Pinehurst Lookback: North & South Amateur Championships
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
This is the fifth in a weekly series of notable championships played on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C. Pinehurst No. 2 is the site of the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, which will be played in June in back-to-back weeks on the same course for the first time.
When the Pinehurst Resort was founded in 1895, it was envisioned as a place of recuperation and relaxation. But it wasn’t long before guests began knocking golf balls around a nearby dairy pasture, and within six years, Pinehurst was hosting one of the major amateur golf championships in the country.
A March 1, 1901, story in the Pinehurst Outlook announced the creation of the event: “The arrangements have now been completed for a grand golf tournament at Pinehurst. … The competition is to be for the United South and North Championship, and it is open to all amateur players in the United States or Canada. The dates for this remarkable event have been chosen so as not to interfere with any of the tournaments in Florida or the one at Aiken, S.C., and will precede the opening fixtures at Lakewood [N.J.] by a week or two.”
The tournament, which came to be known as the North & South Amateur, debuted on April 1, 1901, and it quickly attracted top players from as far away as Minnesota. The women’s competition began in 1903, and the events – precursors, in a way, to this year’s back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst – grew in stature until they stood just a notch below the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur championships. The name was emblematic of one of the event’s founding purposes: “to draw tighter the bond of union between North and South,” as the nation was barely one generation removed from the Civil War.
In its early years, the North & South earned notoriety for the success of three-time U.S. Amateur champion Walter Travis. Known as “The Old Man” for his relatively late start in the game, the native of Australia captured the North & South in 1904, 1910 and 1912, with his latter two titles interrupted by Chick Evans in 1911. Evans, who went on to win two U.S. Amateurs and one U.S. Open, earned his only North & South victory that year by defeating Robert Hunter, 6 and 5, in the championship match.
The first few championships were contested on Pinehurst No. 1, which played a mere 5,203 yards in 1901, but it was moved to Pinehurst No. 2 in 1909, two years after the completion of that layout’s second nine holes. Certainly, the fact that the North & South has been contested on all but a few occasions on the revered Donald Ross design has contributed to its tradition of noteworthy champions.
Billy Joe Patton, a three-time North & South champion and five-time USA Walker Cup competitor, once said of Pinehurst No. 2, “There’s one word to describe it. It’s the only word, although it’s a kind of old and worn-out expression. It’s a masterpiece.”
Noteworthy early champions included Francis Ouimet (1920) on the men’s side and three-time winners Myra D. Paterson, Nonna Barlow and Dorothy Campbell (who also won three U.S. Women’s Amateurs) on the women’s side. Soon after, however, domination took hold in both North & South competitions.
Bob Jones did not compete in the North & South, reportedly because of his aversion to the sand greens that Pinehurst featured until the mid-1930s, when Ross finally found a strain of turfgrass that would thrive in the Sandhills climate. However, the woman who came to be known as “the female Bob Jones” had no such qualms about Pinehurst’s putting surfaces. Glenna Collett won the North & South six times between 1922 and 1930, in the same relative timeframe as she was reeling off a record six U.S. Women’s Amateur victories.
Said Richard Tufts, the grandson of Pinehurst founder James Walker Tufts, and later president of the USGA, “Glenna was the first woman to attack the hole, rather than just to play to the green.”
Collett’s reign was broken by Maureen Orcutt, who won three straight North & South titles from 1931-33, only to be usurped by Estelle Lawson Page, who proceeded to capture a record seven North & South victories between 1935 and 1945. Interestingly, Page’s initial win in 1935 marked the first North & South triumph by a female player from the South – she hailed from nearby Chapel Hill, where her father was a professor at the University of North Carolina.
Page had a counterpart on the men’s side, as two-time national collegiate champion and Princeton University graduate George Dunlap Jr. matched her by winning a men’s record seven North & South titles, all between 1931 and 1942. Dunlap, the son of the co-founder of the Grosset and Dunlap publishing house, earned his lone U.S. Amateur victory in 1933 and played on three winning USA Walker Cup Teams of the era.
This was truly the heyday of the career amateur, and many U.S. Amateur champions duplicated their national success at Pinehurst, including Harvie Ward, Dick Chapman and Bill Campbell, a two-time USGA president who won four North & Souths over a 17-year span (1950-1967), as well as the 1964 U.S. Amateur. Ward, a North Carolina native best known for competing in “The Match” with Ken Venturi against Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, and Chapman also hold the distinction of being the only two players to have won the U.S., British and Canadian Amateur championships.
On the women’s side, players such as Babe Zaharias, Peggy Kirk and three-time champion Louise Suggs used success in the North & South as a springboard to professional success. All three were founding members of the LPGA Tour in 1950, but not before Zaharias and Suggs battled for 20 holes in a memorable 1949 North & South Women’s final, with Zaharias prevailing over defending champion Suggs in front of 2,500 spectators.
Barbara McIntire is the last career amateur to dominate the North & South, capturing six titles between 1957 and 1971, while earning six berths on the USA Curtis Cup Team and also winning two U.S. Women’s Amateurs, in 1959 and 1964. She went on to serve for several years on the USGA Women’s Committee and was its chairman in 1995-96.
In more recent decades, the roll of North & South winners is sprinkled with players who have gone on to professional glory, including Jack Nicklaus, Hollis Stacy, Curtis Strange, Corey Pavin, Hal Sutton, Davis Love III, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.
Nicklaus captured the North & South in 1959 at age 19, just weeks before he won his first of two U.S. Amateurs. His recollection, as recounted by author Lee Pace in The Spirit of Pinehurst, resonates as players prepare for the two U.S. Opens on the restored Course No. 2.
“Back then the fairways were firm and the greens were firm,” Nicklaus said. “There was virtually no rough. The ball ran through the fairways into the trees. … There weren’t really many good scores back then. I didn’t feel I played all that badly, but I wasn’t near par when I won.” (Newspaper accounts had Nicklaus with approximate scores of 79-76 in the 36-hole final.)
Nicklaus has an additional Pinehurst distinction, as part of the only father-son duo to win the North & South. When his son Jackie prevailed in 1985, Jack followed his matches throughout, and later quipped, “It’s not easy being a father to a famous golfer.” Several months later, Jack would win the 1986 Masters, his 18th and final major, with Jackie on the bag.
Pressel became the youngest North & South Women’s champion in 2004 at age 16, and in 2005 she squared off with Tseng in one of the most engaging matches in North & South history. Pressel shot 67 and Tseng 68 (with the usual match-play concessions) over the first 18 holes of their 36-hole final match, and the duel went 39 holes before Tseng prevailed. Pressel went on to become the youngest major champion in LPGA history, and Tseng is the youngest player, male or female, to earn five major-championship victories.
Senior championships for men and women were instituted in the 1950s, and the North & South Juniors were founded in 1979. All the while, through more than a century of play uninterrupted by the two World Wars, the North & South has continued to celebrate amateur competition and, as Tufts of Pinehurst’s founding family once described it: “To provide an annual gathering of those who love the game, rather than a spectacle.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.