The Middle Ages of Pinehurst

pg. 4

Part IV

Well, there you have it. The world’s most well run tournament terminated…the golfing dream world disassembled…and perhaps the world’s best player destroyed…a trio of dark chapters that were all largely authored by the same hand.

And so, what are we to make of this person? Was he a bad man?

Actually, he was not. Richard Tufts was merely human – which means even among the best and brightest there are facets of the character which are not as developed as the areas in which they are so gifted. In his case, as is not uncommon among leaders, it was not due to malice or bad intent but to a degree the result of a perspective which was limited in some areas. But he was not a bad man. He was what you would call a perfect gentleman with immaculate manners who was entirely dedicated to the game and to Pinehurst.  So what happened? How could this Harvard graduate, USGA president and third generation scion take such ill advised routes?

To answer these questions precisely is not entirely possible. However, it is possible to gather some measure of understanding by examining what we do know. And being a golfing story (as well as a general human story) of some significance it is a tale worth considering. It is through a review of how such real life dynamics played out that we move a little bit forward in understanding the world and ourselves with the hope that each successive generation can carry on slightly better than how the best efforts of the fine people of previous days played out.

What’s interesting is that concurrent with the latter stages of this era when Pinehurst lost its way is that a similar dynamic was being played out quite tragically on a much broader and much more important stage. Do you suppose Lyndon Johnson wanted things to go badly in Vietnam? Do you think Richard’s efforts were geared toward making Pinehurst a lesser place? Of course not. Those leaders and many others sat around those tables with their lieutenants and made the very best decisions in the very best way they knew how. It must have really broken them up to see such well intentioned and elaborate plans go so badly awry. These are fables which will continue to bear greatly as long as large scale ideas are put forth – as they must be. Perhaps the only silver lining is the knowledge extracted from prior generations. Leaders must actively consider broad initiatives from a number of viewpoints before committing the well being of organizations and people to a path which appears optimal but in fact leads to a regrettable state of affairs. Then again, second guessing can go on endlessly – so there must be a balance to their contemplations.

The North and South Open was terminated by Tufts largely due to a dispute with the touring pros regarding money – and unseemly behavior of some of the pros – during the 1951 episode in particular. The Tufts family could not have been more gracious to these pros since the inaugural event in 1902. However, by the middle of the century the professional tour had climbed its way out of a state where the pros had quite a challenge making ends meet to a proper American business enterprise. Ultimately, the pros became reluctant to participate in events which they believed did not show them the consideration they thought they had earned. But before they reached the tipping point there was a long, slow, steady path of increasing tension between the various factions of this narrative. And the mercenary aspect of the tour was in direct contrast to Tufts belief that the game was solely intended a recreation – in which “material considerations have no part”.

Needless to say, being from the third generation of a very wealthy family did not provide Richard with a profound understanding of individuals and families that had not yet established themselves on any lofty plane. In the United States the average income in 1950 was $2,992. Living in a world with this sort of severe economic limitation (which the majority of pros knew all too well) was entirely alien to the millionaire. It was a stark contrast that was not resolved.

Less than twenty years after the professional tournament ended the Tufts family was forced to sell the resort. Whether or not this could have been avoided by keeping the tournament going is a question worth considering. The state of California reaped an economic benefit of $142M in hosting the U.S. Open in 2008. Some projections have Wisconsin earning over $200M for the 2017 Open. Obviously, the earnings of many decades before are dramatically different. But never-the-less it does show the high degree of profitability which upper tier tournaments can bring. Retaining the annual North-South Open could have greatly benefited the economic health of the resort. It is difficult to say whether or not this could have prevented the resort from being sold – but it is likely that terminating the tournament was not a wise decision – economically or otherwise.

A similar dynamic may have been involved with the extreme re-arrangement of the courses. That is, while there may have been an immediate benefit in having an additional course, the long term economic status may have been compromised. The diminished quality of the courses led to many tourists choosing other resorts – of which there was an ever increasing number.

It is interesting that at the same time he was making the controversial decisions he was handling other aspects of his responsibilities in an exemplary manner. It is not small matter to run a large number of tournaments, manage a large resort and oversee the development of a sprawling design initiative. The lesson in this is perhaps that handling 360 degrees of responsibility well is not something which often occurs. It is not a rare thing to see an individual who is remarkably proficient – even brilliant – in one realm have profound deficiencies in another. The concentration level required to reach the heights in one area can often be accompanied by a neglect in other areas. The best of leaders are aware of this or at least have people around them who can offer the feedback necessary to keep the ship on course.

Returning to the North-South, there were other layers involved in the dismantling of the tournament. From very early days the resort “invested heavily in developing Pinehurst into a haven for a certain segment of America’s sporting enthusiasts – those with the necessary time, disposable wealth, and proper heritage.”

What the powers that be wanted in Pinehurst was a charming world of gentility. A lovely world is what they wanted and any elements which diminished or were perceived to diminish such were not only not wanted but prevented from casting shadows on their dreamy little world. Those not always so refined pros had some coarse members in their lot. The attendant gambling, drinking and all around dubious characters were not at all what many prominent families wished to have running around the village or the clubhouse or the courses.

That aspect is an old story that played out in many places in many ways. It was an entrenched social conflict with no easy resolution. Even to this day stories related to this dynamic play out and presumably will continue to.

So why did they have those rough riders come to town in the first place? It was largely a business matter. In order for the resort to attract visitors they needed notoriety. Getting these tournaments written up in all the newspapers brought enormous publicity which stimulated interest in visiting the resort.

“The North and South Golf Tournament is placed as nearly as possible at the end of the season. For twenty odd years it has been used to lengthen the season and especially to get publicity for the few remaining weeks that we are open. It is a question in my mind as to whether it has always operated in that way and whether it hasn’t possibly been considered as our final gasp for business—and when people say that the North and South is to be on a certain date they say that is the time everybody leaves Pinehurst. If the original idea is a success in lengthening the season we should give very careful thought to what we do with the prominent players for of course the more prominent the contestants the greater publicity we will get.” – Leonard Tufts (Richard’s father )

“For Tufts and Ross, the players, spectators, and the integrity of the matches were important but, still, secondary to business considerations. Once Tufts received commitments from a pair of famous golfers—the strategy was to generate interest in a competitive match—the resort would get free publicity from the nation’s network of sport writers who kept their readers abreast of golf matches between the leading amateurs and professionals. Also, having the best golfers at Pinehurst supposedly attracted visitors interested in associating with celebrities. Tufts and Ross often conferred about the benefits of these strategies.” – Larry R. Youngs

At first the resort owned and rented out the houses built in the village. After a number of years they began to sell the houses. As people became citizens rather than visitors they began to make certain demands.

“Just after James Tufts’s death, a group of men and women—many who became local property owners and Pinehurst’s most devoted commuters—began contesting Leonard Tufts’s escalating emphasis on nationally promoted tournaments. Both as avid golfers and as members of the resort’s seasonal community, they worried about issues of character, camaraderie, and the meaning of competition.” – Larry R. Youngs

The growing number of well heeled families who became citizens primary interest was in playing matches amongst themselves. Most were not at all keen to have a wandering herd of vagabonds tramping around their hallowed links. And they began to pressure the Tufts family regarding this matter.

So, there was pressure from a considerable number of prominent citizens along with pressure from the pros who demanded more money that lead to the termination of the tournament. It is not a simple matter and there were no doubt more aspects to the story. However, this should illustrate to some extent what led to the events of 1951.