The Year is 1886

In 1886 there were only 38 states in the union. There were no golf courses to be found. The oldest state was only 99 years of age, Delaware. Colorado was formed as a state to the union in 1876. It would be two years before North and South Dakota would be admitted. Nebraska was only admitted as a state in 1867. 19 years previously. But it was here that the first Golf Course in the United States was laid out and played on.

When Alexander H. Findlay arrived on the shores of Ellis Island in 1886 he was carrying a most unique parcel. Something unfamiliar to anyone living in the United States. The item of interest were golf clubs. Why bring golf clubs to a country where there were no golf courses? That question was soon answered as Alex immediately departed for Nebraska to work on a ranch as a cowhand. In his leisure time he laid out the first of over 500 golf courses that would eventually be designed and built by Alex and his son Norman, my father.

In his lifetime he ended up playing on 2,400 different golf courses, a feat that still remains an unbelievable task, even with so many golf courses available today. In the late 1800’s it was an impossible task. Nevertheless it would take over 60 years to accomplish. Alex shot his age at 70 and did so right up to his 77th year nearly to the day of his death.

A most unique privilege Alex enjoyed was playing with many of the dignitaries of his day. He played golf or preached golf with 10 presidents of the US from Benjamin Harrison to Franklin Roosevelt. He also played with John D. Rockefeller who gave his traditional .10 to his caddie as a tip. His caddy that day was my uncle who never forgot the meager salary for a hard days work.

Alex ever the promoter of his beloved game of golf invited the current professional champion of the world, Harry Vardin, who had won 3 British Opens, or as they referred to it in those days as "The Open", to the United States in the early 1900’s to a series of exhibition rounds of golf. Altogether they played over 400 holes together from The Breakers at Palm Beach throughout the east coast. At the conclusion of their Match play Alex was the only player that actually beat Vardin in match play. Not bad for an amateur. Alex requested and received a private and personal audience with Pope Pius XI in 1926. He asked the Pope if he could build a 6 hole course on the Vatican grounds. His reasoning, if he could convince the Pope to play golf, the Pope would convince 500 million Catholics to also play the game, but it was never completed and the Pope never played golf. Nevertheless he laid out some of the most prestigious golf courses of his day and they remain that way up to our day. Of the 130-150 golf courses still in existence today, most are still very private and quite exclusive, not to mention very difficult to score on, a testament to how Alex guarded the pin in his layouts. Hopefully, one day you will be invited to play one of his courses, bring your "A" game, his courses take no prisoners. Escape with your dignity, his courses are extremely difficult, even with all the weapons available in today's arsonal.

Discussion

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  1. Picture of Gary Larrabee

    Gary Larrabee

    Jun, 5th

    Hi Richard
    Great to see this website up and running.
    Do you have any data re Mr. Findlay’s work on Long Meadow GC in North Tewksbury, Mass.?
    I am writing a 100-year history book of the club and wish to give Mr. Findlay proper recognition.
    Please advise. If prefer, call me at
    978 771 9407 (Wenham Mass)

  2. Picture of Hello Richard

    Hello Richard

    May, 29th

    I love talking about Alex Findlay. So many golfers today are ignorant of the history and the accomplishments of this man. I love coming to your site and every time I do, it has something new. I hope you and CeCe will be out to California again some day so we can get together again. It was a grand time. Keep up the great work.

  3. Picture of Kevin Mendik

    Kevin Mendik

    Jun, 8th

    Richard, I’m a member at Brae Burn in MA (http://www.braeburngolf.com) and AF is listed above. He is not credited with the course in The Architects of Golf, nor does his name appear in Brae Burn’s 50th or Centennial histories. Can you provide me with a link or point me towards the info you have regarding his work at Brae Burn. I’ve researched several early American golf architects and AF often comes up. http://www.waynestilessociety.org Recently played in the Inaugural AF Hickory Open at Greenfield CC in MA. Regards, KRM

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