Jack Burke Jr. has truly had a Hall of Fame career. He has been a great champion as a player, architect of one of the country’s finest championship golf courses and has championed the purity of the game. For all of his contributions to golf, Burke was selected as the first choice to be elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame via the Veterans Category, which was formed to allow the World Golf Hall of Fame Advisory Board to consider players whose career occurred primarily before 1960.
During his playing career, Burke won 17 titles, most notably the 1956 Masters and PGA Championship when he was named PGA Player of the Year. At the Masters, Burke rallied from a remarkable eight strokes behind to win the green jacket. Ken Venturi, a 24-year-old amateur, led by four shots heading into the final round, but he soared to an 80 on the final day. “There was a 50-mile-an-hour wind. On the fourth hole, a par 3, I hit a driver and a 9-iron.
The pressure that day was to not shoot 100,” said Burke. “I shot 71, which was the low round of the day, and Venturi just couldn’t make it on the back nine and he handed me the trophy. I thank him a lot for that.”
"I beat eight guys to win the PGA. Each day you felt like you're standing on the edge of a cliff and some guy was going to push you off. I never felt like I was going to win the PGA. Never."
Burke won the 1956 PGA Championship back when the tournament was a match-play event, edging Ted Kroll, 3 and 2, in the final. “I beat eight guys to win the PGA. Each day you felt like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff and some guy was going to push you off. I never felt like I was going to win the PGA. Never.” Burke also won the 1952 Vardon Trophy, competed on five Ryder Cup teams and was captain twice.
His credentials as a player, however, are only a part of his resume. In 1957, Burke and fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Jimmy Demaret struck a partnership to build and manage The Champions Golf Club in their hometown of Houston. Together, they built two courses-Cypress Creek and Jackrabbit-that have tested golf’s elite players over the years.
“The golf course is an examination of your skills… It keeps the driver in your hands, it keeps the long irons in your hand and that is a pretty true test,” says Burke of the more than 7,000-yard course with a veritable forest of trees lining almost every hole.
Jack Burke, Jr. turned professional at age 17.
Champions hosted the Ryder Cup in 1967, the U.S. Open in 1969 and Ben Hogan chose the course to make the final tournament appearance of his career at the 1971 Houston Champions International. In 2003, it hosted its fifth TOUR Championship for the top 30 money-winners on the PGA TOUR.
Burke continues to promote the same atmosphere at Champions that his father fostered at River Oaks, where Jackie grew up and learned the game. Golf is it at Champions. He is so dedicated to protecting the integrity of the game that he no longer considers members who have handicaps higher than 15. “We made Champions for golfers. We have 229 members with single-digit handicaps; 55 members have five handicaps or under,” says Burke.
Burke is a renowned teacher of the game, too. “Whenever anybody needed any help, we would always go to Jackie and say, ‘Jackie I’m struggling with my game,’ and he would help you kindly,” remembers World Golf Hall of Famer Gary Player. Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton, Ben Crenshaw and Steve Elkington are among the active players who still seek out Burke to pick up on his timing and thought process.
“Jackie Burke is one of the few people left who really understands this game in its entirety,” said Sutton. “He’s really current with the game. He’s seen all the great players. He knows how they hit it. He understands the golf swing, he’s made it happen and he’s been a great player in his own day.”