By Peter Conroy, amateurgolf.com
This history of one of longest running municipal golf tournaments in the western part of the country, the Pasadena City Championship, had been lost in time for many years. Started in 1929, records of the tournament's early years were sketchy at best, with the names of the former champs lost in time, as was the exact date of when the tournament switched from a match play event to a pro-style 72 holes of medal play held on consecutive days.
That is, until Tournament Committee member Tim Lawlor decided to travel to Klamath Falls, Oregon, in search of a goblet that would unlock the tournament’s history.
Lawlor, a member of the Brookside Men’s Club which hosts the event, was in search of a cup that he vaguely remembered being awarded as a tee prize in the 1981 playing of the event.
“I knew about (the cup) from playing in the tournament since I was a junior golfer,” said the 50-year-old Lawlor. “I’d seen them at friends’ houses, so I knew of their existence, and for that reason I called up Bob.”
The tournament committee wanted to award a tee prize for this year’s 71st playing of the tournament that listed all the past winners, so Lawlor took it upon himself to track down the names of the early champs. He contacted one of his old golfing buddies, Bob Strong, now retired and living on the Arnold Palmer-designed Running Y Ranch in the Southern Oregon wilderness.
After a morning round at the course, Lawlor and Strong retired to Strong’s house, and lo and behold, out came the goblet, a Rosetta Stone that listed all the tournaments’ winners from 1929-1980.
“It was just sitting on top of my desk, a little glass that says “46th annual Pasadena City Championship” with all the winners until 1980 listed on it,” said Strong. “I collect water jugs from all over the place, Ireland, England, Scotland, and that is the only one that isn’t a water jug.”
Strong, understandably didn’t want to part with his keepsake, so Lawlor copied down the names of all the winners for transport back to Pasadena.
Still, there were gaps in years where no winner was listed, requiring more research.
For this, Lawlor enlisted the help of Darryl Banton, a reference librarian at the Pasadena Public Library.
“Tim called asking about specific years, as it turned out those were years that the tournament wasn’t held,” said Banton. “But to find that out I had to trace the history of the tournament from 1929, piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle.”
Banton poured over microfilms and microfiche of the newspapers of the day, the Pasadena Post, Pasadena Star News and the internet archives of the Los Angeles Times, to fill in those gaps.
Banton discovered that the championship was moved to from the summer months to November in 1932 to make way for the Summer Olympics being held in L.A. The tournament ran into tough times in the following years and was not held in 1933-35 due to the height of the Great Depression.
Resurrected in 1936, the Pasadena City was played in November or early December until 1966.
Four times in that span the event was not held: 1953 (rain), 1962 (rebuilding greens) and 1958-59 (reasons unknown). There was another hiatus in 1967-68 while the Brookside Golf Club was being built up to host the L.A. Open.
In 1969, the event took the form we see today, a 72-hole medal play event that runs from Thursday-Sunday in May, with a 36-hole cut after two days. In the early 80’s handicap flights were added under the oversight of current chairman Rob Moore and the late John McGraw.
He also discovered some interesting anecdotes from the early days of the tournament, such as the time legendary golf hustler Smiley Quick fell ill before the final match of the 1947 event, but his opponent refused to accept a victory through forfeit. So the match was delayed a week until Quick recovered, then went on to defeat the Good Samaritan handily.
This was the same Smiley Quick who won the U.S. Amateur Public Links a year earlier and missed winning the U.S. Amateur the same year at Baltusrol when his 2 ½ foot put rolled past the hole on the 18th green. Quick would also, legend has it, hustle boxing champ Joe Louis out of an estimated quarter-million dollars.
Currently, the event averages more than 250 players in the scratch flight and another 360 more in the net flights.
It is seen as an opportunity to tune-up for the NCAA and Pac-10 season by collegiate golfers from all over the area, as well a chance for top mid-ams to play in a professional-format tourney.
To sign up for this tournament, visit their website here.