There was this handsome man in knickerbockers coming toward me on the gravel path leading to the St. Andrews course," said George Turpie, reaching back to recall a meeting before the 1895 British Open.
"I was a little bit of a fellow at the time, and he towered over me. As he passed I tipped my hat. When he saw me bow he smiled and took the golf bag he was carrying off of his shoulder.
" 'You know this course?' he asked. 'Yes, sir,' I said. 'I was practically born on it.' When he asked if I wanted to caddie I jumped at the chance. It wasn't until he got ready to tee off for a practice round that I noticed the name on the bag—Harry Vardon. It nearly bowled me over." For George Turpie, who had been born 15 years before at St. Andrews, it was the first of many adventures with great golfers.
At 85 Turpie is white-haired and soft-spoken, with a kind face and a long memory. He left the moors of Scotland before the turn of the century to "look into things across the water."
Turpie settled first in Chicago and later in New Orleans, his permanent home since 1915. The pioneering Scot gave the game its major impetus in New Orleans, designing the first course in City Park as well as the existing layout at New Orleans Country Club. He served as pro at three clubs and in 1941 became assistant pro at St. John's course in City Park, where he has checked tickets near a soft-drink stand alongside the 7th hole for the last 20 years.
The last of 13 children, George was born April 19, 1880, a few blocks from St. Andrews, the cradle of modern golf. In 1898 he sailed for the U.S. at the urging of an elder brother, who was then head pro at the Edgewater Golf Club in Chicago. Two years later, at the 1900 U.S. Open in Wheaton, Ill. George and Harry Vardon renewed their acquaintance.
"An unbelievable thing happened in that tournament," says George. "The great Vardon missed a shot completely. He was playing with Taylor in the final round and leading him by three shots going to the 18th. I was standing there and saw him make a putting stroke at the ball—but the club passed over it, missing it entirely.
"When Harry told the scorer he had a 5 instead of a 4, the man was thunderstruck. Afterward I asked him about it, and he said simply: 'Nerves, my boy, simply a case of nerves.'
It was at Edgewater that Turpie gave Chick Evans his start as a caddie, and Turpie often wonders what would have become of Chick if a coin he tossed in 1899 hadn't come up heads.
"You could see right away Evans had tremendous natural ability," says Turpie, "but he was a problem child. He and another caddie named Joe Moheiser were terrific rivals and awful jealous of one another. One day, after they had mixed it, I read them the riot act. 'Next time I catch you two fighting,' I told them, 'one of you will have to go."'