It would take a long time to find a more suitable setting for the leisurely game of golf than Aiken, S.C. The town wears a cloak of sleepy southern indolence that the Northerner instinctively (and unjustifiably in these booming days) always associates with this area of palms and magnolias.
Golf, to be sure, is not Aiken's first sport, and, although the course at the Palmetto Golf Club is one of the country's oldest and most challenging, the annual invitational four-ball tournament played there several weeks ago for the Devereux Milburn Memorial Trophy is a Johnny-come-lately on the local sporting scene. In fact, this year's was only the fourth. By way of contrast the descendants of the rich Yankees who turned the town into a fashionable winter resort long before anyone thought of Palm Beach or Palm Springs were celebrating their 75th year of polo on the very day the golfers were beating around the pine-lined, azalea-scented 6,726-yard Palmetto layout on their final practice rounds.
The two hosts at the Aiken Invitational were—appropriately—a couple of Yankees who vacation there each winter. Hugo Rutherfurd, who issued the invitations, is a Colorado cattle farmer transplanted from New York. Bobby Knowles, who assigned the handicaps, is one of the leading amateurs in Massachusetts, the 1951 French Amateur Champion and a former member of the Walker Cup team. Their conception of the tournament, according to Knowles, is "to get a congenial bunch together for two days of golf. They don't have to be good golfers, but they have to like to play, and we want them to be fun off the course as well as on."
This year's gathering was a most heterogeneous convergence of pale-faced lawyers and brokers from New York and Boston, bronze-skinned winter residents from the spas of Florida, a Mr. Harry L. Crosby who specializes in singing and ranching in the Far West, his friend Phil Harris who also sings and acts, an oil lawyer from Dallas, a sugar planter from Louisiana. There were such familiar names from the financial, social and industrial centers as Schiff, Scheftel, Grace, Shevlin and Milburn Jr., as well as a few distinguished golfers such as Dick Chapman, former National Amateur champion, and Tommy Tailer, twice Metropolitan Amateur champion. In all, 92 players out of the 250 bidden answered the call to remote Aiken, putting 46 twosomes in contention for such modest prizes as silver cigaret cases, leather attaché cases and portable transistor radios.
There could not have been two more contrasting days for golf than the Monday and Tuesday of this tournament. One of the winter's farewell storms struck the early foursomes on Monday morning, and while the drab clothes and pale faces of the Northerners looked quite in setting with the drenching gale, it was a pity to see the racy togs of the Floridian visitors dimmed by plastic weatherproofing. Still, the gaudily striped umbrellas of each wet-and-chilled foursome lent some contrast to this darkling day. It was the sort of weather that distinguishes the golfer of substance from the lucky hacker, and those who survived the first two stormy hours without serious misfortune had proved their worth. Among them were Bing Crosby (5) and Vin Draddy (6), the sort of middle-handicap twosome that shows to advantage in best-ball medal play with handicap. But even their 5-under-par 66, the first part played entirely in the storm, had to yield to a remarkable 63 by Buzzie Scheftel (7) and John Schiff (18) and a pair of 64s by two other twosomes.
The second round, played in the pleasantest of southern sunshine with only gentle breezes, brought two extraordinary rounds of 62. One was by Dick Chapman (1) and his 15-year-old son Dixie (10) who hits the ball with nearly the same assurance as his father. Sinking two extraordinary chip shots, the last from some 40 feet out on the 18th, young Dixie was almost the hero of the day. He would have been were it not for Gusty Paine (11), playing with Host Rutherfurd (6). Paine, a young paper manufacturer from New York, suddenly ran into one of those hot streaks that all golfers dream of. Both days he was in the 70s, leading his team to a closing round of 62 (and 16 under par in 36 holes) for the cup and the cigaret cases. The Chapmans were second, Crosby and Draddy fourth.
Aiken was a tournament to be remembered only by those who were there, and as summer comes there will be a thousand like it: nothing for the records but the greatest of fun for those who appreciate the test of competitive golf in their own league.
"TIP FROM THE TOP" will resume as a weekly feature in the May 27 issue