Detroit’s First Pro Golf Tour Event – The Motor City Open

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
The Detroit Area’s First Pro Golf Tour Event Was The Motor City Open.

Detroit’s First Pro Golf Tour Event – The Motor City Open

The PGA Tour returns to Michigan in 2019 for the Rocket Mortgage Classic. While it is the first PGA TOUR tournament within Detroit city limits, it is not the first tour event in the Detroit area. That honor belongs to the Motor City Open, which ran off-and-on from 1948 to 1962. In addition, Oakland Hills had previously hosted the 1924 and 1937 US Opens. The 1947 PGA Championship had been held at Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield.

It is also important to note that the event was actually a part of the PGA of America’s tournament schedule. What we now know as the PGA TOUR did not split from the PGA of America until 1968. (What is the difference between the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR?)

The first Motor City Open was held July 1 – 4, 1948. It featured 121 (other sources record 130) professionals and amateurs playing 72 holes over four days. The purse was $15,000, with a $2,600 first prize. In 2018 dollars, that translates to a $155,000 purse and a $26,000 first prize.

Meadowbrook served as the host course. Located in Northville, Michigan, it is about 27 miles northwest of downtown Detroit. A Willie Park design, Meadowbrook played at 6, 616 yards and played as a par 71 for the event. Ben Hogan noted that “Meadowbrook is in wonderful shape.”

Free Press columnist Mark Beltaire, however, noted that officials had narrowed the fairways “by letting the clover grow. ” That, he later speculated, may explain why the pros were having trouble scoring at Meadowbrook during the Motor City Open.

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
An aerial shot of Meadowbrook Country Club.

Interest in hosting a professional tournament in the Detroit area was high in 1948. A year earlier, the National PGA Championship was played at Plum Hollow in Southfield. In the days of the match play version of the PGA Championship, Jim Ferrier won over Chick Harbert. Harbert was the professional at Meadowbrook and would go on to win the PGA Championship in 1954.

Aside from Harbert, other local favorites in the field were Jimmy Demaret, the former pro at Plum Hollow, Ed Furgol, Horton Smith of Detroit Golf Club, Al Watrous of Oakland Hills and Sam Byrd who also had been at Plum Hollow.

A participant of the Motor City Open, who was not well known as the time, but of historical interest, was Pete Dye, the (now) noted golf architect. Dye shot 73-76 on the first two days.

The real star of the show, however was Ben Hogan, who earlier that year had won the PGA Championship and the US Open.

Admission was $1.20 on the weekdays, and $2.40 for the weekend. A week-long pass was $6.

The Motor City Open pro-am, held on Wednesday, featured 46 pros paired with 46 Detroit auto dealers. First prize for the pros was a $3,600 Lincoln Convertible. A golf clinic also was scheduled for that Wednesday.

The winner of the Lincoln was Marty Furgol, a 30-year-old Albuquerque professional.

Vic Ghezzi, who eventually won the 1941 PGA Championship and accumulated 11 wins on the PGA TOUR, had his clubs stolen on Wednesday after the pro-am. He played the first round of the tournament with borrowed clubs and shot a 74.  To ward off more larceny, uniformed special policy patrolled the locker room.

Ghezzi’s clubs were returned by a cab driver, who said “I was given the clubs by a man in downtown Detroit. He paid the full fare to Meadowbrook and said for me to bring them out here.”

Ghezzi shot a 71 in the second round with his own sticks.

Thursday, July 1, 1948 – The First Round Of The Motor City Open

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
Johnny Palmer, Marty Furgol, Joe Kirkwood and Gene Dahlbender led with rounds of 68 after the first day of the Motor City Open. Newspaper clip from the Windsor Daily Star.

Under fair skies and cool temperatures, crowds on Thursday were a disappointing 4, 500. Temperatures topped out at 73 degrees.

Amateur Gene Dahlbender of Atlanta, Georgia drew attention for his ability to drive Meadowbook’s greens. Dahlbender was in Detroit for the previous week’s Red Run Invitational with this wife of one week. When he decided to stay for the Motor City Open, he sent his wife home.

Bobby Locke, known for his putting skills, needed 34 putts to complete the round. One miscue came on the 507 yard 17th. After reaching the green in two, he missed from twelve feet. His two footer coming back also missed and he settled for a par when he had Eagle in sight. All told, Locke missed from less than eight feet no less than eight times. Ben Hogan also had putter troubles, not making a putt longer than eighteen inches.

Hogan, however, partially redeemed himself with an eagle 2 on the eighteenth from 75 yards.

Joe Kirkwood, Sr. was one of the leaders at the end of the first day. He was 51 at the time, and had long since given up a tour player’s lifestyle for work as an exhibition trick shot artist. In his career, Kirkwood had 17 professional wins. Kirkwood also owns the dubious record of being (probably) the first to hit a shot off a howdah on the back of an elephant at the Calcutta Golf Club in India. The trick shot artist’s last win was the Canadian Open and the North and South Open, both in 1933.

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
Gene Sarazen in 1922.

Another aging legend, Gene Sarazen (age 46), was a stoke off the lead, having shot a 34-35=69. In a daily column he wrote for the Detroit Free Press while in Detroit, Hogan wrote:

One of the finest things in this Motor City open was the way that Gene Sarazen and Joe Kirkwood, Sr. stole the show on opening day … I honestly believe that Sarazen is hitting the ball better and farther than he did in the day of his any championships … The reason why they don’t keep on winning is that they have lost their zest for golf. The sharpness and keenness is gone, but they can still come up with those snappy rounds while playing for fun.

After the first round of play at the Motor City Open, the leaderboard looked like this:

Johnny Palmer – 68
Marty Furgol – 68
Joe Kirkwood – 68
Gene Dalhbender (a) – 68
Gene Sarazen – 69
Chick Harbert – 69
EJ Harrison – 70
C. Heafner – 70
Ben Hogan – 70
Elmer Reed – 70
Cary Middlecoff – 70
Bobby Locke – 70

Friday, July 2, 1948 – The Second Round Of The Motor City Open

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
At the end of two rounds of the Motor City Open, E.J. “Dutch” Harrison lead. Clip from Detroit Free Press.

Rain plagued the inaugural Motor City Open on Friday. A crowd of 4, 500 braved the weather and in spite of cloudbursts continued to follow their favorites. Temperatures were in the low 80s. Most of the players played through some four holes of inclement weather.

In a column he wrote for the Free Press, Ben Hogan noted that

“Rain like we had for a while in Friday’s second round can be a good break for the regular tournament pros. We can play better in the rain than the club pros and the amateurs because we have to play in the rain more and get used to it.

But it still costs us an average of two or three strokes on the round and we don’t’ like to play in it any better than the next fellow.”

EJ “Dutch” Harrison rose to the top of the leaderboard in the rain. Harrison made five birdies on the first 16 holes for a 67 and a 137 overall. His scorecard on Friday was marred only by a three putt bogey on the 17th. The 38-year-old was recovering from a bout of what newspapers at time called “Virus X.” A Google search turned up no information on Virus X, so it likely was some sort of influenza.

Matching Harrison’s 67 was Jim Turnesa, who turned in a two-round score of 138. Turnesa made six birdies on the round.

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
Bobby Locke in Australia in 1938. Locke was in contention throughout the weekend in Detroit.

South African Bobby Locke also finished the first two rounds at 138 and in the four-way tie for second. A 40 foot chip for an Eagle and a 32 on the back nine kept him in contention.

Local favorite Chick Harbert finished Friday as a part of the quartet at 138. Meadowbrook club members must have been pleased to see their pro do so well. He had four birdies and two bogeys on the front nine and ended with a 69.

Johnny Palmer finished the first nine on Friday with a 33, but then limped in with a 37. That 70 was possible only with birdies on 17 and 18.

Elmer Reed, who was tied for third at 139 offered an interesting story angle. A pilot for Eastern Airlines on the Atlanta-to-Detroit route, Reed only played between regular flights and on vacations. Nevertheless, his working schedule helped him in the case of the Motor City Open. Three times prior to the tournament, he made the journey from Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan to Meadowbrook to practice.

The other player at 129 was Skip Alexander, who in the second round had eagles on the two par fives. One came on a two foot putt after a 230 yard fairway wood shot. The other was from holing out on a 25 yard chip shot.

Ben Hogan made history of a sort by again holing out for an eagle on the 18th. His drive was said to have landed in the same spot as on the previous day, with the same result from 75 yards. In both cases, the approach bounced three times before dropping into the hole. The legend that Hogan’s biggest problem was landing in his own divots from previous rounds was seemingly true. Hogan, however, shot a 73 and was six shots off the lead at 143.

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Other than that, Hogan struggled, at one point going six over on a seven hole stretch. His card showed a 34-39.

Joe Kirkwood, the surprise of Thursday, was out of the picture by the end of Friday. The 51-year-old, however, salvaged the weekend by booking one of his trick shot shows on Saturday.

On the same day, another Detroiter, Joe Louis, was teeing up at the Forest City Golf Association in Cleveland. Heavyweight boxing champion Louis would become the first African American to play in a PGA TOUR Tournament in 1952.

After two rounds of play at the Motor City Open, the leaderboard was:

E.J. Harrison – 137
Johnny Palmer – 138
Chick Harbert – 138
Bobby Locke – 138
Jim Turnesa – 138
Elmer Reed – 139
Skip Alexander – 139
Ky Laffoon – 140
Marty Furgol – 141
Gene Dahlbender – 141

Saturday, July 3, 1948 – The Third Round Of The Motor City Open

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
Ben Hogan played himself into contention on the third day of the Motor City Open with a 66. The lead, however, was still held by Dutch Harrison and Bobby Locke. Clip from Waco, Texas Herald.

On Saturday, the crowds grew to 12,000, attracted by good weather and the holiday weekend. The temperature reached 90 — a twenty degree change from when the tournament started on Thursday.

Scores were low on Saturday, aided perhaps by softened greens from Friday’s rains. More than half — 31 — of the 60 players in the field shot even par or better. At the end of 54 holes, 14 players were under par for the tournament.

Ben Hogan provided the day’s fireworks, shooting a 66. It was the tournament record, but to be fair, the tournament was only three days old. That score brought Hogan from six back to within one of the lead. Hogan’s Card:

Par Out45444343435
Hogan Out34444343332
Par In43534445436
Hogan In42434454434
         Total66
         To Par-5

A crowd of 3, 500 was said to have gathered around the eighteenth to see if Hogan could eagle the hole for the third consecutive day. He did not. Hogan’s 90 yard approach shot was off by 20 feet. Then, he missed the birdie putt by two inches, settling for a par and a 65.

The lead was held by Bobby Locke and E.J. (Dutch) Harrison. Both players were at 208 after 54 holes. Locke shot a one-under 70. Harrison shot even par.

Locke found himself in the lead after recording birdies on the first two holes, but then ran into trouble. He missed six fairways in the third round, and had bogeys on four, five and ten.  The tenth was particularly bad, for his shot landed against a tree. His recovery shot travelled just five feet.

Harrison kept Locke in the game, though, with a two over 39 on the front. He opened the back nine with a birdie, however, and finished even par 71.

Playing together, both Locke and Harrison had a chance for the solo lead on the eighteenth. Locke was two feet short on a try from just off the green. Harrison missed his first putt by an inch. Both miscues resulted in pars and a tie.

Tied with Hogan for second was Skip Alexander, a former Duke University star, who shot 70 on the day. Alexander wowed the crowd by driving within four feet of the green on the 340 yard par 4 tenth. The 70 was his second straight sub-par round.

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
MEadowbrook Pro Chick Harbert in 1949.

Meadowbrook Pro Chick Harbert was two back at 210. Harbert shot a disappointing one over, with his sole birdie on the seventh. That left him tied for third at 210 and leading the 22 Michigan natives in the tournament. Horton Smith, the Detroit Golf Club pro who won the first and third Masters, shot 68 for a 54-hole-total of 212.

Seven amateurs were still in the tournament on the weekend, led by Gene Dahlbender. The player from Atlanta shot a 70 on Saturday to finish in tie for third.

Fans were disappointed to see Jimmy Demaret quit midway through his round on Saturday. Demaret, an early favorite, complained of being too tired to play.  The heat and humidity apparently did him in. Demaret shot 76-71 the first two days and was enroute to an even worse Saturday with a 37 on the front nine. Later, he said that he planned to take a ten day rest in Pittsburgh.

Hogan and Demaret would team up a week later in Michigan at the Battle Creek Country Club for an exhibition match. Hogan played with Eldon Briggs, pro at the the Marywood Country Club, while Demaret played with Buck White, pro at the Country Club.  Demaret carded a 72, while Hogan shot a 66,

After 54 holes of the Motor City Open, the leaderboard was:

E.J. (Dutch) Harrison – 208
Bobby Locke – 208
Ben Hogan – 209
Skip Alexander – 209
Jim Turnesa – 210
Chick Harbert – 210
Elmer Reed – 211
Bob Hamilton – 211
Marty Furgol – 211
Ky Laffoon – 212
Horton Smith – 212
Cary Middlecoff – 212
Lloyd Mangrum – 212

Sunday, July 4, 1948 – The Fourth Round Of The Motor City Open

Detroit's First Pro Golf Tour Event - The Motor City Open
Ben Hogan played his way into a tie for first with EJ “Dutch” Harrison in the final round of the Motor City Open. A playoff was scheduled for the following day. Clip from the Detroit Free Press

Sunday reached a high of 91, under a threat of scattered thundershowers in later afternoon. The crowd was estimated at 15,000.

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Harrison began the day as co-leader with Bobby Locke, while Ben Hogan was just one shot off the lead.

A hot day putting netted Harrison a final round 67. He one putted each of the last six holes. Four were for birdie. In all, Harrison took just 26 putts for the round.

Harrison’s 67 put him as the leader in the clubhouse by three strokes. Hogan, however was still on the course.

Hogan’s final round consisted of thirteen pars and five birdies for a 32-34. Newspaper reports said he played sharply and was “never in trouble.” A report in the Nashville Tennessean called him “Mister Ice Water.”

On the eighteenth, Hogan had a chance to win the tournament outright with a 35 foot putt. He came up 18 inches short.

“I wanted that first putt — I wanted to win right there, or else be second,” Hogan said later. “I’m tired and wanted to rest Monday.

Low round of the day belonged to Johnny Palmer. He shot a 31-34 with nine birdies, six pars and three bogeys. The North Carolina native used only twelve putts on the front nine and ended up with just 26. Thanks to the effort, Palmer squeezed into a tie for third.

Locke, the co-leader after three, faltered in the final round, shooting an even par 71. The legendary putter three putted from 30 feet on the final green.

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Cary Middlecoff, who would go on to win three Motor City Opens, finished sixth with a 280 total.

At the end of four days of the Motor City Open, the leaderboard looked like this:

PlayerR1R2R3R4Final
EJ Harrison70677167275
Ben Hogan70736666275
Marty Furgol68737067278
John Palmer68707565278
Lloyd Mangrum72716967279
Bobby Locke70687071279
Cary Middlecoff70746868280
Dick Metz72717068281
Jim Turnesa71677271281
Chick Harbert69697271281
Skip Alexander71687073282
Horton Smith71736870282
Gene Dahlbender (a)68727072282
Gene Webb71766869284
John Barnum (a)71717270284
Al Watrous76707069285
Clayton Heafner70747170285
Gene Sarazen69737173286
Elmer Reed70697275286
Al Smith75687271286
Otey Crisman75736870286
Sam Byrd73717072286
Jim Milward75716971286
Ellsworth Vines73747169287
Bob Hamilton71736776287
Bill Nary72707273287
Walter Burkemo71717272287
Fred Haas, Jr.75717272287
Ralph Blomquist72737072287
Ky Lafoon71697275287
Ed Furgol77687171287
Eric Monti75737168287
Vic Ghezzi74717073288
Eldon Briggs77737069289
Craig Wood76727072290
Joe Kirkwood, St.68776976290
Otto Greiner75707174290
Buck White71727572290
Rudy Horvath (a)74737173291
Bob Gadja73717572291
Fred Hawkins74737274293
Gib Sellers71757474294
Joe Belfore75747075294
Jimmy Johnson74747275294
George Schoux73737079295
Charles Harmon75767074295
Tommy Shannon75757373296
Ben Smith (a)79727273296
Ed Meister (a)71767675298
Frank Walsh81707276299
Dick Talbot75737478300
Lee Mackey73777476300
Ed Ervastl (a)74777477302
Jack Winney76757579305

Scorecards for Hogan and Harrison on Sunday looked like this:

Par Out45444343435
Hogan Out44444233432
Harrison Out45464242435
Par In43534445436
Hogan In43434444434
Harrison In34523444332
         Hogan66
         Harrison67

Monday, July 5, 1948 – Playoff At The Motor City Open

Detroit's First Professional Golf Tournament - The Motor City Open
Detroit’s First Professional Golf Tournament – The Motor City Open

Monday found Hogan and Harrison in a playoff in front of 321 spectators. Admission was $2.50, and organizers decided not to honor the weeklong passes sold in advance of the tournament. It started at 2 pm.

In a column on July 5, Hogan noted that

It’s a funny thing about playoffs — scoring is usually close, but not usually as low as in other tournament rounds. They are anti-climatic affairs and it’s hard to build up the tension and pressure that you’ve felt for the tournament proper. I guess that comes from knowing that you already have a good-sized check sewed up.

Hogan’s words were prophetic. He took a two-stroke lead on the first hole that he never relinquished. But newspaper accounts noted that neither Hogan nor Harrison played well. A reporter from the Benton Harbor News-Palladium called the playoff an “anti-climax to the four-day meet from the standpoints of both fan interest and links finesse.”

The day’s highlight was from Hogan on the seventeenth. His drive clipped a tree and found rough. Hogan then hit a shot onto the green from 250 yards to get within three feet. A short putt gave him a birdie 4, while Harrison settled for a par.

On the same hole, Harrison sent his five iron approach thirty yards to the right of the green. He chipped to fifteen feet, missed the putt then finished with a par.

For Hogan, the seventeenth was redemption for his three putt on the sixteenth.

Both men parred the final hole. Harrison had a 25-foot for birdie to extend the match, but missed wide by ten inches.

The final result

Par Out45444343435
Hogan Out35464253436
Harrison Out55455344439
Par In43534445436
Hogan In53534454437
Harrison In42534445435
         Hogan73
         Harrison74

Hogan’s share of the purse was $2,600, while Harrison won $1,900. The players also received a cut of Monday’s gate: $321 ($160.50 each) of the $802.50 collected.

After the tournament, Harrison went on to Columbus for another tournament.

Hogan declared that he was “dead tired” after the match, and skippped the the Columbus tournament– and the subsequent event in Pittsburgh. Instead, he participated in several exhibitions, including the one in Battle Creek.

Hogan was at that point the money leader for the season, having won $27,000.

Embed from Getty Images

Less than a year later, Hogan was nearly killed in an auto accident in Texas.

In all, the Motor City Open would be contested eight times. Dr. Cary Middlecoff won three times. Lloyd Mangrum won twice.

Motor City Open Winners

1962 Bruce Crampton
1960-61 No tournament
1959 Mike Souchak
1957-58 No tournament
1956 Bob Rosburg
1955 No tournament
1954 Cary Middlecoff
1953 No tournament
1952 Cary Middlecoff
1951 No tournament
1950 Lloyd Mangrum
1949 Cary Middlecoff, Lloyd Mangrum (co-winners)
1948 Ben Hogan

In 1949, Middlecoff and Mangrum were declared co-winners after an eleven hole, sudden-death playoff was called on account of darkness.

Motor City Open Tournament Hosts

1948, 1949, 1954, 1959 Meadowbrook Country Club (Northville, Michigan)
1950, 1952 Red Run Golf Club (Royal Oak, Michigan)
1956 Western Golf and Country Club (Redford, Michigan)
1962 Knollwood Country Club (West Bloomfield, Michigan)

Sources:

Detroit Free Press
Coshocton, Ohio Tribune
Lansing State Journal
Battle Creek Enquirer
Baltimore Sun
Port Huron Times Herald
Boston Globe
Philadelphia Inquirer
Escanaba Daily Press
Benton Harbor News-Palladium
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Detroit’s First Pro Golf Tour Event – The Motor City Open was first published on GolfBlogger.Com

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