CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. –- I took my first spin around famed Cherry Hills Country Club yesterday, and let’s just say I am smitten.
This is a course where so much history has been made. Byron Nelson played here when the course hosted its first major, the 1938 U.S. Open. The 1960 U.S. Open might have been the greatest major in history, what Hall of Fame writer Dan Jenkins called the confluence of the past (Ben Hogan), present (Arnold Palmer) and future of golf (Jack Nicklaus). This is where the golf world fully took note of Phil Mickelson’s short-game magic and risk-taking bravado when he won the U.S. Amateur in 1990. I strolled through the club’s newest addition, a hall of champions, which rivals some of the exhibits I’ve seen at the USGA Museum and World Golf Hall of Fame.
Sure, I wanted to see Cherry’s first hole, where Palmer drove the green and launched his famous charge in 1960. I wanted to see the par-5 17th hole, where Hogan’s third shot found the water and ended his bid for a record fifth Open title. I wanted to check the location where Birdie Kim holed out from the right bunker on the par-4 18th hole to win the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open. All great, all memorable, but I had my mind set on seeing the par-4 16th, a hole that bends to the right with a stream running along its entire right side before cutting across the fairway in front of the green.
This is where history of another sort was written. This is where Ray Ainsley, a little-known professional from Ojai, Calif., took 19 strokes – yes, 19! – on a single hole to set the U.S. Open record for profligacy. (The previous record was an 18 by Willie Chisholm on the 185-yard eighth hole in the 1919 U.S. Open at Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Mass.)
Ainsley’s 19 happened in the second round of the 1938 U.S. Open. According to an article in the USGA’s Golf Journal, Ainsley finished with a 96 and was besieged on the clubhouse lawn afterwards to explain what went wrong. Walter Hagen was forgotten. So was Bobby Jones and Henry Picard, the 36-hole leader.
Sports columnist Henry McLemore of the United Press was there to record Ainsley’s ineptitude for posterity:
“For almost half an hour he stood in a swift-moving creek that borders the 16th green and belabored his balls with blows. It is recorded that a little girl who witnessed his efforts to knock the ball from the creek turned to her mother when Ainsley finally got it out and said: ‘Mummy, it must be dead now, because the man has quit hitting at it.’ “
It’s a record – and a quote – that still lives in infamy.