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Original Issue


Findly Douglas spans almost a century of golf, from Old Tom to Byron Nelson

A week or so ago, just before the formal festivities at the Jones anniversary got underway at Winged Foot, a straight-backed man in an out-sized mackintosh and with his felt hat resting low atop his ears strode onto the 18th green and walked over to the guest of honor. Bob Jones had a special greeting for him: he broke into a full chorus of Just a Wee Doch-an-Dorris. Jones doesn't always greet his old friend Findlay Douglas with a once-through-lightly of the old Scottish song, but the temptation is strong. The sight of Douglas always recalls to Jones Pebble Beach in 1929 where, after being knocked out of the Amateur in the very first round by Johnny Goodman, Bob gradually acclimated himself to the unaccustomed role of a spectator and ended this most unusual week dancing a Douglas-taught version of the Highland fling at the post-tournament party and singing a duet with Douglas of Just a Wee Doch-an-Dorris.


Besides, the song is just right for Mr. Douglas. There was a time when the Scottish influence on American golf was so strong that almost every pro in the country was named Willie, and the prestige of laying your hands on a club forged by Stewart or Nicoll was reason enough for booking passage to Europe on the Cameronia. It was a spirited and inspiriting thing, the old Scottish influence, but over the years it has been vanishing slowly but surely, and today Findlay Douglas stands almost alone as the last of the Scots who poured into this country just before the turn of the century and became dominant figures in our golf. Mr. Douglas, who will be 80 this month, spans a heap of golf. He is perhaps the only person who has played both with Old Tom Morris (who won the rudimentary British Open the year Lincoln became president) and with such completely modern pros as Byron Nelson. He played with Old Tom—"a verra nice sort o' gowfer"—as a boy growing up in St. Andrews, his home town. He played with Byron about a dozen years ago when they were drawn as partners in a pro-amateur tournament at the Seminole club. "When I was introduced to Nailson," Mr. Findlay was telling some friends recently, "I could see pairfectly by his expression that he was thinkin', 'Now what have I done to draw an auld fella like this one.' Well, we won that tournament. Nailson was 70 on his own ball and I helped him six shots, usin' ma strokes, o' course. A verra nice sort o' gowfer, Byron Nailson."

Mr. Douglas came to the States in the fall of 1897 to escape from entering the ministry, the profession his father had picked for him. Before sailing, he wrote to an older brother, who had emigrated to St. Louis, asking if he should bring his clubs along. His brother counseled yes—there were golf courses in America but just where he didn't know. Soon after his arrival in New York, Douglas walked into the old A. G. Spalding store on Nassau Street to inquire where around the city a fellow could play some gowf. In the course of the conversation, Douglas had occasion to state that he was a former captain of the St. Andrews University golf team, and Spalding's dispatched their sales manager, Tom Bendelow, to take him out to the Van Cortlandt Park course. "I think they were curious to see if I was any guid or just talkin' a fancy game," Douglas believes. In any event, Bendelow and Spalding's were impressed enough with what they saw to arrange for their young "discovery" to be invited to the leading amateur tourneys the next spring. The following September Douglas won our National Amateur Championship at the Morris County Club. The course had been lengthened to 5,960 yards for the event, but it was still a short course and gave Douglas, the longest hitter in the field, some bizarre headaches. Several times he drove into the traps before the green on par-4 holes.

After this sterling debut, Douglas was expected to enjoy a long reign as champion but he never won again, due partly to the rise of Walter Travis and partly to the advent of the rubber-cored ball. "Wi' the gutty I could out-drive Travis by thairty yards," Douglas remembers. "Wi' the rubber-cored ball, he could outdrive me by thairty. I had grown up, y'see, with a gutty swing—you swept the ball away. I never learned to punch the ball with the new swing."

Douglas entered the building-materials business in New York and, after his competitive career in golf was over, served as president of the Metropolitan Golf Association, the U.S. Seniors and the U.S.G.A. As the years moved on, Douglas could have easily become the grand old man of American golf but he is not the grand-old-man type. He is a player. He scored his first hole-in-one at 74—"a three-wood wi' a little draw into the wind." He recently won Blind Brook's annual hole-in-one tournament by coddling a half-shot with a three-iron four feet from the cup. At the Jones anniversary, invited to try his skill after Armour, Wood, Sarazen, Farrelland Harmon had missed the famous 14-footer, Findlay Douglas came verra, verra close to holing his two tries. "Calamity Jean is lighter than ma Braid-Mills putter," he was saying with a rueful wink the other day. "I should ha' been fairmer wi' ma stroke. But, y'know, I railly thought I had that second putt."