He would sit in his golf cart for hours, watching intently, speaking occasionally. He would be there from early morning to late in the day, taking only short breaks.
He might say hello as competitors passed by, might even strike up a short conversation. Most of the time, though, he just gave them a nod and watched.
He could observe play at the par-5 third green, the par-3 fourth tee, the par-4 sixth green and the par-3 seventh tee.
It was the perfect spot. It was his spot. It was the Porter Cup and it was his tournament.
Dr. William McMahon, respectfully and affectionately known simply as “Doc,” died in 1995. But his spirit and legacy live on at Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Country Club, the venue for the Porter Cup since its inception in 1959.
In 1996, McMahon’s favorite spot was dedicated as “Doc’s Corner,” where a small monument now stands in memory of the man who, with the always-willing help of Dr. Ed Rozek, served as tournament director for 15 years.
For McMahon, the Porter Cup was more than just an amateur tournament – it was a labor of love and pride.
It was carrying on the tradition of Dick Harvey, an avid golfer who became a member at Niagara Falls in 1938 and brought the tournament to life 21 years later. Before he died in 1976, Harvey was honored with a plaque that sits by the 18th green, dedicated in 1968.
For so many years, Harvey and McMahon were the Porter Cup’s driving forces, bringing the amateur event to the lofty level it still enjoys today.
Oddly enough, Harvey’s main interest when he joined the club was badminton, a popular sport at the time in the Niagara Falls area and much of the Northeast. He took competitors to badminton events and that sparked his interest in young people. That interest and a love for golf inspired him to start a golf tournament at the club.
The event was originally known as the International Invitation, as players from neighboring Canada were invited to participate. Club member Alex Porter, also an avid golfer, provided the tall silver cup to be presented to the winner. In 1962, the event officially became known as the Porter Cup, and steadily grew from a regional tournament to one that now ranks among the nation’s top amateur competitions.
“Dick would have this gruff, intimidating look on the outside, but on the inside, he was a big, old sweetheart,” says Tom Denn, who has been part of the Porter Cup for 36 years, the last 12 as the starter at the first tee. “Doc was pretty much the same way. The players, especially the mid-ams, loved both of them, and more than anything, respected them.”
The two Porter Cup pioneers knew that to stage a quality national tournament, they had to attract quality, nationally known players.
“The one big thing that Harvey and McMahon started was going out and recruiting players for Porter Cup,” says Frank Shipman, who followed McMahon and served as co-tournament director with John Hoffman for 10 years. “They would go all around the country to tournaments to get players to come to their tournament. Mainly, they wanted the players to know that they knew who they were.
“They were great ambassadors not only for Porter Cup, but for amateur golf. When John and I took over, we knew we had some big shoes to fill. I’d like to think we were successful in keeping the prestige and tradition which Dick and Doc began.”
Shipman and Hoffman continued that practice during their tenure, building on the ideas and legacy of Harvey and McMahon. And the tradition goes on today with current tournament director Steve Denn, Tom’s son, who received his first introduction to the Porter Cup in 1979, when, at the age of 10, he served as a ball spotter. After that, he caddied in the event for players such as Jim Hallett and Justin Leonard.
“When I look at Porter Cup, I think of it as a family affair,” says Steve Denn. “From the membership, to all the volunteers, to all those involved in even the smallest way, and even to the players, it’s like one big family week. It’s a wonderful tournament with great competition and great tradition. It gets bigger and better every year, and I hope I can continue that trend.”
Denn’s work is greatly aided by assistant tournament directors Dena Armstrong and Fred Silver. Both have been part of the Porter Cup family for more than 20 years.
Silver was the force behind the inception of a senior division, which attracts 30 of the nation’s top senior amateurs and awards its champion the Harvey Cup, named in honor of Dick Harvey.
“We wanted the senior division to have the same degree of prestige as the regular division, and I think we’ve done that,” said Silver, who has played in 32 Porter Cups.
“I’ve been told the tournament is run like a professional event, from the activities to housing to play to the golf course,” Silver said. “The course is 6,621 yards and a par 70. It’s probably one of the toughest par 70s you’ll find anywhere. Still, it’s fair. I think the challenge of the course and the atmosphere of the tournament are what make Porter Cup so special.”
The tournament is staged the last full week in July each year and includes a full slate of activities.
That Tuesday, a double shotgun start Ham-Am (non-Porter Cup participants and Porter Cup players) is held, featuring fivesomes of one or two Porter Cup participants with three or four amateurs. A barbeque takes place that evening.
Tournament play officially begins Wednesday and is followed by a long drive contest and then the players’ dinner.
Following Thursday’s second round, players, sponsors, family and friends are invited to take a ride under Niagara Falls on “Maid of the Mist,” a tourist attraction boat owned by James Glynn.
After Friday’s third round, there is a dinner/dance, mostly attended by club members, but also open to participants. The 72-hole tournament concludes Saturday.
“While we have a number of planned activities, there is a lot to do in western New York in the summer when you’re not on the golf course,” Denn said. “A lot of players will cross the bridge and take in the sights and sounds of Niagara Falls (and) Ontario, Canada.”
While the off-course activities are attractive, the main reason the Porter Cup ranks among the nation’s best amateur tournaments is its strength of field.
“I think Porter Cup is one of the best amateur events in the country,” said 1990 champion and PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson. “You get a feel for how you stack up against the best players in the nation. If you are able to excel in amateur golf at that level, chances are you will be able to excel as a professional. I think Porter Cup is a good barometer.”
Before the world knew of Matt Kuchar, the then rising sophomore at Georgia Tech made his mark at Niagara Falls. It was 1997 when he shot a course record 8-under 62 in the opening round. He went on to finish second to 1993 U.S. Amateur champion John Harris, who tied the tournament record with a 13-under 267. Kuchar’s 269 was the lowest score by a Porter Cup player who did not win.
“It was the first time I ever got some media attention,” said Kuchar, who the following month won the U.S. Amateur to kick-start his outstanding career. “It was my breakthrough before the U.S. Amateur and gave me momentum for the rest of the summer.
“I really enjoyed being up in that area. Not only is it a great tournament, but all the people there are great. Everyone really takes care of you and treats you like their own family.”
Those who have played in the Porter Cup over the years reads like a who’s who in golf, including past champions Mickelson, Harris, Deane Beman, Howard Twitty, Ben Crenshaw, Vinny Giles, Jay Sigel, Bobby Clampett, Nathaniel Crosby, Scott Verplank, Gary Nicklaus, David Duval and Allen Doyle.
The Porter Cup is a tournament long and rich in tradition, from the awarding of a champion’s green blazer to the winner’s victorious drink of champagne from the big silver cup.
Somewhere out there, Dick Harvey and Doc McMahon are smiling and congratulating each other on a job well done.