Pebble Beach Flyovers: Seventeenth And Eighteenth Holes

By 2010 the 17th green had devolved to the point players were intentionally placing their tee shot in the bunker, then taking the chances with an up-and-down. As I recall—please tell me if you think otherwise—the hole was cut left on this hourglass green all four days.

Here was a then and now view of 17 (1929 vs. 2010) that I posted from the U.S. Open.

Since then the green was remodeled and is significantly more playable and interesting than last time we saw U.S. Open conditions here. It’s always one of the most difficult holes to gauge the wind’s effect in U.S. Open conditions due to the grandstand by the green and more protected tee area.

I am not sure what to expect of the famous closing hole this time around since players were regularly reaching the hole in August’s U.S. Amateur. The fairway has been narrowed significantly and forces tee shots to hug the cliffs, with the fairway bunkers now protected by rough.

The layup isn’t much to worry about without the overhanging tree of yesteryear, but the 70-foot tall replacement can be a killer if a player goes for the green and leaves a shot out to the right. Still, expect players to try and get as close to the green as possible if they hit a good tee shot.

90 Years Later: The 1929 U.S. Amateur As One Of Golf's Seminal Events

1929 US Amateur Program, painting by Maurice Logan, digital restoration by Tommy Naccarato

1929 US Amateur Program, painting by Maurice Logan, digital restoration by Tommy Naccarato

If there was one event I could go back and experience, I now believe it’s the 1929 U.S. Amateur. Sure, ‘13 at The Country Club and the 1930 British Amateur at St. Andrews come to mind, as does 1960 at Cherry Hills. But after going back and revisiting everything that went on in advance of the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach and what that event meant for west coast golf, U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach and even the Masters, I try to make the case for ‘29 in this Golfweek story.

I mention this because this year marks the 90th anniversary and as the U.S. Open arrives at Pebble Beach, celebrating its centennial, this amateur was the event putting the course and region on the map. I also bring it up since the first amateur at Pebble Beach was always a footnote, lazily written off as the amateur Jones lost during an incredible 1-1-2-1-1-Rnd32-1 stretch.

Some of my favorite golf photos are in this USGA gallery of the 1929 event.

Pebble Beach Flyovers: Fifteenth and Sixteenth Holes

With the awkwardness of an elevated tee aiming you right, prevailing wind in your face or quartering, and out-of-bounds down the right, even today’s launchers are discouraged from attempting to drive over the fairway pot bunker 290 away.

Besides, just hitting the fairway still leaves a wedge or sand wedge approach and a great birdie opportunity, so why bother?

The line off the tee here is crucial. A tee shot played too far left can lengthen the approach yardage significantly, especially since this is likely another iron or hybrid off the tee. And with the sandy area in front (once a more menacing barranca) tee shots in the left rough will be faced with a decision on how to approach the green.

Definitely one of the most difficult putting surfaces at Pebble Beach to gauge how an approach reacts and in reading putts.

Pebble Beach Flyovers: Thirteenth And Fourteenth Holes

I’ve always had something for 13 given it’s simple, but timeless strategy: hug the huge left bunker, get a great view and stance for approach the steeply-pitched Alister MacKenzie green from 1926.

Bail out right and the view stinks, the angle isn’t great and the stances vary. The bunkers down the right were suggested by the USGA’s Tom Meeks and should be filled in at the first opportunity. Like the third hole, the player should be lured to bail out, not deterred by sand.

The green has been remodeled since the last U.S. Open and certain functions much better. It still gives players fits with its steep pitch.

At 380 yards into the wind back in 1929, it was also seen as a long iron approach hole.

The 13th will feature a new tee this time around. For what it’s worth, players in last summer’s U.S. Amateur were not shy about bailing out way left.

At 580 yards the 14th can play seemingly a hundred yards longer to into the wind and uphill. It’s 330 to carry the bunkers and hard to do visually from the tee. The lurking OB right, with the wind in from the left, doesn’t help, either.

This green has been remodeled since the last U.S. Open and should function better, though without an attempt to restore the old lost front right pin, will be a bit one-dimensional again. The removal of a short grass chipping area left of the green this time around should encourage a few players to attack the green in two after a long drive.

Pebble Beach Flyovers: Eleventh And Twelfth Holes

Back in 1929 this well-bunkered green was created think of 3 iron approaches, now of course it’s little more than a flip wedge for the players who hit driver. Probably the smallest and least-functional green on the property due to hears of flying sand shots and faster green speeds, the 11th is down to about 100 square foot area to place holes at the traditional U.S. Open pace.

The overall architectural deterioration here gives critics of the inland holes very reasonable ammunition in making their case against Pebble Beach. It doesn’t have to be that way.

The fairway contour has been significantly reduced since this flyover and hugs the right this time around:

The par-3 12th is another odd one when the U.S. Open comes and firms things up. The bunker face is at its highest and most penal on the right portion where most daily-fee golfers have hit the ball over the years. It’s a pretty common sign of age and should have been addressed long ago since it discourages a direct shot at the center hole locations, while the more left the pin goes, the more accessible it becomes all due to the bunker face build up.

There can be a bit of a Redan component here but the opening is so slight that modern players seem to just take their chances getting up and down from the front bunker or from the rear rough. The green has also lost many great wing hole locations due to a square footage deterioration.

Remembering Samuel Morse And His Insistence On Golf Along The Cliffs

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Many names will bandied about next week during the U.S. Open, but only one is genuinely and only the reason we will be enjoying another national championship at Pebble Beach.

Founder Samuel Morse is profiled by Jim Nantz in this excellent Golf Digest piece on the great man’s vision, life and a fun cocktail hour chat with his late daughter.

Oh, and we should remember his lender too, particularly with the Wodehouse name and bank.

In his grandson Charles Osborne’s fabulous 2018 biography, Boss: The Story of S.F.B Morse, the Founder of Pebble Beach, he talks of how Morse in 1918 was riding his horse, Moonlight, around Pebble Beach, imagining what it could become, when he was called to a meeting with Crocker, in which he revealed his desire to have Crocker help with financing so Morse could make the purchase himself. Crocker demurred because he didn’t want to essentially be both seller and buyer. Morse struck out on his own and a short time later obtained the $1.3 million financing through a bond offering arranged by Herbert Fleishhacker of the Anglo California National Bank in San Francisco.

One other important note about Morse: legend says that Jack Neville’s first routing for Pebble Beach featured homes on the clifftops, golf holes inland. He was doing what any sensible real estate man would do, but Morse declared the golf took priority, otherwise the entire development would not succeed. Lewis Lapham explained this for GolfDigest.com back in 2010.

Regarding Morse, you can seem some memorabilia related to his life at Golf Links to the Past (where Nantz details having bought some of Morse’s original paintings).

There is also a new biography of Morse available in the shop and listed at Amazon. I believe author Charles Osborne will be signing at some point during U.S. Open week.

Pebble Beach Flyovers: Ninth And Tenth Holes

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Anyone who doesn’t stop and ponder their fortunate fate when on the 9th hole is missing out, as the view toward Carmel and beyond never gets tiresome.

That said, the 9th as a piece of architecture, has some issues.

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Players in last summer’s U.S. Amateur were less than enthralled with the new 526-yard tee leaving an awkward decision. Many actually hit 3-wood and even a few irons late in the day, leaving their ball atop the hill instead of an undesirable hanging lie and stance. There is a definite advantage for bombers here to play the hole as it had been attacked before the latest tee was added to offset the amazing modern athleticism delivered by Trackman.

Originally the fairway spilled down to the right next to the ocean. It would appear the tees were positioned to hit into that fairway and a lovely spot exists to restore such a tee. But the hole would play very short in a world where players better manage their rest to hit the ball longer than the geeks of yesteryear.

Either way, the 1929 renovation of Pebble Beach by Chandler Egan appeared to present a far more interesting and complicated hole.

The USGA’s flyover:

The 10th is far less complicated but beautiful in the simple way it fits the landscape. It’s as demanding as they come but also sadly missing some great hole locations back left and front/middle right near the water’s edge.

Pebble Beach Flyovers: Seventh And Eighth Holes

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I won’t bother with the 1929 look as we focus on the present, but I had to grab the 1972 version (above) so you can see how much of the green had been lost by then. And yet, there was a nicer shape on the right side defining the back right peninsula.

Either way, with shape and character or more circular, the 7th is arguably golf’s most dramatic location and dramatic shot, and one fine place to hang out during next week’s U.S. Open.

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Regarding the 8th, modified by Alister MacKenzie in 1926 and again by Chandler Egan and friends for the 1929 US Amateur, the fairway has been narrowed substantially since this flyover, rendering the aiming rock into a left side rock. The scenery is spectacular, so I’ll save the architectural quibbling until after the flyover…

As for the state of the 8th, the green is down to a small area for hole locations and severely limits the USGA’s options at US Open green speeds.

There was some spectacular work down here in 1929, including that bunker down the cliff! From the USGA’s 1929 Amateur gallery:

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And today…note how much of the left portion of the green is gone.

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Pebble Beach Flyover: Fifth And Sixth Holes

Jack Nicklaus watching Gary Nicklaus in the 2018 U.S. Amateur, fifth hole

Jack Nicklaus watching Gary Nicklaus in the 2018 U.S. Amateur, fifth hole

At last summer’s U.S. Amateur, I had the surreal experience of watching Jack Nicklaus watch his son play the hole he designed at the course where he’d won the 1961 U.S. Amateur and 1971 U.S. Open. There was a nice wait that day at Pebble Beach’s fifth, so I tried asking the architect if he was pleased with how it was playing. However, he was in full spectating mode and managed to something to the effect of “its done its job.”

The hole was added in 1998 and was a huge upgrade over the old 5th, a dreadful affair routed uphill because the oceanside property could not be acquired. The new hole plays slightly downhill with Stillwater Cove to the.

The green slopes away from the player, and you’ll notice in the flyover, has already shrunk a bit since the original creation (note the placement of irrigation heads).

The par-5 6th introduces the player to a magnificent meeting of land and sea, maybe one underrated a bit given how often this hole is forgotten in discussions of the best holes at Pebble Beach. The sixth is particularly interesting in the U.S. Open when the firmness heightens the design features off the tee. There has been a tendency of players to bail out way left here in recent events, including the U.S. Amateur, so we’ll see what the modern athletes do here (or what setup measures are taken).

Note in the flyover the juicy back right and back left hole locations lost due to green shrinkage over the years.

Pebble Beach Flyovers: Third and Four Holes

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While we’ll get to the loss of a double fairway at the ninth and two greens offering maybe two palatable hole locations, a case could be made for the third as Pebble Beach’s most architecturally adulterated.

When I first played the course in the early 1990s and attended a U.S. Open there in 1992, the third was always the hole to hold up as an example of Pebble Beach’s inland holes asking top-notch strategic questions. This was before the out-of-scale, out-of-character righthand fairway bunkers were installed by the Palmer design group and today’s athletes began traveling with resistance bands.

Back in the good old days, players were free to bail out away from the corner bunker, trees and barranca. Such a tee shot left a hanging lie in rough to a green best approached from the left side. A flyer might go out-of-bounds.

Best of all, there were rewards for to turning a ball over, shortening the hole, and improving the angle of approach.

The combination of the landing area dynamics and the degradation of the barranca may change the approach at this year’s U.S. Open. Bomb-and-gougers face little trouble just cutting the corner, a play we saw in the U.S. Amateur when tees were at the 404 yardage. Even if the player finds rough, they are approaching from the best angle, lob wedge in hand and yardage under 100 yards.

But hey, enjoy the flyover…

The short par-4 4th is not a hole to drive but it can be a fascinating tee shot thanks to the fairway bunkering and conditions. The green has shrunk a bit over the years and lost a little shape as this 1929 to 2010 comparison shows. The surface is steeply pitched back to front, making it one of the more difficult to navigate from above the hole. Tree diseases have taken out many of the tall woody view-obstructors down the right side, unlocking wonderful views and more influence from the elements off Carmel Bay.

During last year’s U.S. Amateur, I asked Jack Nicklaus if he ever tried to drive the fourth in his youth and he looked at me as if I’d ordered an Arnold Palmer. He did later confess to trying in practice, but made clear it’s an idiotic play in any era, any conditions.

U.S. Amateur Primer: Pebble Beach Hosts For Fifth Time

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Here's a great look, with old film footage of the 1929 U.S. Amateur, of Amateur golf's history at Pebble Beach where stroke play qualifying begins Monday.

This photo gallery of 1929 is a real keeper

And as John Fischer reminds us, Bobby Jones losing early in match play led to golf at Cypress Point and Pasatiempo, and an affinity for Alister MacKenzie's work. 

As for 2018, Golfweek offers this look at players to watch.

Here is Amateurgolf.com's list of players they're watching.

Brian DePasquale's USGA.org full breakdown of the field.

Tee times.

You can follow scoring at USGA.org.

And their page devoted to event schedule and Fox television times.

Jack Nicklaus, whose son Gary qualified as a reinstated amateur, attended the event dinner Saturday and posed with some current Buckeyes. Nicklaus won the 1961 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. 

Here is the USGA's mood-setter on Pebble Beach:

It’s Time For Pebble Beach To Commision A Master Plan

As the restoration movement continues to reinvigorate tired properties, the power and clarity delivered by a master plan document is often forgotten as the long term key to a healthy design.

Understandably, the excitement over better playing and looking golf holes becomes the focus after a restoration. But these projects almost never commenced without a document evaluating the original design’s evolution or the changes necessary to improve things. They also provide a fine opportunity for vital “under-the-hood” improvements required to carry a course into the future.

Countless classics were guided by these documents and now swear by them, sometimes religiously clinging to the plan without some wiggle room to make modifications. But given the history of green committees, ironclad plans prove wiser than leaving leeway for amateur architects to leave their mark.

The latest addition to Pebble Beach demonstrates, in glaring fashion, the danger of not having a master plan or a genuine grasp of the architectural high-point of a course. The planting of South African gazanias on one of golf’s most beautiful locales needing no help suggests it is time for America’s national golfing treasure to commission a serious master plan. To not recognize the architectural and landscape malpractice suggests either too many or not enough cooks are in the Pebble Beach kitchen.

There really is no shame in having reached this point, as most of the best courses in the world were driven to consider their design past and future after some sort of gaffe. Nearly in every case it was not a general realization of architectural decline, but instead something as gaudy as a goofy gazania bed.

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Besides the non-native component, accentuated by seeing actual wildflowers sprouting randomly on the gorgeous cliffs of Pebble Beach, this “look at me” execution may be the most robust splash of color since Dorothy, Toto and friends were off to see the Wizard. (Only they waded through fields of poppies, the state flower in California that bloom in springtime.)

Taking a hard look at Pebble Beach’s design evolution and targeting the course at its peak would help the famed resort understand priorities in aesthetics, strategy and playability. There has been a sense that doing so would damage the grand story of amateurs Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, commissioned by Samuel Morse and concocting the masterpiece we know today. Their masterful routing will always be integral to the Pebble Beach story, however, design trends evolved over the decade following their effort and the course ultimately came together with touches from Herbert Fowler, Alister MacKenzie, and then most significantly, thanks to Chandler Egan and Robert Hunter's pre-1929 U.S. Amateur remodel. Egan reached the semi-finals of that amateur and is one of America's greatest amateur golfers.

A study of that 1929 effort would show larger and more intricate green shapes and a better attempt at injecting a sense of naturalness on a magnificent site plagued in early days by geometric and unsightly features. The old images below validate the unique qualities of the 1929 version and while the current ownership of Pebble Beach has taken the resort from hard times to grand stewardship, the golf course vision has fallen behind the clarity they've shown in maintaining the overall Pebble Beach community. It's time for the resort to consider restoration professionals who can identify the best features, understand how the course has evolved, and steer Pebble Beach in a direction that best embodies the course at its peak. Given the importance of the course, perhaps even a bake-off style process open to many architects will provide even more clarity.

From a strictly business perspective, I suspect such a plan would right the rankings ship, which has seen Pebble Beach slipping in all of the major magazine rankings. While this amazing place is not in danger of failing just because magazine panelists are giving lower golf course grades, they are sending a message: Pebble Beach is not as good as it should be.

As I argued this week on Golf Central, the design is actually underrated and should be the undisputed No. 1 course in America. Currently, it is not, and a bed of gazanias won't help make golf's most beautiful setting any prettier.  The flower bed merely highlights the need to commission a master plan.

Above the 7th hole, 1929 U.S. Amateur and 2018 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am along with more scenes from the old days:

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R.I.P. Mr. Pebble Beach R.J. Harper

Terrible news out of Pebble Beach where R.J. Harper, executive vice president of golf and retail operations and the face of operations there since rising from the ranks of golf course marshal, died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer.

Tom Wright's Monterey County Herald obituary included this:

He rose through the ranks during his 32-year career at Pebble Beach Co., becoming the head professional, serving as championship director at the 2000 U.S. Open and general chairman of the 2010 and 2019 U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach before earning his executive position.

“All of us at Pebble Beach Co. and throughout the golf world are heartbroken by the news of RJ’s passing,” said Pebble Beach Co. CEO Bill Perocchi, who worked with RJ for 18 years, in a prepared statement. “RJ had a lasting impact on Pebble Beach, and his smile, vibrant personality and positive attitude and outlook on life will be missed by all and never forgotten. He was a kind, caring person; a consensus builder and true team player; and a dear friend to me personally and to countless employees, guests and people in the golf industry.”

Alan Shipnuck at Golf.com posted this profile of Harper in February this year that is worth a few minutes of your time if you did not read it then.

He is a classic American success story, having begun his career at Pebble as a $5-an-hour marshal before working his way up to head pro and now a senior executive position at the Pebble Beach Co. Oozing the Southern charm of a down-home Tennessee boy and possessing the swagger of the football star he once was, Harper has the rare ability to befriend everyone from resort guests to PGA Tour stars, greenskeepers to captains of industry. In his three decades at Pebble he has become one of the most-connected men on the planet.

Steve Hennessey at Golf World with a roundup of Tweets from across the golf world expressing sadness at his passing.

I'll add more remembrances as they are posted.

Pebble Beach's 14th Well Received, But Is This Progress?

After reading Alex Miceli's Morning Read take on the early reviews of Pebble Beach's revamped 14th green, I'm glad to hear that the hole is no longer controversial.

However, Miceli's image and description of a restoration focused on Douglas Grant and Jack Neville's 1919 green instead of the once-brilliant Chandler Egan green created 9 years later and lasting until recently, suggests a serious setback for efforts to preserve Egan's brilliant pre-1929 U.S. Amateur renovation.

Yes, the Egan green had become too severe for today's speeds, but the front hole location has been usable in my lifetime and it was fun when Stimp speeds were in the 8's and 9's. The remarkably cool Egan tier should also have been preserved in some way for historical accuracy and better variety of hole location looks. 

The renovation, which began after last year’s Tour event, used early 20th-century photographs of the Jack Neville-Douglas Grant design to help capture the historic contour of the greens. Architects took advantage of modern technology to improve playability of the hole. Among the changes: the green meets USGA specifications, a SubAir moisture-management system was installed and bunkers were renovated.

“It's a sensible green change,” Padraig Harrington said. “Be interesting to see how it would play in U.S. Open conditions when it's Stimping at 12 or more. I had a putt on the right side of 5 feet above the hole, and I wasn't trying to diddle it. I was trying to hit it. The greens are slow enough today, so it was very playable today. I was surprised how flat that area of the green is. I thought yesterday there was a bit more break in it, but today I was looking at it and it probably would be able to hold a pin at a U.S. Open.”

Miceli notes that the early scoring average was well below par and the 14th was playing as the second easiest.

"Meet the environmentally conscious teens cleaning up the Pebble coastline"

It was one of my favorite stories in some time and now budding marine biologists Alex Weber and Jack Johnston get the full SI-style profile treatment from Alan Shipnuck, complete with Robert Beck photos and a nine-minute film.

Shipnuck addresses many questions about the kids cleaning up the cove off Pebble Beach Golf Links, including the toughness required to dive and dig up the golf balls.

When Alex first came upon the balls during a recreational dive with her father in September 2015, she had no idea these man-made pearls would consume her life. "There wasn't this big master plan," she says. "I just knew they didn't belong in the ocean, and I wanted to get them out." In the ensuing dives her father was a constant—Mike owns a chicken ranch that produces 150 million cage-free, organic and kosher eggs a year—but while various friends of Alex's tagged along once or twice, only Jack kept coming back. It is grueling work that begins with hauling the kayaks down the steep sand hill at Carmel Beach, followed by the long paddle across the bay through strong winds and tides, and then hours of diving in frigid water that always leaves their lips blue, despite thick wet suits, hoods, gloves and booties. After all that, they have to schlep hundreds of balls and their gear back up the hill to their cars. The balls are stored in the Webers' garage, and some stink—a sulfuric, chemical smell that is a hint of the toxins they may be releasing into the sea. As the collection became more numerous (and malodorous), Alex and Jack were galvanized to take the fight public. "It became pretty obvious this issue was bigger than us, and we had to go to people who could help us change things," Jack says.

I gladly made a donation to their GoFund me page and notice it still could use some help to their $10,000 goal as they get ready to further their education!

The film (golf.com embed code only allows this size):

Pebble Beach: High Schoolers Find Thousands Of Golf Balls On Ocean Floor

KSBW's Caitlin Conrad highlights the great work done by two Monterey area high school students and outdoor enthusiasts who discovered how many golf balls are polluting the Carmel Bay sea floor, including rubber-core balls dating back to the 1980s. When presented with the findings by Alex Weber and Jack Johnston, the Pebble Beach Company responded in fine fashion, with plans to be more aggressive with sea floor clean up and making a contribution to help the two students further their marine science education.

From Conrad's story...

Mathes said Pebble Beach Company was unaware of the pile up in the cove until the teens brought it to their attention.

“You know we’ve had decades of scientific researchers, recreational divers out off the coast and no one has brought this to our attention, it’s really these two students who have discovered something, and we are really quite proud of them,” Mathes said.

Weber said Pebble Beach Company is doing a good job stepping-up to the task of removing the balls but she said she was surprised no one knew about the problem earlier.

“It is almost common sense, like you should understand that if you’re hitting a golf ball off a cliff into the ocean, it’s going to end up under the water,” she said.

The Pebble Beach Company gave each of the students $500 scholarships to The Island School, a high-school marine science and sustainability-based study abroad program in the Bahamas. They are funding the rest through this GoFundMe page.

Their video showing the Pacific floor next to the course. Warning, it's disturbing!

Under The Knife: Pebble's Beach 14th Green

John Strege reports that the long-anticipated but much-delayed restoration of Pebble Beach's 14th green is underway.

The scene of some memorable boondoggles in recent years, Chandler Egan's marvelous two-tiered green had become too severe with modern green speeds, rendering the front portion unusable for nearly two decades.

That will be changing with a move to 4,000 square feet of surface instead of the current, gulp, 3,200. Maintaining the original concept of the green seems to be the priority, reports Strege after talking to R.J. Harper.

"Through a collection of all the photos, we landed on something we think is the right way. We’re increasing it to the original size and we’re going to keep the general shape to the green. The big cavernous bunker remains, but we’re lowering the top lip that if your ball came down there it would shoot it to the back of the green. We're leveling off the upper part of the green, increasing square footing by going back, and recreateing the pin location back right that no longer had been available to us."

 John Maginnes Tweeted this photo of the construction:

Nice: Chandler Egan's 1904 Olympic Medals Found, On Display

Nice work by Dave Shedloski to tell the story of Chandler Egan's medals having been found by his family and handed over to the USGA for display in Far Hills and the U.S. Open, before moving on to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Longtime readers know about Egan, the actual architect of Pebble Beach as we know it who, for mysterious reasons, is ignored by historians who apparently aren't as enchanted with his story as they are with the Neville/Grant/amateurs-make-good story. But Egan's life in golf was pretty impressive: Harvard man, Olympic medalist, U.S. Amateur champion, NCAA individual champion (and three time team winner), golf architect, beloved friend of Bobby Jones, etc.

Shedloski writes at GolfDigest.com:

Until a year ago historians believed that none of the individual medals from the golf competition in the 1904 Olympics at Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis still existed. That changed when the silver medal of H. Chandler Egan, former U.S. Amateur champion, was discovered (along with his team gold medal) in the bottom of a bookcase in the former home of Egan’s daughter in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, about 25 miles southeast of Cleveland.