golf editor of The Oregonian, so I knew a mashie from a hockey stick, and I could type. I stayed on board for 30 years, but once again we are getting ahead of the story.

The 60’s saw a proliferation of new golf course construction for the first time since the 1930’s. Illahe Hills, Willamette Valley, Salishan, Michelbook, Shadow Hills and Sunriver were some of the new courses to come along. New leaders arrived -- Pross Clark, Ralph Swan, Walter Cline, Dr. Don Eland, Dr. Paul Walker, Les Hunter, Ad Huycke and Ed Bader all joined McReynolds and Milligan as presidents in the 1960’s. Some of the younger golfers also began to take on administrative positions in that period. Bob Norquist came on board in 1961 as assistant junior director and later replaced Martin. Bill Wittenberg served as tournament advisor throughout the decade. Don Krieger replaced McReynolds as handicap and course rating chairman.

Tournamentwise, those young lions of the 50’s continued their pillage into the ‘60’s. Atkinson, Price, Prall and Krieger won six of the ten men’s titles, and Skala, Mrs. R.L. Borst and Helen Thompson-Milne did likewise in the women’s division. Younger champions were Gay Davis, Elwin Fanning and Dave Glenz among the men and Sue Jennett, Mary Wolfe and Cathy Gaughan (Mant) among the ladies. Kent Myers was fairly well dry behind the ears when he took the crown at Portland Golf Club in 1965, but his greatest years lay ahead and he belongs in the later era, as do Davis and the other youngsters. Other youthful performers also were notable in the 60’s. e.g. Tom Shaw, Dick Stearns, Jerry Cundari, Jerry Mowlds, Bill Eggers, Molly Cronin and June Robinson. Cronin, as an example, was Oregon Amateur runner-up five times between 1959 and 1969 but did not win a championship.

Changes came in those years. Public course players were closed out of the Amateur once again but later were admitted as associate members. The Junior tournament was rotated among the member clubs and the junior banquet was inaugurated in 1961. The junior entry fee was raised twice, first to $3, then to $5. An attempt was made to remove the women’s division of the Oregon Amateur field, but it failed and the ladies remained an important part of the tournament. Official jackets for directors were adopted, but not without a marathon argument about the color. In 1967, the OGA joined the newly formed Pacific Coast Golf Association as an associate member, then later was accepted as a regular member.

OGA Member club dues had been raised twice in the decade, finally to $100/year for 18-hole courses and $60/year for 9-hole courses, but the treasury had dipped to just over $2,000 and it was obvious real change was required. Translation - more revenue was a must. So, equal rights were awarded public courses and dues were changed from a per club basis to a per individual member basis and computerized handicapping was offered as a service. The 1970’s would open with the OGA seeking to become a full service organization with an expanded office. The junior program would flourish under the tender care of Norquist and Mrs. Paul Bobs Sullivan, the Hogan Cup and later Junior America’s Cup matches would begin and a fund would be started for the acquisition of an OGA golf course. The step was definitely strong and forward.

So the second part of the trilogy ends with some new leaders poised to lend their expertise in the ‘70’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Bob Huenergard, Chuck Fisk, Fran Brinkman, Ted Wood and Jim Hunt already are involved, and George Gant, Jerry Pearson, George Schwieger, Charley Ganter and Tim Stetson are ahead. On the competitive front, the names are beginning to appear - Mike Davis, Fitzsimons, Haney, Allard, Fought, Gilder, Jacobsen, Budke, Fisher..but, once again, we are ahead of the story.