1919-1929 #GAM100 – James D. Standish Jr., Century of Impact on Golf in Michigan
by Greg Johnson
FARMINGTON HILLS – James D. Standish Jr. was 28 in 1919, a three-time Michigan Amateur champion, a North and South Amateur Champion and even a two-time amateur champion of Austria.
He likely didn’t realize that well beyond his competitive days he was destined to do much more in golf, which was still a relatively new game in the United States.
As the country attempted to heal from World War I while heading full speed toward what history has labeled The Roaring 20s, Standish was also not among the 28 men representing 14 Detroit area golf clubs who gathered for an organizational meeting on May 7, 1919, at Detroit Golf Club.
Those gentlemen formed the Detroit District Golf Association, which 42 years later would change its name to the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) in recognition of its ever-growing membership reach.
Standish did become an immediate member of the district though, through his membership at Lochmoor Club, which was one of the original 14 clubs. A Grosse Pointe resident and already making an impact as an active member of the United States Golf Association (USGA), Standish switched his membership to Country Club of Detroit in 1924 and never left the GAM according to his son John Standish, who is 85, a Grosse Pointe resident, CC of Detroit member and one of three in the family who have emeritus status as leaders of the GAM.
A graduate of Harvard University and Williams College in Massachusetts where he captained the golf team, James would become president of CC of Detroit in the 1930s, president of the Detroit District/GAM from 1937-47 and president of the USGA in 1950 and ‘51. He was also made a life member of the Royal & Ancient Club of St. Andrews in 1929.
“The game has been in our blood for a long, long time,” said John, the 1993-94 president of the GAM who was chairman of last summer’s Michigan Amateur Championship at CC of Detroit and presented the Staghorn Trophy to champion Beau Breault.
“I never really thought about it before, but I guess at least one Standish has been an association member for 100 years. I think we all felt it is a wonderful game. It was a great family activity for us. I learned so much from the game, and from my father and my brother.”
James Standish Jr., who died in 1967 at the age of 76, married Isabelle Stroh of the Stroh Brewing Company family and they had three children, James III, John and Barbara. James Jr. worked for a meat processing plant owned by his father, James, and later a brokerage firm. His days of competitive golf were largely behind him, but he played and shared the game with friends and family.
As a competitor, he won four Michigan Amateur Championships and finished as runner-up twice between 1909 and 1930, including winning three of the first 10 played (1909, ’12 and ’15). He was among the state’s first dominant amateur golfers and was the first to win the Michigan Amateur and the Detroit District/GAM Championship in the same year (1924).
He won the amateur championship of Austria twice (1908, ’09) while traveling with his family overseas, and he won the prestigious North and South Amateur at Pinehurst, N.C. in 1909. He was 18. A few years later he was runner-up in 1914 and ’15 in the nationally prominent Western Amateur Championship.
Beyond his noteworthy playing accomplishments, his service to golf is unparalleled in Michigan history. He had the longest tenure as a president of the Detroit District/GAM, and part of his legacy as a longtime representative and executive committee member of the United States Golf Association is his presentation of the U.S. Open trophy twice to Ben Hogan, once in 1950 at Merion Golf Club (Ardmore, Pa.) after Hogan returned from a devastating car accident, and again in ’51 after Hogan slayed what he called “The Monster” at Oakland Hills Country Club’s famed South course.
Long before trophy ceremonies with Hogan though, and while he was still playing at a national level, James came up with the idea of a United States Amateur Public Links Championship to make competitive golf accessible for the growing public course segment in the early 1920s. That tournament was started in 1922 and was last presented in 2014 after the USGA announced that its original mission to open competitive channels of golf had been satisfied.
The Public Links champion received the Standish Cup, and though James never won the Michigan Open Championship, that winner each year is still honored via the James D. Standish Trophy, a large silver platter that includes the inscribed names of past champions.
His sons followed in his footsteps in service to the game, and in handing out trophies and awards.
James III, who died in 1993 at the age of 64, served as the first executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan for 14 years from 1966 to 1979, which was the longest tenure as executive director until David Graham, who will retire this year following 18 years as executive director.
In 1993, John, the second son and second of three children, highlighted his long service to the Golf Association of Michigan serving as president for two years, and each year he carries on what his father helped start with Western Golf Association’s Chick Evans in presenting Evans Scholarships to deserving caddies across the country. The outstanding Evans Scholars each year at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are presented by John with James D. Standish Jr. Awards.
Many of John’s memories combine the attention bestowed on him by his father through golf. He remembers vividly traveling with his father to Merion for the 1950 U.S. Open and watching Hogan play his entire final round.
“It was one of the first tournaments I went to with my father,” he said. “It was really a thrill for me. We watched Hogan play the entire last round, and we saw that 1-iron shot into 18 that is in that wonderful famous photo so many people have seen.”
John’s memory of the ’51 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills is hands-on, as in his hands on the trophy.
“Joe Dye, the executive director of the PGA then, and my dad were close friends and worked together on the major championship,” John says. “I happened to be with Joe as play was finishing up. He called me Johnny. He said: ‘Johnny come with me for a minute.’
“So off we go. I wasn’t sure what he had in mind, but we went in the clubhouse, past the guards and he opens this great big box that had the U.S. Open trophy in it. He told me: ‘I want you to carry this down to the 18th green for the presentation.’ I was 17 at the time. That was a very big deal to me. The trophy was beautiful, all silver with all the incredible golf names on it and quite heavy. I carried it down, right through crowd and remember very distinctly walking to the table on the green and putting it down. It was an amazing experience.”
John admits that last summer when he presented the trophy at the Michigan Amateur his memories of that day and many others with his father at CC of Detroit, and on the nine-hole golf course and family cottage at Pointe Aux Barques near Port Huron, added to the emotion he felt in presenting the trophy to Breault.
“We were giving the young man a beautiful trophy and the memory of a lifetime in front of his family, and that made it all very special,” he said. “It was emotional for them and for me.”
John, a father of two and a widower since his beloved wife Judy passed away in 2009, plans to attend the special GAM centennial celebration on June 17 featuring Jack Nicklaus at Oakland Hills Country Club, which that week also hosts the Michigan Amateur Championship on the North course. He is proud of the GAM’s legacy and his family’s legacy of serving golf.
“I still have family around me,” he said. “I still have golf in my life. I have many wonderful memories.”
#GAM HISTORY – Did you know?
The clubs that on May 7, 1919, formed what would become the GAM were Auto Country Club, which became Pine Lake CC, Bloomfield Hills CC, Brooklands, which no longer exists, Country Club of Detroit, Detroit Golf Club, Essex G&CC of Windsor, Lochmoor Club, Oakland Hills CC, Grosse Ile G&CC, Meadowbrook CC, Phoenix, which became the now abandoned Rogell GC and whose members moved and formed Franklin Hills CC, Red Run GC and Riverview, now known as Gowanie GC. John S. Sweeney of Detroit GC was elected president and he served until 1925.