- American Golf in the Great Depression: The Pros Take to the Grapefruit Circuit by Kevin Kenny
In Kevin Kenny's preface to Golf in the Great Depression, he states that his aim
is to provide an account of many of the players who may not be household names … such as Sarazen, Nelson and Snead … players such as Ralph Guldhal, Denny Shute, Henry Picard, and many more … life on the tour, sponsors and prize money levels, and the colorful politics of the game.(4)
Kenny frames his narrative in the context of the hardships endured by the American people during the 1930s. Kenny's work mostly fulfills these goals, but the volume's title and subtitle are misleading. His book includes only one paragraph on the experience of African American golfers. In addition to his coverage of the annual golf tournaments in Florida, there are brief accounts of the United States and British Opens, the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) championships, the Masters, the Ryder Cup, and events in other regions.
Kenny provides a good review of the effects of the Great Depression on golf in the United States during the 1930s—especially how Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal Works Progress Administration's renovations and construction of golf courses further democratized the sport. Perhaps he overstates his case when he writes that state- and federal-funded golf projects "led to the start … of the true democratization of golf" (22). Actually, that occurred during the 1890s and the 1920s. Kenny also explains the impact of the Great Depression on private country clubs. He also notes the Pinehurst resort in North Carolina and a few golf architects benefited from the hard times. Pinehurst advertised itself (ungrammatically) as the "place where there ain't no Depression" (23). Donald Ross designed Pinehurst's famed No. 2 course, and A. W. Tillinghast created the Bethpage Black course. Kenny explains that [End Page 113] Bobby Jones, the most celebrated golfer of the 1920s, also cashed in on the opportunities open to him when "the USGA granted him non-amateur status, so he could avail of his marketability but still retain his non-professional status" (31).
Kenny's third chapter explains the critical contributions of PGA administrators Bob Harlow and Fred Corcoran, whom he labels "Golfing Czars" because of their work in organizing and promoting tournaments while attempting to manage the tensions between the club professionals and the most talented players. Harlow and Corcoran cajoled local businessmen and chambers of commerce to host tournaments, arguing that celebrated golfers (especially Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, and, later in the decade, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan) would spend money in their hotels, eat in their restaurants, and gain favorable publicity for their towns, which, in turn, would attract tourists. Corcoran, who succeeded Harlow in late 1936, was more adept in persuading local journalists to write stories about upcoming events and recruit sponsors to fund a local "Open" that would attract at least a hundred professionals. Under Corcoran's leadership, total prize money increased from $150,000 when he took command in 1936 to $185,000 in 1940.
The book's third and fourth chapters present a detailed (at points tedious) account of the growth of the PGA tour in each region of the United States, with emphasis on Florida's "Grapefruit Circuit." Kenny includes background on the increase in popular participation in sports and sections on more than three dozen minor champions. Among them were George Von Elm, Fred Morrison, James Foulis, Craig Wood, Johnny Goodman, Horton Smith, Joe Turnesa, Vic Ghezzi, Sam Parks Jr., Johnny Revolta, Tommy Armour, Johnny Farrell, Lawson Little, Tony Manero, Ray Mangrum, Harry Cooper, Ky Laffoon, and Jimmy Demaret. Kenny also highlights the contributions of prominent sports journalists, especially Grantland Rice.
American Golf in the Great Depression concludes with an epilogue on the struggles of the PGA tour during World War II and reverts back to an overview of the "how and why the professional...