Great Battle on the Little Course - Alex Findlay vs Willie Anderson

Introduction

The next year, on land donated for town use as a park by local industrialist W.B. Plunkett, the "Forest Park Golf Club" was formed. Twenty-four of the more prominent citizens of the town were charter members, including one female, Millie Anthony. Dues were set at $5.00 for the men and caddies, a must for men of means even in those days of small bags, was set at ten cents for the first round of nine holes and five cents for any additional rounds. That first year, professional golfer Alec Findlay arrived at the club as a guest of W.B. Plunkett. On his first time around the course, Findlay lowered the link's record by four strokes. In the afternoon, he played a 27 hole, best ball match against three of the club's best golfers; W. C Plunkett, Theodore Plunkett and E. C. Jenks, winning one-up. A gallery of over 100 spectators watch the match as well as the driving exhibition Findlay gave afterwards, with nearly every drive about 240 yards in length. Before leaving, Findlay would redesign the course, which still retains many of his original ideas. Findlay's changes to the layout, which included lengthening the course and increasing the size of the greens, were completed the following year.

In 1902, Findlay would return to play one of the greatest golf matches seen in Western Massachusetts. His opponent would be Willie Anderson. W. C. Plunkett had arranged for professional golfer Willie Anderson, then club professional at the Pittsfield Country Club, to spend a day at Forest Park G.C. Anderson was fresh off his 1901 U. S. Open victory. He would eventually win a total of four Opens, a record shared by Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Anderson is also the only golfer to win three consecutive U.S. Opens, doing so between 1903 and 1905. Only twenty years of age, Anderson proceeded to lower the new course record to 34 while playing in a steady rain. After the exhibition, it was decided that a challenge match between Anderson and Findlay would be arranged for the following week.

The Golfers

Scotsman Alex Findlay came to the United States in the early 1880's to manage a cattle ranch in Nebraska. On a cattle ranch he managed, he constructed his first golf course in 1885. Three years later he placed 13th in the 1898 U. S. Open at the Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Massachusetts and 10th in the next Open, held at the Baltimore Country Club. Findlay was probably best know for bringing Harry Vardon, creator of the Vardon Grip, to the States. Later he became more involved in golf course architecture, constructing and operating courses for the Florida East Coast Railroad. Findlay laid out more than 500 courses in North America and Mexico. He also promoted his own line of wood shafted clubs for Wright & Ditson.

Willie Anderson was also a native of Scotland, the son of a greenskeeper. He came to the U.S. in 1895 at the age of fifteen and two years later, at seventeen, he finished second in the U.S. Open. He won the title in 1901 by beating Alex Smith in a playoff at the Myopia Hunt Club. At the end of the tournament, Anderson became angry when he was told the professionals, at that time deemed socially unworthy at many clubs, were not allowed in the clubhouse.

Anderson was an extremely serious golfer whose trance-like concentration while playing golf labeled him as a dour individual. Anderson was also unconventional in his style of dress, rejecting the formal attire of the time for a tartan wool cap pulled low, baggy plaid trousers, a plain shirt, a cloth neckerchief, and old tweed jacket. He was most dangerous with the mashie, equivalent to today's five iron.

Anderson died in 1910 at the age of 30 from either arteriosclerosis or possibly by heavy drinking. In 1975, he was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame.

The Match

Findlay, fresh off his recent Mexican Open victory, arrived in Adams from Boston. Over two hundred spectators, including local golf club members from Williamstown, Pittsfield, Lenox and Stockbridge, crowded the small course to view the match. The 18 hole competition began at 2:30 on a Tuesday, July 29th. Both players lived up to their professional billing, with there being "but two 'footies' in driving and both men were excellent on approach."

The older Findlay, though a local favorite, was thought by many to be the lesser of the two golfers, giving the youthful Anderson the edge. Though somewhat timeworn, Findlay surprised everyone with his excellent play from the start. Though somewhat timeworn, Findlay surprised everyone with his excellent play from the start. Findlay took an early lead, winning the first two holes, then relied on his putting to give him a one-up lead after the first nine holes.

Anderson should have won the 10th hole, but his putt rimmed the cup and the hole was halved. Anderson regrouped to win the next two holes, going one-up with six to play. Findlay would birdie the short par-three 13th to even the match as the pair crossed the road that intersects the course to the 14th. Both of the players hit the green with their approach shots, but could not hold the tiny 14th green. Anderson had the better approach, but his ball rolled onto the nearby dirt bicycle track. Findlay's shot was also on the track, but had a better lie than Anderson and played his third shot two feet from the hole. Since Anderson had a difficult third shot over a small, sloping bank to get to the green, it appeared Findlay had the upper hand in the contest.

While spectators pondered Anderson's fate, he once again turned the tide of the match towards himself. Lobbing his shot over the bank, he landing it softly on the green, and this time it held. When it came to a halt, it lay between Findlay's ball and the hole. Findlay was stymied, which meant in those days before balls were marked to give opponents a clear line to the cup while putting, he had to play around Anderson's ball. Findlay not to be out done, "jumped his ball over Mr. Anderson's and it bounded into the hole" to the delight and amazement of the crowd. Anderson managed to halve the hole by sinking his putt.

Until 1950, there was no relief unless the two balls lay within six inches of each other. Many scorecards at the time, including those at Forest Park G.C., had stymie gauges measuring six inches printed upon them. When encountering a stymie, the most common technique at the time was for the player to jump over their opponents ball, usually with a 'niblik' or 8 iron.

Findlay won the next hole and held the one-up lead to the last hole. Needing only to tie the hole to win the match over the favorite Anderson, Findlay hit his approach shot long, opening the door for Anderson. Findlay finished with a six, while Anderson carded a five to win the hole. It 's what seems to be an appropriate ending between two of golf's early stars, the match ended in a tie. Findlay did gain a bit of satisfaction by lowering the course record, set two weeks prior by Anderson, from 34 to 32 on the par, or as then labeled, bogey 36 front nine. Both golfers ended up shooting a two-under 69.

Conclusion

Though the course has been improved upon over the last century, many of the original features remain. Walking the fairways at Forest Park in today's world of stadium courses and million dollar purses, recalls the days when golf was simpler and more of a social institution. It's uniqueness, whether the golfer is charmed or disgusted, is unforgettable. It's history is lengthy and, in many instances, surprising. Though the sport of golf has changed dramatically in the last century, little has changed about Forest Park G.C.

Discussion

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  1. Picture of Scott Carlson

    Scott Carlson

    Jun, 4th

    Unbelievably interesting to me as I have been a PGA Member in the Nebraska section for 25 years, and was a head pro in a neighboring county to Nance county, Boone county (Albion CC) for 18 years.  If you could give me the exact location of the 6 hole course on the Merchiston Ranch I would greatly appreciate it.  I still have strong ties to some of the best people I have ever known in Fullerton, Nebraska and would like to share with them.  Thank you very much.

  2. Picture of harold guy

    harold guy

    Aug, 23rd

    I do research for the Middle Atlantic PGA which includes work on course histories.  So compiling information on the Findlay’s, particularly Fred, is a direction I have pursued.  I am also interested in following up on Raymond Loving Sr and Jr, who are connected through marriage to Fred Findlay’s daughter Ruth.  Any information not appearing on extant web sites would be appreciated.  Thank you,  Dr. Harold C. Guy

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