Founder's grandson laments demise of Public Links

Ben Hogan smiles over a crowd and poses with his wife, Valerie, as he receives the U.S. Open Golf Championship trophy in Ardmore, Pa., on June 11, 1950. Presenting the cup is James D. Standish, Jr., Detroit president of the United States Golf Association.

Ben Hogan smiles over a crowd and poses with his wife, Valerie, as he receives the U.S. Open Golf Championship trophy in Ardmore, Pa., on June 11, 1950. Presenting the cup is James D. Standish, Jr., Detroit president of the United States Golf Association.

When the United States Golf Association announced Monday that the U.S. Amateur Public Links, the association's fourth-oldest golf championship, would cease to exist after 2014, I immediately thought of Clark Standish, a member of the APL committee for nine years as well as the grandson of the event's founder, the late James Standish Jr.

In 2009, Clark Standish was kind enough to share time with me for an article I wrote, which, in part, questioned the viability of the event. A few days later, I received a letter from him heaping one more layer of praise on his visionary grandfather. It was a touching note, and I tucked it away for safe-keeping. On Monday, I pulled it out and called him.

So what was his reaction to the news that the event that awards a trophy named for his grandfather soon would no longer be hoisted? Standish sounded like ever the good soldier.

"It became apparent that there was so much overlap with the U.S. Amateur that a lot of the spirit of the APL got lost in the state of the game these days," he said. "So I do understand, but I am sad about it.

"I wish we found another way to keep the competition alive."

James Standish Jr., of Detroit, a former president of the USGA, was a good enough golfer to win the North & South, and play with Bobby Jones and Chick Evans in Red Cross exhibitions. But his most lasting impact was championing the idea that there should be a national championship for golfers who could afford neither private-club membership nor travel expenses to play in the U.S. Amateur.

"At a time when Walter Hagen couldn’t get in a private-club locker room, my grandfather, a man born of privilege, saw fit to try to extend the game to people who otherwise wouldn‘t have a chance to compete at that level," Clark Standish said.

At his funeral, Standish Jr. was called the man who took golf out of white tie and tails and put it into T-shirts. Half the field of 140 in the first "publinx," in 1922, didn't own golf shoes. Its winner, Edmund Held of St. Louis, may have been one of the exceptions. He played in a white shirt, a narrow tie and a tweed cap.

"I have a picture of my grandfather presenting the first trophy on the lawn at Ottawa Hills in Toledo," Clark Standish said.

However, Held joined a private club soon after his victory and thus became ineligible to defend his title. For the second one, at East Potomac Park in Washington, the sitting president, Warren G. Harding, wasn't allowed to play because he too was a member of a private club.

From the initial entry of 140 players, the tournament surged to more than 6,000 competitors at one time. The Publinx has given exposure to many public-course players who otherwise might not have an opportunity to compete in a national championship. Truck drivers, steel workers and bartenders used to give the event a blue-collar flavor. It’s also been a springboard for the likes of U.S. Open champions Ed Furgol, Tommy Bolt and Ken Venturi; British Open champion Tony Lema; PGA champions Dave Marr and Bobby Nichols; and Masters winner George Archer.

In recent years, it has been dominated by youngsters who, while not exactly ringers, don't fit the traditional profile of a public-course player. The liberalization of USGA membership requirements in 1979 combined with the explosion of college golf has changed the spirit and tenor of the event. Since 1989, the winner has earned an exemption to the Masters, making the U.S. Amateur Public Links one of the most coveted amateur titles.

"The disappointment for me was the spirit in which the tournament was founded had been lost," Clark Standish said. "To me, one of the things that was a shame was to hear the media say the winner gets to go to Augusta. That wasn’t really what the championship was about. It was a tremendous accomplishment to hoist that trophy."

Standish said he would make best efforts to attend the last one, in 2014 at Sand Creek Station in Newton, Kan. As we said our goodbyes, Standish offered one parting comment: "It’s too bad we didn’t get to 100 years, isn’t it?"

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