Albany Herald Guest Columnist Furman Bisher
Downstairs in my basement there are stacks of press guides and record books that are taller than I am. Mostly, it comprises an unofficial history of the PGA Tour in this country, and the fatter the publication, the more of our universe its covers — all the way back to 1947. Those were the kindergarten days of professional golf in this country — back when the playing professionals played for $5,000 purses. One year, Ben Hogan led the nation in money earned in tournament play — which, I might add, was barely over $8,000.
Ben was still a novice, moving around the country in an old sedan, his wife Valerie at his side. Barely earning enough just to feed the two of them, and at another time having to borrow money enough to replace a tread-worn tire.
Three, or maybe four, years in a row he campaigned across the South, just trying to make enough money to get from one stop to the next. Usually, he started in North Carolina, at Pinehurst, followed by Greensboro and Asheville — or more accurately, Biltmore Forest. At Greensboro one year — Starmount Country Club, to be exact — the starter called out his name on the first tee, and he was a no-show. I know. I was there. I heard it.
In 1940, still a non-winner, Hogan and Valeria came back to Pinehurst, which was an attractive stop on the tour — the North and South, as it was addressed. Hogan wiped out the field, which included Sam Snead, then moved on to Greensboro. And after one snowed-out day, won again. Next came the Land o' Sky stop at Biltmore Forest — and another winner's check.
Three stops, three tournaments in his bag — and small wonder Hogan referred to his break-through in the Tar Heel State as his “rejuvenation trail.” As the Tour moved on, this would become the year that Hogan first led the Tour, and he had reached such a stature that it might have been more. Twice he turned down exhibitions (at $500 apiece), one in Thomasville, to maintain his grip on the Tour.
From that beastly proving ground, the PGA Tour was launched, expanding from those yearly little annual guides to an official PGA Guide that weighed over 14 pounds when the Commissioner Tim Finchem “put it to bed” just a year ago. Oh, and what a loss it is to those of us who lived by it from tournament to tournament, from continent to continent. But that's another story, and we'll take that up as we move along.