In the springtime climate of Buenos Aires two-man teams of golf professionals representing 34 countries are meeting wedge to wedge this week in the 10th International Golf Championship—an event more commonly, if confusingly, known as the Canada Cup. The scene of the action is the flat, tree-strewn and venerable Jockey Club course which, with the neo-Tudor architecture of its clubhouse and the Warwickshire look of its landscape, is sure to remind many of the professionals of the countries they have left rather than the one they have come to. At stake are a small amount of money, a sizable gold cup and a very large amount of international prestige.
It is thanks to the latter, of course, that some extremely busy athletes were willing to ignore not only the Cuban crisis but the military upheaval that has muddied Argentine politics for some six months—a tank battle was recently fought 13 miles from the first tee—to make the long South American safari. It is 11,000 miles round trip from Latrobe, Pa., to pick a town at random.
Representing the U.S. this year are Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer (see cover)—Sam for the eighth time, Arnold only for the second. The quality of their opposition has seldom been much better. Competing for their own countries are U.S. PGA Champion Gary Player ( South Africa) and two former British Open winners, Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle ( Australia), to say nothing of a dozen or so others whose names have become internationally famous largely because of their performances in this very event in years past.
As tournament time neared, golf-conscious Argentina was suitably impressed with the quality of the field to which it was playing host. "Even if a revolution does start," said one Buenos Aires golfer recently, "my bet is that a truce will be called so the generals can come to see how Palmer handles his army."
While rarely expected to supply lessons of this nature, the Canada Cup has become an established event of world importance in a relatively short time. Sponsored jointly by the International Golf Association, Pan American World Airways, Inc., American Express Company, General Dynamics Corporation, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and the host country, it now is a $ 150,000 golf tournament. Prize money amounts to only $7,500, but each player receives a $500 honorarium, his food, lodging, caddie fees and round-trip air fare, the last being a big item this year, since 700,000 miles of travel are involved.
Yet despite the tournament's present size and prestige, its character maintains such a freshness that it is surprising to reflect that the matches are now a decade old. The first was held in Montreal in 1953. Arnold Palmer, then 23, was still some 150,000 strokes away from his present position as the Field Marshal of Golf. He was in the Coast Guard, and his biggest title was the Pennsylvania Open. Sam Snead, at 41, still had some hair on the top of his head, and Gary Player, 18 years old, had hardly started his career in professional golf.
The first International, staged at Montreal's Beaconsfield Country Club, was an unprepossessing bit of business. Fourteen players representing eight countries (one pair played as a combined South Africa-England entry) were on hand. They were there at the invitation of John Jay Hopkins, the late president of General Dynamics and founder of the IGA, for what was regarded as little more than a leisurely golfing weekend. The tournament was held in Canada and was called the Canada Cup because the General Dynamics Corporation happened to be opening a new plant north of the border and viewed this as a sound piece of public relations.
The format was—and has remained—simplicity itself. Each competitor's total score is added to that of his countryman's to determine the team total. Argentina, on the strength of Antonio Cerda's 140 for 36 holes and Roberto de Vicenzo's 147, won the first tournament by 10 shots with a score of 287. The U.S. entry of Julius Boros and Jim Turnesa (the 1952 U.S. Open and PGA champions, respectively) finished fifth, 17 shots back. If the U.S. had won, the Canada Cup event might have ended then and there. But the fact that it lost—thoroughly—awakened golf followers to the idea that the sport was by no means a U.S. monopoly and that international team play could be exciting.
In 1954 the tournament was stepped up to 72 holes, and 25 nations entered teams. It and the 1955 renewal were extremely successful, but it was not until 1956 that the tournament really earned its place as a major sports event. That was the year that Ben Hogan, still smoldering from his harrowing near-miss at the U.S. Open (he finished a stroke back of Cary Middlecoff), vanquished Went-worth's famous " Burma Road" course before some 30,000 awed Britons. Hogan shot a magnificent 277 as he and Sam Snead came from behind in the last 18 to win team honors for the U.S. In addition, an obscure Japanese pair named Hayashi and Ishii shot 68s in the last round to put Japan in a fourth-place tie with England, an unexpected and eminently overlooked development.
At the 1957 Canada Cup the Japanese were about as easy to ignore as an Oriental typhoon. Hayashi and Ishii's performance at Wentworth was merely the prologue to an almost legendary golfing adventure for Japan. That year the Japanese played host in what will stand, until the 1964 Olympic Games at least, as the biggest international sports event ever held in the Far East. The Japanese not only hosted impressively, they won impressively, too. Roly-poly Pete Nakamura and Koichi Ono took the cup for Japan, an upset roughly equivalent to having Sonny Liston flattened by Pone Kingpetch. Nakamura also won the individual trophy, beating Snead and his likes, a success that threw Japan into a golfing frenzy from which it has not yet recovered. Since then the U.S. has regained some of its prestige, and now has four Canada Cup wins, compared with two for Australia and one for Argentina, Japan and Ireland.