The course records at two of California’s most historic layouts – San Francisco Golf Club and The Cypress Point Club – have stood the test of time. Ben Hogan’s 63 at Cypress Point has been equaled, but not beaten, and Harvie Ward’s name is still listed next to the only 63 recorded at San Francisco Golf Club.
There was a four ball match, in 1956, that holds a similar stature. Hogan and Ward were two of the four players involved.
History-minded golfers may have heard talk of this legendary match. Those familiar with the San Francisco City Championship, the country's oldest, are certainly aware of the relationship between Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi (the third member of the magical foursome). In the tournament’s heyday, 10,000 fans are said to have followed their 36-hole final.
Lesser known is the historic, albeit unofficial, challenge match that took place on a practice round day prior to the Crosby Clambake at Cypress Point. The spark that lit the fire was car dealer Eddie Lowery, forever known in golf as the 10-year-old caddie for Francis Ouimet in the 1913 US Open.
After an evening of boasting about his two employees Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward being able to beat any players in the world, Lowery got an answer from tycoon George Coleman.
“Well, I’ve got a couple of fellas in mind.”
Byron Nelson, in the same room, soon found out he was one of them. The other, who was just a phone call away, was Ben Hogan.
And there you have it. Two legendary pros being challenged by two up-and-coming amateurs, at Cypress Point no less. Somebody should write a book about it.
Indeed, author Mark Frost, who penned “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” has captured the challenge, playing, and follow up to that glorious day in his aptly named novel “The Match.”
But no matter how good the golf was that day (and these players literally blistered their way around Cypress Point) it would be difficult to read an 18-hole blow-by-blow if not for Frost’s way with words and his ability to break up the round into distinct sections. Frost describes a Hogan putt at No. 13:
“The ball trickled in for birdie, Hogan’s sixth in the last eight holes. The crowd let out a roar: as much as they loved their local favorites, Ken and Harvie, and admired the great Byron, Ben Hogan was still the game’s reigning superstar, and this was the Hawk at his finest, in what was supposed to be a casual practice round. It was as if they’d wandered into their neighborhood bar and found Duke Ellington playing the piano while Sinatra sang a few tunes.”
Between Frost’s fantastic account of the play that day, which include fairly detailed descriptions of each hole at Cypress Point (which made me want to play it even more) are sections about each key player simply titled “Eddie,” “Harvie,” “Ben,” etc. plus one called “Byron and Ben” which chronicles how these caddie yard friends drifted apart over the years. I learned a bit of golf history from each of these interludes, but probably the most from that one.
The book concludes with colorful descriptions of the last days of the three players who are no longer with us, and some notes about Ken Venturi, who still is. (I have heard Mr. Venturi briefly describe this match once in person, but until reading the book I simply had no idea.) There is also a section about the history of the development of Pebble Beach and Cypress Point including designer Alister MacKenzie and key figure Marion Hollins. Like the game of golf, these individuals had their ups and downs, and Frost again does an excellent job of putting you there.
amateurgolf.com votes “The Match” a must-read for any golfer. The beautifully-bound hardcover would be a much appreciated last-minute Christmas gift, but don’t wait for Santa. It’s available at bookstores, or on the web at www.amazon.com or www.hyperionbooks.com.
- reviewed by Pete Wlodkowski, amateurgolf.com