In the complicated world of amateur golf, two tournaments stand head and shoulders above all others—the United States Amateur and the British Amateur championships. Since most American amateurs still work for a living and play their golf on the side, a trip to Britain is out of the question, and they reserve their funds, their vacations and their aspirations for the U.S. National Amateur—or "The Amateur," as it is referred to by most golf hands.
This week, some two-hundred top-rank American amateurs are converging on the Country Club of Detroit, in Grosse Pointe Farms, where the 1954 championship gets underway on Monday. Twenty-four of these starters are players who were exempt from qualifying by virtue of being either a former British or U.S. Amateur champion, the incumbent Public Links or Junior Amateur champion, or a member of this year's American, Canadian or Mexican Americas Cup teams. The rest earned their berths the hard way, in sectional qualifying rounds held late in July which 1,270 hopefuls entered.
Unlike the fields before and after World War I, which were almost entirely composed of sportsmen-clubmen well heeled with leisure, the Amateur today is a gallimaufry of golfers who come from tenements and mansions and who represent all complexions of amateurism: business and professional men who play golf as a recreation, the way their neighbors play bridge or tend gardens; men who do manual labor for a living and, wondrously enough, still have the zip to get in three to five rounds a week at their club; men with private incomes who are free to make golf their priority preoccupation college boys and other young men in the process of deciding whether or not they should make golf their profession and star salesmen who claim to be weekend golfers and who, in fact, do play on the weekends, not to mention Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
There is a tremendous range in ages. This year's field includes Rex Baxter, an 18-year-old phenomenon from Amarillo and Charles ("Chick") Evans, now 64, who won his first Amateur 20 years before Baxter was born. Baxter is far from the youngest player ever to appear in the Amateur. This is one of the more esoteric distinctions that belong to Robert T. Jones Jr. of Atlanta, Ga., who was all of 14 when he made his first appearance in 1916. Youth can be an advantage in the Amateur. A match-play tournament usually held in August when the Dog Star is riding high, it requires the winner to have the endurance to survive six 18-hole matches (within four days) and still have enough energy left for the 36-hole semifinal and final rounds.
The flavor of the Amateur, all things considered, has changed little since the '20s when the grown-up Jones practically converted it into his personal championship. It is an annually ambulant tournament, but wherever it is played, it seems to possess the same character. It is stately but familiar, somewhat like an old print brought up to date—in the foreground, the officials of the U.S. Golf Association wheeling conscientiously over the course in their dark-blue blazers, the spectators more quietly dressed and more quietly knowledgeable than the galleries at the big-money glamour she bangs, the players slightly awed by the tradition of the event and relaxing between matches with comfortable home-town friends who have followed them to the "big leagues"—in the background, the imposing clubhouse of the host club, its verandas thick with colored umbrellas, tanned girls, tall drinks, visiting relatives and the general hum of a festive week long awaited.
In a way, the Country Club of Detroit has been waiting for Amateur week since 1915 when it last was host to the championship. It was a good tournament. Bob Gardner, the old Yale pole vaulter, won it; the favorite, Francis Ouimet, was rudely ousted by James Standish Jr., the tournament chairman for this year's championship; and after the tournament was over it was discovered that, through a slight mistake of the greens committee chairman, the players had been putting all week into holes that were four inches in diameter instead of the regulation four and a half.
The oldest club in the Detroit area, the Country Club was the outgrowth of the nine-hole course which, back in the '90s, U.S. Senator James McMillan built for himself and his friends on the infield of Hamilton Park, the race track on his estate. Today, the social and sports center for the extensive Grosse Pointe residential section, it has a membership of 600 which includes many top-echelon executives of the automotive industry, and a rambling, half-timbered, red brick, Tudor clubhouse which contains, among other facilities, five private dining rooms, six bowling alleys, dormitory accommodations for 15, 500 lockers and a bevy of taprooms within easy walking distance of the "Great Hall"—the main lounge. For all of its resemblance to a suburban watering place, the Country Club of Detroit has remained devoted to golf. Three years ago, for instance, before the club knew it would be the scene of the 1954 Amateur, the members voted to remodel their obsolescent course into a stern, up-to-date test of good golf. This amounts to a genuine rarity in an age when most golfers have become so score-happy that they try to transform their roughs as well as their fairways into low-cut, trapless gowns. Because of their interest in the game and their club, Henry Ford II and his brother, William Clay Ford, two of the Country Club's most enthusiastic golfers, have bought a thousand tickets for the amateur, which they have distributed through the Ford Company to fellow addicts.