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Yale Golf Team Coach 1954-70
Interview on February 19, 2006 with his son, Al Wilson
Interview (22 mins)
Al Wilson was a tool and dye maker by trade, but he served as the freshman soccer coach at Yale from 1950 to 1960. In 1954, when Joe Sullivan, the golf team coach, left to become the professional to Racebrook Country Club, all the coaches were asked if who would be willing to take over the golf coach. Wilson was the only volunteer. He became certified as a PGA Professional by apprenticing to Sam Snead (by telephone!) over a 2-year period. The one time Snead visited Yale, he cut his round short after being reprimanded by Harry Meusel for taking a wedge shot on the 9th green and after playing the 10th poorly.
Wilson’s teams compiled a 90+% winning record (W-136, L-14). In 1963, he was elected president of the NCAA Golf Coaches Association. Among the well-known people who played the course during his time were Ed Sullivan, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, George Bayer, Porky Oliver, and Ken Venturi. Al had his son caddy for all these players. Porly Oliver for one didn’t like the course, telling Al’s son that “the guy must have been drunk who designed this.” Some of the players that son Al ran into weren’t so well known. There was, for instance, a foursome of bookies who came up from New York City every year with their own caddies, who carried a bag and a cooler of beer for each player. When the caddies returned the bags to the trunk of the car Al saw a Thompson sub-machine gun there. In 1964 Ken Venturi won the US Open at Congressional and Al Wilson won the bidding on the courtesy car [T-Bird convertible] that he had used. Both his son and grandson work in golf course maintenance.
1964 US Open champion and former CBS golf analyst
Interviewed on March 8, 2005 [conducted by telephone by John Godley]
Interview (8 mins)
Ken Venturi was born and raised in California where he was a leading amateur from 1940-50. He worked as a car salesman for Ed Lowery (who had been Francis Ouimet’s caddie when he won 1913 US Open against Ray and Vardon), and he was a friend of Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Gene Sarazen. As an amateur in 1956 he nearly won the Masters. Then he won the 1964 US Open at Congressional Country Club with 36 holes in 102-degree heat, and he has been a CBS TV golf analyst for many years.
Ken has played the Yale course twice. The first time was in 1958 after playing in the Greater Hartford Open (at Wethersfield CC, designed by Robert Pryde, he won the GHO in 1964), when he came for a one day Pro-Am to benefit a kidney foundation. Playing with his partner Senator Jack Westland, they won all the competitions and he set the competitive course record of 67. He donated his winnings to the foundation. Several years later he played the course with some friends. He “was surprised by how great the course was, since not many people knew about it.” He compared the ninth green’s swale to the bunker in the center of the sixth green at Riviera, which the pros are allowed to pitch over in the LA Open but the members are not. He also knew Jess Sweetser well. Sweetser sponsored his membership at Burning Tree 25 years ago, and he remains a member there today (and is the only PGA pro who is a member).
Captain of 1956 Golf Team
Interviewed on November 9, 2004
Ned Vare learned to play golf from his father at the Philadelphia Golf Club. His mother, Glenna Collett Vare, was the US woman amateur champion six times through 1920-30’s. He played for an undefeated prep school team (Episcopal Academy of Philadelphia), and won the 1952 eastern interscholastic team championship played at Yale where he was the individual champion. In fact, the first hole he ever played at Yale was in practice for that tournament (the tenth hole) and he eagled it with an eight iron second shot. That same year he won the Philadelphia Junior and Eastern Pennsylvania Junior. His maternal grandfather was also a national champion bicycle racer who competed in Europe.
[Image to right: Coach Al Wilson and Capt. Ned Vare, 1956]
At Yale, Vare was the captain of the freshman and varsity golf and squash teams. Neither his father nor his mother ever played at Yale. His father did follow him for 36 holes when he won the individuals and his team won the eastern intercollegiate championship played at Yale in 1955. He was most impressed that Yale’s #1 player, Gerald “Jerry” Fehr (father of current PGA player Rick Fehr) beat Harvard’s #1, Ted Cooney, in seven of seven matches over four years. The last match scored Cooney 68, Fehr 66. He was also proud of the team victory over a touring U. of Miami team that left in defeat and “with thin wallets..after betting against Yale with the team manager.” He played in the National intercollegiate each of his four years at Yale. In Columbus, his caddy was a high school classmate of Jack Nicklaus, who the caddy said could have beaten all of the members of the Yale team (which was probably true since he had won the Ohio Open Championship that year at age 16). During the winter, the team would go south to Bermuda for practice. At the time the course was very difficult; if you were off the fairway, your ball was likely a lost ball because the woods came right up to the fairway. That has now changed, but today the fairway on the course is the same as 50 years ago. He believes that the restoration of the twelfth bunker was a good thing, and similarly that the eighteenth bunker at the top of the hill should not be restored.
After graduation, Vare spent a year and a half in architecture school, then played in the 1954 and 1955 US Amateur. He lost in the first round of ’54 but stayed to follow Palmer in his matches to the championship. After he got out of the Army in 1959, he played in four PGA events by Monday, qualifying as an amateur with a 1 handicap. He placed first in New Orleans where the entry fee of $25 returned $1/$1000 in prize money. After that, he was then a member of Pine Valley for $135 per year. During the next 20 years, he filled many roles as a schoolteacher, contractor, furniture designer, ski instructor and rancher. In Tucson in 1979, he took out an advertisement for “teaching playing lessons by former PGA Tour player at student’s own course,” thus becoming a golf “pro” though he was not a member of the PGA. He then wrote a book on the golf swing, and in 1984 he returned to New Haven as a golf instructor.
Interviewed by David Paterson in 1989
Interview (48 mins)
Jess Sweetser attended Exeter where he was on the track team, and he graduated from in Yale 1923. He won the National Intercollegiate Championship in 1920 (USGA) and placed second in 1921. Subsequently, in 1922 he won the US Amateur and played on the Walker Cup team in 1923. He was the first American-born man to win the British Amateur (1926), and he won the Bob Jones Award in 1985 (1). While at Yale, he was a member of the Yale track team as well as the golf team (the latter was considered “a minor sport”).
The only fellow Yale golf team members he mentions are Dexter Cummings (2). The Yale team played at the “hard to get to” Racebrook course. Other Yale players to win the US Amateur are Robert Gardner and Ellis Knowles. He later played with Gardner (who was captain of the Walker Cup team of which he was a member) and (“world pole vault record”). When he competed in the national intercollegiate championships, there were no more than 50 in the field and almost none from west of the Mississippi . His Amateur trophy and Bob Jones award are going to Burning Tree, while his British Amateur trophy is going to the USGA Golf House.
He and Paterson both agreed that Yale was not the first course… Dartmouth ?1923. He remembers visiting the Greist estate property as a member of the committee to decide whether the property would be an appropriate site as the Tompkins’ gift for an area for Yale golf, hockey, skiing etc. The trip was on a February day when the temperature was 12 degrees, and the estate had “beautiful potential.” He recommended C. B. Macdonald as architect because of his experience playing courses that Macdonald had designed, especially Lido on Long Island. Apparently, he had never heard of Charles Banks. Sweetser talked about Yale’s plan to raise $450,000 from 400-500 alumni @ $1,000 each, but not sure how the money was actually raised. Paterson relates how he found plans of a match to open the course in 1926 between Sarazen, Ouimet and local pros, but he could find no evidence that it actually took place.
Sweetser improved his game with the help of pro Tommy Corrigan, who later introduced him to Gene Sarazen (winner of 7 “majors” including 1922 US Open & 1922,’23 PGA)(Brooklawn) and Johnny Farrell (1928 US Open champion)(?Winged Foot). Together they played $5 Nassau at Quaker Ridge (which he rated # 1), Winged Foot, and Wykagyl. As a result, when he got to the national amateur match play tournaments he did quite well. In the 1922 US Amateur at the Country Club he beat Hunter (British A. Champion), Gilford (US Amateur Champion), Bob Jones and then Chick Evans (winner of 1916 US Open & Amateur and 1920 Amateur) in the final. Sweetser asserted that during the 1920’s, his “record in amateur play was as good or better than all others, except for Bob Jones.” He played in two US Opens, and his best was and eleventh place finish in the year it was won by Jim Barnes (1921). In British Amateur at Muirfield played against George Duncan (1920 British Open champion), a “beautiful golfer” at that time in his 40’s with Jess in his 20’s.
From 1935-45 he was a member of National Golf Links and met, but never played with Macdonald and had never been to the Yale course with him (a “great fellow…great character”). Good friend of Robert Trent Jones, fellow member of Burning Tree Golf Club (in Venturi interview Sweetser is mentioned as his sponsor to membership at Burning Tree). He was active on USGA Committees; treasurer in the 1940’s ($45,000 in revenue). He expressed disdain for the USGA Mid-Amateur championship as he saw it as an effort to accommodate the “semi-pros” of college golf. Gave example of Ben Crenshaw as a student at the U. of Texas “flunking four courses” and still playing for the team. Paterson claimed that some schools spend “14 weeks on the road competing and not attending class”…Sweetser’s response, ”they are not amateurs”.
Sweetser never saw the latest clubhouse, which was donated by Bill Beinecke and whom Sweetser said that he “liked very much”, …“is he still alive”,… if so “give him my best regards.”
(1) The Bob Jones Award is presented yearly since 1955 by the USGA in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf: “The award seeks to recognize a person who emulates Jones’s spirit, his personal qualities and his attitude toward the game and its players.”
(2) Cummings won the national intercollegiate in 1923 and 1924, though he can’t be Chester Bowles of ad and political fame since he was 1924-82.
Yale Golf Team Coach, 1937-55
Interview on February 12, 2005 with members of the Sullivan family [his twin brothers, two sons and two daughters]
Interview (1 hr 38 mins)
When Joe Sullivan was age 20 in 1929, he was an assistant pro at Waterbury Country Club, and the youngest of 13 siblings, the twins Robert and Vincent were born. Ten years later he was the assistant to Ben Thomson at Yale when they began caddying there. The caddies used to gather “behind a brick wall” in the area where the cart barn now stands. On the other side of the wall was the “hot dog stand.” While they waited to be called for a loop for $0.75, they carried out the “caddy initiation” for new members of the corp (putting straw under the shirt of the prospective caddy about to go out for 4 hours in the hot sun). They could play the course on Monday until noon. A ball in the rough was usually lost. Robert remembers looping for Ralph Morrell, who had played the course on opening day in 1926 and who worked at the Peabody Museum and liked to collect snakes during his round. He would store these in a net sack in his golf bag until the end of the round. Joe continued to play golf until age 92.
Joe liked to teach, first as an assistant, then eventually as a head pro and coach. The lesson tee was: for full shots, behind the clubhouse and out to the left of the third fairway; for short game the area between the second and fourth greens [“chipping practice” consisted of tossing balls underhand to the hole]; and bunker play at the eighteenth hole. The best player Robert ever saw play Yale was an amateur, Billy Joe Patton as a Princeton team member [finished third in the 1954 Masters] though he also saw Cary Middlecoff*, Gary Player, and Ken Venturi play. (* only player he ever saw able to drive a ball from first tee across Griest Pond and over the dam) Most students got to the course on a trolley that stopped at Whalley and Fountain and from there they walked the 2 miles to the course, though some had cars. Joe’s best round was a 64. He also shot 27 on the front, but couldn’t play the back that day because of darkness. On 5 occasions he started out with all 3s through first 5 holes. He entertained players waiting on the ninth tee by hitting, while kneeling, over the pond to the green. He would drive his 2 seat model A Ford with rumble seat and running boards from Fairhaven and pick up as many as 8 kids who would caddy that day. Some would tell their mothers that they were staying overnight with a fellow caddy, when in fact they both were going to sleep in the bunker by the ninth hole, in order to be first out the next morning and thus go double for 36 holes ($6.00). Brother Tommy had worked for Joe “hawking balls” from the lake between holes three and four, caddying and running the hot dog stand. On one occasion Senator Abe Ribicoff tried to get a 25-cent hot dog and coke for nothing since he “was a senator”. The twins spread his ashes on the third and fourth fairways and in the cup on hole five (Dick Tettleback’s ashes are in eleventh bunker). Joe went to the Racebrook Country Club from 1955-76 and died at age 68 in 1977.
Longtime member of the Yale Golf Course
Interviewed on October 19, 2004
Interview (48 mins)
Dan Smith learned to play golf as a caddy in 1930’s at Brooklawn. Typically, he would earn 75 cents for 18 holes. He caddied for Julius Boros and watched John D. Rockefeller play and give 5-cent tips. Smith went to Yale on a Beardsley Estate Scholarship from 1937 to 1941. He played the course 3-4 times per year, when there was “very little play of the course.” His first year of Alumni membership in the 1960’s cost him $75.
The most notable changes in the course for Dan are the improvements in “general conditioning.” He also noted the removal of the bunker just over the creek on the left of #2, the 6th green’s change from a punchbowl to a crowned green, the 12th hole’s front bunker, the removal of the rock cliff across the pond in front of the #17 tee, and the removal of the bunker at the top of the second hill on #18.
He noted that the hill going up to the seventh green is called “Horse Hill” because a dead horse was buried there during construction.
First President of the Eli Club and first Yale Golf Club champion
Interviewed on October 5, 2004
Interview (53 mins)
John Schleicher was born and raised in New Haven and graduated from Colorado College in 1950 where he learned to play golf. He returned to N.H. and began caddying at the Yale golf course for $3-4 per round. He snuck on the course in the evening to play and was often ejected by the Perkins. Non-Yale members were encouraged in the 1950s, and he joined in 1953 for annual dues of $50. In 1955, a Yale Golf Club Association (also known as te Eli Club) was formed with 51 members (mostly non-Yale affiliated); the numbes rose to 200 by 1980. Schliecher was the first president, and Dick Tettleback was president for the last 25 years.
The first Eli Club tournaments were the member-member, member-guest, and club championship events in 1956. Schleicher himself won this first club championship (30 years after the course opened!), with little play except the men’s golf team. Players used water from wells and hand pumps at # 2,4,5,6,11, and 13. The clubhouse had shop, locker room & lunchroom, and the fireplace served both shop and locker room. In 1980’s non-Yale members were restricted.
His best score here was a 66, he played to a 1-2 handicap and he had holes-in-one on #5 and #15. He remembers watching Ed Sullivan & Cary Middlecoff play the course. Longest member of club that he knew was Moe Decker.
He invented, patented and now distributes a devise to paint the inside of hole cup white, to speed up play and for the PGA to show up on TV.
ROGER G. RULEWICH
Golf course architect and designer of the recent bunker repair and restoration project
Interviewed on March 15, 2005
Interview (43 mins)
Mr. Rulewich arrived at Yale as a student in 1954 having never before played golf. After being challenged by his roommates to play, he became “hooked on the game” and found the “beautiful” course to be a “retreat. He often rode his bicycle out to the course to play (at the $1 greens fee) or just to walk.
He has continued to be a member since his graduation in 1958. As a civil engineer he went to work for a large New York engineering firm, but after three years he wanted to pursue his interest in architecture. He used the alumni job placement services and was offered a job with the golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, whom he thought was an architect of buildings. Thus he learned on the job, where he remained for 34 years until Jones retired. Mr. Rulewich often went to the Masters and to the sites of PGA US Open, as well as several extended trips to England, Scotland and Ireland. He has also returned to play Yale regularly from New York City and New Jersey.
Over the years, he has noted few changes in the course aside from some tee expansion, the changes to the twelfth bunker, and the modification of the cliff in front of the seventeenth tee. Approximately ten years ago he was hired to plan and supervise the repair of all existing bunkers (there had been no new sand added in more than 30 years) and to restore a number of bunkers that had been removed. He performed a lot of research using old aerial photos, construction photos and material from old brochures and topographic maps. He never saw a drawing of Raynor’s 36 hole plans. His plan was to restore bunkers to their original specifications while consistent with modern maintenance practices, especially those on # 2, 12, 13, & 17. The bunkers on holes 10 and 18 were not restored.
In his view the things still to be done are: improve the practice facility (possibly on right side of entrance road behind ninth green), improve cart paths (even though this course should have none), relocate the maintenance facility so that access doesn’t impinge on play, and to expand the clubhouse and parking. To the question of whether there is room for another 18 holes on the property, he answers no. In fact, “it is amazing that the course could be built on this property in the 1920’s, given the equipment available and the terrain, ledge and wetlands.” Today it would cost at least $10,000,000 [$400,000 1925 dollars] to build and probably couldn’t be built because of “environmental constraints.”
Interviewed on November 11, 2004 [conducted by telephone by John Godley]
Interview (7 mins)
Mrs. Resnik is the second wife of Burt Resnik (class of 1934), who played on the golf teams that won the national USGA intercollegiate championships in 1931, 1932, and 1933. Before his death, Mr. Resnik gave money so that new short tees could be built on the seventh, eighth, and eighteenth holes. This is commemorated by a brass plaque at the seventh hole tee box.
Course superintendent Interviewed on September 7, 2004
Interview (44 mins)
Scott Ramsay arrived at Yale in the fall of 2003 from the Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, MA (which he was preparing as the site for the 2004 USGA Woman’s Open) with 20 years experience as a superintendent.
Scott’s father was in the landscaping business, while his father-in-law worked as a golf course superintendent at the same course for more than 40 years. Scott is himself a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a degree in golf course management, and he has worked as a superintendent at courses in Westchester County, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, as well as serving as a regional manager for the Arnold Palmer Management Company.
From his first visit in 1986, Scott was attracted to Yale, describing it as “unique, angular, with complex routing and big greens on a grand scale, having a great tradition and being part of a university.”
When he first arrived at Yale, the union staff had just gone on strike so Scott used coaches, administrators, and members to maintain the course for several weeks. Since then he has improved union management relations; after only one year he had a staff triple the size of that when he arrived. His staff consists of permanent full time, full time seasonal, and part time seasonal (dinning hall staff and students) employees, with 16-20 employed at the peak. With this staff and new equipment, the greens can be cut daily and the fairways groomed every 2-3 days before play begins.
With the completion of the bunker renovation/restoration project, drainage problems have been corrected and a long range tree removal program around tees, greens and along fairways has begun. Scott has begun to reclaim green edges, resulting in several “false fronts,” and he hopes to restore the “double punch bowl” green on the third hole. This is all part of his desire to reclaim, preserve and restore this great course that is so well “designed for match play.”
Second Interview (February 13, 2007) 41 mins.
On February 23, 2007, Scott Ramsay was named the 2006 Golf Course Superintendent of the Year.
In the 2-½ years since his first interview Scott has not changed his view of those features of the course that first attracted him i.e. “angular, complex routing and greens, unique, on a grand scale”. Almost ever month he discovers something that had been hidden and adds to its unique character. During this time the course has moved up in ranking by Golf Digest from not listed at all, to 60th and now 45th of the 100 Classic Courses in America.
When Scott arrived in 2003 the union was on strike. When the crew returned to work he told them that his goal was for this to be the “best work unit on campus”. That goal seems to have been realized since he was just informed that the entire golf course mntainence crew would be the honorees for the 2007 Yale Golf Classic. The 2006 honoree was David Swenson the celebrated manager of the Yale endowments.
Bunker restoration and renovation had been completed when he arrived. The drainage improvement program had just begun and now is about one-half completed. It started with the worst areas i.e. hole # 7 and # 11. Drainage of # 2 and # 6 has been delayed for 18 months because of weather conditions, but is due to start in March 2007. The 4th fairway is going to be raised, as much as 13 inches in the landing area near the pond. Topsoil for this job became available when it was removed from the soccer field and replaced with artificial turf. New drainage will then be installed. The program will be completed when holes 10, 14, 15, and 16 are done next year. Our crew, mainly to deal with cart path runoff on holes # 1, 4, 8, 16 & 18, has built dry wells there.
Approximately 2,500 trees have been removed Since Scott became superintendent. The first reason for this was safety. Rotting trees, many of the “widow maker” variety, were falling at the gate, over carts paths and tees. For example, during a tournament, a 100-foot tall Tulip tree fell across the 15th cart path and tee. Trees were removed to improve air circulation at tees and greens and to improve turf everywhere with more sunlight. These were trees that had grown into areas where they had first been cut down to build the course over 80 years ago. Scott is now pruning and managing “specimen trees” such as the Dawn Redwoods on holes # 6, 10, and 18. These trees like the swampy areas found there and were planted by the forestry school many years ago.
Green edges are being reclaimed. The greens were originally built by “capping the area of the planned green with green-mix”. That was a combination of “glacial sand and muck” found on-site, mixed and transported to the planned green by horse drawn cart. Because of their unique composition they drain off the surface, rather then through the soil. Scott can now use a “soil profile probe” to see where the edges of the original greens were and restore them accordingly. Two “plug nurseries” have been established using the plugs from aeration. This soil can then be used when an area of a green needs to be resoded.
Scott then talked about specific improvements hole by hole.
Hole # 1 “is a great start”. The fairway has been widened and extended around the left front bunker all the way to the left side of the green. The widened fairway brings into play the effect of balls repelling off the sloping fairway, increasing the difficulty of the hole. Photographs have shown that left front bunker wall at the green used to be higher, hiding the left front of the green. Scott would like to restore this feature.
Hole # 2 the fairway has been widened to “reclaim the grandeur of the hole”. On this short par four the widening the fairway has the effect of increasing the difficulty. Now long drives can run over the hill on the left or repel off the mound on the right.
Hole # 3 has not been changed. But the green had been changed from the original large “double punchbowl” configuration and Scott would like to see it restored. Also, the cart path near the green is often a problem in tournament rulings. He wondered about eliminating the cart path and making the area from the old bunker to the green and along the lake a waste area that could also be the cart path.
Hole # 4 has been “opened up by removing trees right and left to restore its line of charm”. By that he means to charm the player into taking a line of more risk than he normally would. Here that means trying to shorten distance by challenging the pond on the right.
Hole # 5 has been widened by the removal of trees. Even so, from the long tee the front bunker is not seen because of the native grasses.
Hole # 6 by confining the hazard on the left of the dogleg to the open watercourse, rather than the entire area from fairway to woods, Scott has encourage the player to risk going to that side [the line of charm].
Hole # 7 the fairway has been extended all the way up Horse Hill to the green and the green edge extended in front. This brings new meaning and danger to a “false front”.
Hole # 8 next year trees will be cleared on the left restoring the “Cape” effect to the hole and giving the player more choices and potentially more trouble. More green has been added in front and in the right front “kick space” area , increasing the green from 14,000 to 19,000 sq. ft.
Hole # 9 removal of trees behind the tee and right, left and behind the green has improved the turf everywhere.
Hole # 10 is in need of drainage and tree removal planned for 2008 on the left and behind the green [east]
Hole # 11 has tree removal on the left [east], especially in the landing area, planned for 2008. Trees behind the green have been removed which returns the 1926 look and makes judging distance for the second shot more difficult. This presents more problems for the long hitter who drives close to the green.
Hole # 12 trees have been cleared both right and left, again returning it to the 1926 look. Here too fairway has been extended toward and now will be all the way to the green [as had been done on # 1].
Hole # 13 Trees are currently being removed on the left and behind the green.
Hole # 14 Trees have been removed on the right at the dogleg as seen in the 1925 construction photographs. Now 6 trees on the right side [east] of the green will be removed. Early morning photographs in 1926 shows no shadows there i.e. no trees then. Their removal will enhance the dogleg right effect.
Hole # 15 has added fairway by tree removal.
Hole # 16 fairway has been widened by tree removal; i.e. increases from 22 to 27 acres
Hole # 17 native grass [fescue] has been cut back right and left to widen the fairway in the landing area and also closer to the tee to shorten the drive needed to reach the fairway. The fairway has been extended around the “Principles Nose” and Scott plans to keep the grass on the Nose cut short.
Hole # 18 here can be seen the most dramatic results of tree removal, attention to specimen trees (such as the Dawn Redwoods on # 10 and # 18), and eliminating penal native grass. Now the player has wide-open areas for both 1st and 2nd shots. There are now multiple options for club selection and direction of play. Scott will keep the grass cut short on the side of the hill in the 2nd shot landing area i.e. there will be two fairways to play to. With new irrigation and extension of the lower fairway to the new tree line, 18 should now being getting praise rather than the complaints of the past.
Scott has brought the course to a new level, one that has brought its rating to the # 1 university course in America. His professional colleagues have recognized his work by naming him Golf Course Superintendent of the Year – 2006. But, he says “there is still a long way to go, with tree removal and improved drainage and then dealing with the improved turf that will result.