The only trouble with the 1954 golf season was that too many of the game's finest men passed away. Bob Harlow, for one, died in mid-November at the age of 65 in Pinehurst, his adopted home town. He was a first-rate man, and golf was fortunate that circumstances led him to spend almost all of his life within the game—for the last seven years as the editor of Golf World, a weekly magazine which no one thought would ever last out its first year and which thereupon grew steadily in circulation year by year until today its subscribers reside in every state of our country, every province in Canada, and in sixty foreign countries. Golf World was successful because it had the chatty, everybody-here-knows-everybody-else flavor of a home town newspaper. It had that flavor because Bob Harlow was a hopelessly friendly and companionable man. "I always came away from him stimulated mentally by his opinions and refreshed by the honesty of his purpose," Dick Tufts, his fellow townsman, recently said of Bob. "We enjoyed a good controversy but no matter how we might disagree, I always benefited from his viewpoint and parted company more his loyal friend than ever."
SOMETHING NEW IN GOLF
Robert Elsing Harlow first became a conspicuous figure in golf in 1921 when he became Walter Hagen's manager. Thirty-two at the time, the son of a Congregational minister, he had been born in Newburyport, Mass., educated at Exeter and Penn, and had gravitated into journalism first as a reporter for the wire services and then as a sports writer for the old New York Tribune. Hagen's annual tours, with Harlow at the helm, were something entirely new in golf. Earlier tourists, like Vardon and Ray, had pretty much confined their itineraries to the well-established clubs around Chicago and up and down the Atlantic Coast. Hagen exhausted these old oases early. Then Walter and his favorite barnstorming partner, Joe Kirkwood, roved all over the country opening up the "wilderness," the Lewis and Clark of golf with Harlow their Sacajawea, punching their spade-mashies in one-day stands in the most unlikely hamlets and leaving behind them a new and permanently aroused interest in the game. "The length of our forays depended almost solely on the condition of Hagen's wardrobe," Harlow remarked not long ago. "You couldn't get overnight laundry service and there was a limit to the number of fresh silk shorts Walter could pack."
Then they expanded their tours and spread the gospel to all the other continents. Even today, when a junketing pro visits some remote corner of the globe and thinks he is the first big-name golfer to display his wares for the edification, let us say, of the members of the Iquique Country Club, he usually discovers that the 65 he shoots is not the course record. Hagen, he learns, got around in 63 back in nineteen-twenty-umph.
December 13, 1954
After nine years of roving with Hagen, Bob Harlow moved up and for the next five years served as the manager of the PGA's tournament bureau. This was hardly a more sedentary life, for what it involved, in core, was visualizing and then establishing what we know today as "the winter circuit," the annual voluntary migration that the professional pack makes from January through April. As a result, Bob Harlow became the most widely known non-golfer in American golf. Each year, no matter where the current tournaments were being held, he had always been there before "back when you people had that yellow wooden clubhouse" and he often knew more about the rising regional stars than the local sports-writers—"Your father told me about you back when they were opening the second nine at the old Stoughton course. Has he still got that farm?" Bob used to think of himself as just a veteran golf reporter, but for thousands of people he came to be the integrating force who made the old-timers and the newcomers feel thoroughly at home in the ever-enlarging world of golf. There was no one at all like him.
When all is said and done, Bob was the influence he was because of the person he was. He really never lost the spring and appetite of youth. It was hard to keep up with his pace when you played golf with him, and he was the only man who could undress, take a shower, dress, call his wife, and write a postcard in something less than nine minutes. His range of appreciation in this day of sports specialists was enormous. He rarely visited New York, for example, without attending at least one opera. "Talk about Hogan!" he would enthuse. "Why, this new Italian basso...." He was continually stimulating because he always spoke his mind and his mind was his own. "Now that must be a darned pleasant way to live," I remember him saying once when he was leaving a party thrown by some friends who had been born millionaires. "But, you know, I wonder if they aren't missing one of the great satisfactions of life, the kick you get from earning your own living."
Bob Harlow, in short, was a very fine and enjoyable man. It is going to be strange for thousands of us to descend on a tournament and not see him there, because in swift jangle of the tournament atmosphere you were always a little out of focus until you bumped into Bob. Then you were at home.