A Brief History of Golf in the Olympic Games

 

 

You can not fully understand golf in the 1900 Paris Olympics without knowing a little bit about the "Big Picture". Even then.......

On January 30, 1894 Mr. Pierre de Coubertin, Godfather of the Modern Olympics and Chairman of the 1900 Paris Olympics, along with his associate Mr. G Strethly, met with the 3 directors of the Paris Universal Exhibition including chair Mr. Alfred Picard and walked away with an assurance of interest in incorporating the games and its facilities into the 1900 Paris Exhibition. After 3 years of attempting to establish further communication with Mr. Picard and his committee, Coubertin asked his friend the former Prime Minister Mr. A Ribot to intercede on his behalf. The result the same. Picard in no way, shape or form was going to communicate or cooperate with the Olympic committee which in turn meant that the Olympic Committee was screwed.  Three years to go, no structure, no sponsors. 

Determined to organize the 1900 Olympics even if by private committee Coubertin was able to recruit Vicomte de La Rochefoucauld to not only act as Olympic president but to allow the Olympic offices to be installed in his mansion in the rue de Varnenes Paris. Soon after Robert Fournier-Sarloveze , the mayor of Compiègne, agreed to serve as General Commissioner and with him came the facilities of the Compiegne Sports Club and the help of its membership. 

 

Mr. Jacques de Pourtales, of the Compiegne Golf Club was named steward for the golfing games. Coincidently the golf events consisting of a 36 hole championship for men and a 9 hole championship for women would be played  at the Compiègne Golf Club in Compiègne, about 30 miles north of Paris. This golf club was built in 1896 and is one of few golf courses built in the 19th century, along with being one of two golf courses that has ever hosted the Olympics. 

Once the Olympic Committee established itself and Mr. Coubertin thought things were going to go forward smoothly, it is then with the help of the Universal Exhibition's Mr. Picard, things got really convoluted and confusing. Mr. Picard and his Universal Exhibition commission simply did not want the Olympic Games "tainting" his master piece. The truth is, it was so messed up that many of athletes did not know they were participating in the Olympic games as the name, with Mr. Picard's help was officially changed to "The 1900 International Championships of Paris".

Now back to the golf. The Olympic golfing games took place on October 2-4, 1900 at the Compiegne Golf Club. The event was divided into 3 tournaments; the 36 hole men's championships and 18  hole men's net championships and the women's 9 hole championship. The events were well attended by society's elite among them many representatives of Europe's royal families.


A photo of Pierre de Couberin, Chairman of the 1900 Paris Olympic Games.
Mr. Pierre de Coubertin, 
Chairman of the 1900 Paris Olympics


An illustration of the golf course layout on with the 1st Olympic Golf Matches were played  at Compiegne, just outside of Paris.
 
Compiègne Golf Club golf course was designed by M.W. Freemantle and built within the horse racing track of Compiègne. The layout of the course is flat, with dense rough surrounding the fairways and very tiny "postage stamp" sized greens

  On October 2, 1900 in the 2nd Modern Olympic games, the first round of men's Olympic Golf was played. Twelve men, representing 3 countries teed it up in quest of Olympic Gold, although quite a few hadn't any knowledge of the level on which they were competing.  

Charles Sands representing the United States, playing out the St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers New York won the golf's 1st Olympic Gold with rounds of 82 and 85 beating Silver winner Walter Rutherford playing out of Jedburgh Golf Club in Scotland representing Great Britain. 

Also representing Great Britain, was Bronze medal winner David Robertson of Scotland playing out of Troon Golf Club. Mr. Robertson had also participated in the 1st Modern Olympic Games in Athens Greece as a member of the Scottish Rugby Team. It is interesting to note that there was no golf in the 1st Athens Olympics because at the time there were no golf courses in Greece.

The women's championship, the title of which had started as the Golfing Games of the 1900 Olympics, then became The 1900 International Championships of Paris, was now simply the Paris Championships. It managed to draw 10 participants, at least 4 being from the United States including the entry of author Mary Ives Abbott and her daughter Margaret Abbott. Mrs. Abbott had brought her daughter to Paris in 1899 to study art under Edgar Degas and Margaret, an avid golfer talked her mother into extending the trip so they might participate in an "International Golf Tournament" she had heard of. (Mary Ives Abbott and Margaret Abbott are the first and only mother daughter combination to ever compete in the same Olympics in the same Olympic event, surely something that only Olympic Golf could bring about.)

Miss Abbott, born in Calcutta India but raised in Chicago Illinois where she learned to play golf as a protégée to golf professional Edward Frost at C.B. MacDonald's Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton Illinois, and was known among both women and men golfers as a fierce competitor. Running away with the "Gold" by shooting a stunning 47 for the 9 hole event Miss Abbott later light-heartedly told relatives, that many players "apparently misunderstood the nature of the game scheduled for the day and turned up to play in high heels and tight skirts." 

Margaret was not only the United States' women's golf story here, as Pauline Whittier of Boston, Massachusetts, playing out of "du Golf Club de Saint-Moritz, won the Silver, Daria Pratt of New York bringing home the Bronze gave the US Women's Olympic team their first medal sweep. Margaret's mother, Mary Ives Abbott finished 7th with a 9 hole score of 65. It is no surprise that the winner's never did receive medals but instead were awarded bowls and it is believed that Miss Abbott passed away in  1955 not knowing she had won an Olympic Gold Medal. (Her children had no idea that their mother was the first ever American female gold medallist until they were contacted by University of Florida professor Paula Welch. It took Welch ten years to track down Abbott's family.) 


A photo of Olympic Mom. Mary Ives Abbott.
Olympic Mom, Mary Ives Abbott

With the completion of the Women's Olympic Golf tournament and moving onto the men's handicap the United States Olympic Golf Team continued to dominate with Mr. Albert Lambert, a left handed golfer from St. Louis Missouri, playing out of Glen Echo CC, winning the Gold Medal in handicap event with a net 73. The Silver Medal went to M. P. Deschamps of France playing out of du Golf Club de Paris.

Mr. Lambert, who was visiting Paris on business also participated in the men's 36 hole Olympic Golf Championship finishing 8th with scores of 94-95. Mr. Lambert was so excited about his Olympic experience that when he returned to St. Louis he and his father-in-law Colonel George McGrew, founder of Glen Echo CC in St. Louis immediately began efforts to include golf in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.

Golf Olympic 2016


A photo of 1900 Olympic Golf Men's Gold Medal Winner Charles Sands.
1900 Olympic Golf
Men's Gold Medal Winner
Charles Sands


A photo of 1900 Olympic Golf Men's Net Gold Medal Winner Albert Lambert.
1900 Olympic Golf
Men's Net Gold Medallist Albert Lambert


A photo of 1900 Olympic Golf Women's Gold Medal Winner Margaret Abbott
1900 Olympic Golf
Women's Gold Medallist Margaret Allcott

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The 1900 Paris Olympic Golf Finances


The Olympics over the years has often been a financial "disappointment" for those involved, and Olympic Golf in 1900 Paris, in spite of the tremendous support it received from it's French sponsers, was no different. The official 1900 Olympic report by Mr. Pierre de Coubertin, Chairman of the 1900 Paris Olympics shows a budget for the golfing events of 6000 Francs and total expenses of 10,200 Francs resulting in a 4200 Franc shortfall. In explaining the shortfall Mr. de Couberin specifically mentions that although the Compiegne Golf Club donated the use of its course, the cost of preparing the course alone came to 7500 Francs. Another unplanned expense was "les Anglo-Saxons toujours si preoccupes de l'hygiene."

Overall the golfing events were considered a great success with 28 French participants and 109 total.

1904 Olympic Golf Matches, Glen Echo Country Club, St. Louis Missouri

Lambert and McGrew almost immediately received golf's recognition and inclusion into the 1904 games and unlike the Paris planners had full support for the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Committee . The Olympic Golfing events would include driving contests, putting contests to be played at night under the lights, handicap events, team Nassau competitions and instead of a medal play championship, a match play elimination tournament for the the Olympic medals.


A photo of the 1904 Olympic Golfing Event Trophies
1904 Olympic Golfing Event Trophies

The broad range of events including the team competitions began on September 17, 1904 and on Monday September 19th, 75 golfers representing the US and Canada teed off for match play qualifying, including  Albert Lambert the only person to compete in the 1900 and 1904 Olympic golfing games. First tee honors were given to Raymond Havemeyer, donor of the Havemeyer Trophy each year presented to the United States Amateur Golfing Champion. 

In 1904 the United States  Amateur Golfing Champion champion happened to be golfing great H. Chandler Egan (Winner of 11 major Amateur Championships) who was the favorite to take home the gold medal.  The only Canadian to qualify for match play was George Lyon, a former cricketer, playing out of Lambton Golf and Country Club in Toronto.

Two days of 36 hole match play reduced the field to 4 semi-finalists; H. Chandler Egan, winner of the long drive event with a blast of 234 yards, George Lyon, St. Louis City Champion Mr. Burt McKinnie, winner of the putting contest defeating Clement Smoot of the Exmoor Club in Chicago in the finals with just 21 putts over the specially built 9 hole putting course and Mr. Frank Newton of Seattle CC.  Egan as expected defeated McKinnie with seemingly little effort and to the surprise of more than a few George Lyon bested Frank Newton and found himself in the Olympic Golfing Gold Medal round facing the overwhelming favorite 1904 US Amateur Champion Egan. 

The weather for the finals was cold, wet and gloomy. With the players both fighting the weather it became a contest of endurance as well as golf. Egan a classic stylist kept getting shorter distances as the rain began soaking the fairways. Lyon with his flat, self made swing and his natural power began to out drive Egan off every tee causing Egan to more and more discouraged with every hole. The match lasted 34 holes with Lyon taking the Gold Medal match 3 up with 2 to go. (It is really quite remarkable that the  score was this close, as Lyon had established a new course record of 77 in the morning round and was in control the entire match.)




A Photo of the 1904 Olympic Golfing Gold Medal.
The Olympic Golfing 
Gold Medal


A picture of The Glen Echo Golf Course Layout Circa 1904
The Glen Echo Golf Course
Layout Circa 1904


A photo of Canadian George Lyon 1904 Olympic Golfing Champion.
George Lyon
1904 Olympic  Champion




With the success of 2nd Olympic Golfing games and the 1908 Olympics being planned for golf mad Britain it appeared that golf's future as an Olympic game would soon be cemented. London organizers went to work at once and began planning a 108 hole stroke play tournament to be played over three of Britain's finest courses; Royal St. George's of Sandwich,  Prince's Golf Club also of Sandwich and the Cinqueports Golf Club in Deal. (Cinqueports was a favorite of the then Prince of Wales, later Edward the VII). 

Then surprise, The Royal &  Ancients, and Olympic golf committee became embroiled in a dispute over eligibility requirements of the players. Of course it will never be known what the problem really was as the Royal & Ancients when pressed by the Olympic Golf organizers just simply refused to reply. As the R & A was and still is the final authority of all things golf in Britain and there lack of "support" resulted in the withdrawal of all British golfers and then some resulting in the cancellation of Olympic Golf in the 1908 London games due to lack of entries. As unfair as it seems George Lyon of Canada, reining Olympic Golfing Champion had sailed to Britain before the cancellation was announced. He was offered by the committee a symbolic golf medal for his efforts, but gracefully declined and returned to Canada where he enjoyed a successful amateur golfing career. 

A few, some what half hearted attempts were made to include golf in the Olympics after 1908, but nothing ever materialized until 2016 in Rio, let's see how this plays out......

To learn more about Olympic Golf, continue your search here.....

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