Hudson responsible for saving Ryder Cup

PORTLAND, Ore. – In 1947, when Harry Truman was president and Ben Hogan was emerging as the best golfer in the world, the Ryder Cup was on life support. It hadn’t been played in 10 years. Its future was uncertain.

Today it is difficult to imagine, but 63 years ago the Ryder Cup was dying for lack of money and enthusiasm.

The United States and Great Britain were struggling to regain economic and social balance after World War II. Golf was a fancy dance practiced mostly by the rich.

That the Ryder Cup got to Portland Golf Club, or that it was played at all, was a tribute to an uncommon, gritty, golf-loving man. His name was Bob Hudson. A wholesale grocer, Hudson was determined to save the Ryder Cup, which faced the very real possibility of extinction.

“Some people put their money into yachts,” he once said. “I put mine into golf.”

Hudson was a stocky, intense man who walked with his chest thrust outward. His handicap was no better than 16, but he carried an undeterred passion for the game.

Hudson paid all the expenses of the visiting golfers from Great Britain and Ireland. He paid for their boat trip to New York, where he threw a lavish dinner party at the Waldorf Astoria. He paid for their train trip to Portland. He paid for their housing, their meals, all their expenses.

He underwrote the American team as well. This Ryder Cup would not fail because Hudson declared it wouldn’t.

On the 50th anniversary of that Ryder Cup, in 1997, I was fortunate enough to meet several men who caddied in the event. One, Leon Arnold, told me this story: “I caddied for Benny Hogan. He came in a week early. I skipped school. Mr. Hudson paid us $10 a day, which was a lot of money back then, especially for young kids. I would meet Mr. Hogan at 8, and he would say ‘Good morning.’ That was it. He wouldn’t say another word to me all day until it was 4 in the afternoon. Then he would say, ‘See you at 8.’ ”

If I could jump into a time machine, I would travel back to 1947 to glimpse Benny Hogan and taste a slice of Ryder Cup history. What’s more, I would like to meet Bob Hudson, the grocer turned golf savior.

The format that year included 36-hole foursomes (alternate shot) matches on the first day and 36-hole singles matches on the second day. The Americans won 11-1, with Herman Keiser losing his singles match to drop the only point for the hosts.

The American team – bolstered by Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Jimmy Demaret, Lloyd Mangrum and Co. – was so deep that playing captain Hogan held himself out of singles.

With a little imagination, it is easy to picture these heroes of another era. Portland Golf Club is that kind of club. It looks like it wandered into the 21st century from 1946.

The course was designed in 1914 by a group of members. Later it was renovated by Robert Trent Jones. In its 96-year history, there have been only four head professionals, including current pro Chris Mitchell.

I look around. I envision all of Bob Hudson’s boys, playing their hearts out in the rain, building the international fraternity of golf, laying the groundwork for a cup that would become synonymous with global goodwill and great golf.

Sometimes the past can be a beacon that is positively worth remembering.

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