If there was one individual who provided the foundation of golf in America and the organic linkage to the very roots of the game, it is Charles Blair Macdonald. In fact, because of his significant contributions to the game, he can justly be called the Father of American golf.
Born in 1855, Macdonald was sent to live with his grandfather in Scotland to study at St. Andrews University as a 16 year-old boy. Being in the Old Toon, he became adept enough at the game to regularly play with two of the finest players at the Old Course – Davey Strath and Young Tom Morris. Needless to say he became both enthralled by the game and deeply immersed in it.
"The object of a bunker or trap is not only to punish a physical mistake, to punish lack of control, but also to punish pride and egotism."
Alas, when he returned to Chicago two years later, there was not a single golf course in the United States, but in the ensuing years he had the opportunity to travel frequently to Great Britain and play some of the best British courses.
As luck would have it, Charlie was asked to lay out a 7-hole course in conjunction with the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair. Based on the short courses’s popularity, he was asked to design another two, the latter in Wheaton, IL became the Chicago Golf Club. While these were not the first golf courses in the United States, these two courses were the very first 18-hole courses in America.
No less an authority than Bernard Darwin accurately referred to Macdonald as the first great American golf course architect. It is a tribute to Macdonald’s genius that his trilogy of truly great courses in the United States – Chicago, Yale and, of course, his crowning achievement, The National Golf Links of America, are among the very finest courses in the United States to this day.
But Macdonald is also deserving of enshrinement for his contributions to golf as a player and what his outsized ego and personality wrought.
The story is a unique one. In 1894 two early American golf clubs, Newport and St. Andrews, attempted to conduct national amateur championships. When C.B. did not win either, although he did come close in both instances, he vociferously claimed each was not a true national championship because of inconsistent rules and were not conducted by a true national body. As a result of the furor he created, five prominent clubs came together later in the year to form a national governing body for golf in America. The organization, first known as the Amateur Golf Association of the United States, later became the United States Golf Association.
The next year, Macdonald won the very first U.S. Amateur by the whopping score of 12-and-11 in the final at Newport, to become America’s first true national champion.
Not only was old C.B. a wonderful player, he was golf’s first great character. Many stories abound, but the one that stands out concerns his beloved National Golf Links. When one of the members of the new club mentioned to Charlie that the club should build a windmill on the course similar to the ones that dotted that end of Long Island since the late 1600s to provide power for grinding grain, Charlie agreed and had one built. And when it was finished, he then sent the financier a bill for its construction! To this day, the handsome windmill stands between National’s second green and the 17th tee.
And to top off this Renaissance man’s golf career, Charlie wrote one of the very best golf books ever – “Scotland’s Gift – Golf”.
Championship golfer. Golf course architect. Organizer. Bigger-than-life character. Esteemed author.
Charles Blair Macdonald was all of these. And now he’s an honored member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.