William H. “Widdy” Neale, Jr.
Athletics Department administrator and coach
When you play the ninth “Biarritz” hole, you will notice that it is dedicated to Widdy Neale. After the round, if you visit the clubhouse dining room, you will be eating at Widdy’s. So who was Widdy Neale?
William H. Neale, Jr., (Class of 1925 S), the youngest of six children, was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia at the turn of the twentieth century. He got his nickname as a youngster because he was “iddy-widdy” compared to his brother Earle “Greasy” Neale, who was nine years older. Greasy became the professional athlete, Widdy the amateur. Greasy is in the National Foundation Football and the Professional Football Halls of Fame; Widdy is in the Connecticut State Golf Association Hall of Fame.
At Parkersburg High School Widdy starred in football, baseball, basketball, and track. The football team was the state champions in 1916 and 1918, and he was named to the all-state team as quarterback in 1916 and halfback in 1917 and 1918. He did the same at Yale, but it took a while to get there. He entered West Virginia University and played varsity football as a freshman in 1919. He wanted to be a coach like his older brother Greasy, who coached at Washington & Jefferson College, at Yale, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Neale and his brother thought his chances of landing a good college coaching position would be enhanced by a Yale degree. The Yale admissions committee was not impressed by his course of study in agriculture and horticulture at West Virginia University and turned him down. He then asked the committee to consider a delayed transfer. He would attend Marietta College for a year, not play any sports, get straight A’s, pass any entrance exam the committee chose, and then be allowed to transfer. The committee agreed, and Neale went to Marietta and then passed the French entrance exam that the committee chose for him. In 1922 he was playing halfback on the Yale team before 50-80,000 fans in the eight-year-old Yale Bowl. The 1923 team, with Widdy and six other transfers, went untied and undefeated against the usual Ivy opponents, as well as North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Army. Widdy also starred in baseball and basketball until his eligibility ran out. He graduated in the 1925 S class, married his high school sweetheart, and went to work.
Neale took a position in the Firestone Rubber Company management-training program. After three years, he was called back to Parkersburg; his father was ill and he was needed to manage the family hay and grain business. His father recovered and he joined an investment firm. However this was 1929 and, with a wife and son to support, not the best time to enter the investment business. By 1932, Widdy had lost his home and moved his family to a boarding house. Then his luck turned. Yale was just starting its residential college system in 1933 and wanted an inter-college (that is, intramural) athletic program. The Athletics Department called Widdy Neale to plan and manage the program.
From 1933 until 1969, Widdy ran the intramural program, and it became the standard by which other college programs were judged. He did get to become a Yale coach. He was the freshman football coach from 1934 until 1941, and the tennis coach from 1943 until 1945. He coached the National Intercollegiate Champion golf team in 1943 and the Eastern Intercollegiate Golf Association champion team in 1954.
In 1952 Neale took on a second job as business manager of the Athletic Association when Bill Perkins died unexpectedly. One of his responsibilities was to manage the golf course, which he embraced enthusiastically. Neale had discovered golf and the Yale Golf Course when he returned to Yale in 1933. He became a very good player and won the Connecticut State Golf Association Senior championship in 1946, 1947, and 1955. At age sixty-eight he still had a five-handicap. Neale was the longtime Executive Director of the csga (1946-1985). He succeeded none other than Robert D. Pryde, who had served from 1899 to 1946.
During his forty-seven-year association with the Yale Golf Course, many important tournaments were held and many prominent people played the course. Nothing exemplifies Widdy’s respect for the course more than the story of the most prominent person who did notplay the course. In 1956 Widdy received a call from the White House. President Eisenhower wanted to play Yale but he had doctor’s orders to use a golf cart. Widdy informed the President’s representative that there were no cart paths, and that Yale golfers walked the course. Eisenhower would have to make do with Augusta National.
In 1969 Widdy Neale retired as intramural director and business manager of the Athletic Association, but he continued as csga executive director and assumed the position as Yale’s Director of Golf. He yielded the directorship to David Paterson in 1976 but remained at the csga until his last year, 1985. For a good part of the twentieth-century, Widdy Neale was “Mr. Amateur Golf” in Connecticut. He was the “court of last resort” for rules questions. In 1954, the William “Widdy” Neale Scholarship Fund was established by the csga. By 2006, 460 caddies and other golf club workers had received $2.1 million for their college education. In 1976, Yale dedicated the famous ninth hole to him, and his name now graces the dining room in the clubhouse.