The Man Who Invented the Yardage Book

Deane Beman won the U.S. Amateur twice and the British Amateur once, and between 1969 and 1973 he won four times on the PGA Tour.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13: Golf: US Amateur Open, Closeup of Deane Beman victorious with trophy at Wakonda Club, Des Moines, IA 9/13/1963 (Photo by Lee Balterman/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (SetNumber: X17644)

Beman and the trophy for the 1963 U.S. Amateur. Photo by Lee Balterman/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

He became the tour’s commissioner in 1974, and he built the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass—where the Players Championship, the fifth major, will be held next month, and which you can read about in my column in the current issue of Golf Digest—and he is largely responsible for transforming the tour into a robust modern enterprise. He was also the first player to methodically measure and record key yardages on the golf courses he played, beginning in 1954, when he was still a junior:


Beman’s homemade yardage guide for the 1954 U. S. Jaycee Junior Tournament, which was held on the golf course of the University of New Mexico.

“I’d pace off the golf course during a practice round, and make notes on a scorecard,” he told me recently. “It was quite unsophisticated, but pretty effective. Doing that was a little more difficult back then, because golf courses had single-row irrigation, so there weren’t as many sprinkler heads as you have today. I used trees and bunkers and things like that. A championship course usually had bunkering in the landing areas, and I could use either the front or the back of a bunker as my mark to the front of the green. And then I’d measure the green.”

Beman's front-nine notes from the 1958 U. S. Open, at Southern Hills. The circled numbers are green depths.

Beman’s front-nine notes from the 1958 U. S. Open, at Southern Hills. The circled numbers are green depths.

“I played a lot of golf with Jack Nicklaus when we were amateurs, and he would laugh when I pulled out my card,” Beman continued. “But then he got married to the idea. The first time Jack copied what I did was at Pebble Beach, for the 1961 U. S. Amateur.” Nicklaus himself said later, “I was playing a practice round with Deane in 1961 and he said, ‘Why don’t you try it one time, just walk off the golf course?'” He did, and blew away Dudley Wysong in the final. “After that,” Beman continued, “I don’t think Jack ever played a round without having the ability to really, really know the length of any shot he was facing.”

Beman's notes from Colonial, in 1960.

Beman’s notes from Colonial, in 1960.

“Now, I will say this,” Beman went on. “I was not a popular guy with caddies, because I required them to go walk the golf course before every round, and pace off every pin position. I had my yardages to the front of the green, and I knew how deep the green was, so I would give my caddie a pad on which I had marked the dimensions. I wanted to know how deep the pin was that day, and he would pace that off. Nobody had any pin sheets in those days—but I did.”

Beman's notes for the 1959 Masters.

Beman’s notes for the 1959 Masters.

Nowadays, tour players and their caddies carry extraordinarily sophisticated yardage books, which contain not just distances but also topographical details, and even lousy golfers can determine the length of just about any shot within a few feet, if they own a laser rangefinder. But players at all levels were skeptical at first, and Beman’s idea didn’t really catch on until the 1970s. Arnold Palmer, among many others, though it was dumb. Ha!

Beman's notes for Pinehurst No. 2.

Beman’s notes for Pinehurst No. 2.

“My notes became much more sophisticated once I turned professional,” Beman said. He saved those scorecards, too — but the ones in the photos above show how it all began.


The Day I T-Boned the Mercedes of the President of Pine Valley

Ernie Ransome, No. 18 tee, Pine Valley Golf Club.

Ernie Ransome, eighteenth hole, Pine Valley Golf Club.

Ernie Ransome, shown above, was the president of Pine Valley Golf Club from 1977 until 1988, and Pine Valley, as you surely know, is one of the two or three best golf courses in the world. Ransome died this year, and Jerry Tarde, the editor-in-chief of Golf Digest, wrote an essay in which he described Ransome, affectionately, as the club’s “all-powerful dictator.” He recalled that Ransome “presided over annual meetings that took no more than six minutes as, for example, the club treasurer would report, ‘I have not seen the financials, but I’m told income exceeds expenditures.’ At which point, Ransome would interrupt, ‘All in favor of the budget submitted by the treasurer, say, ‘Aye.’ All opposed, say, ‘I resign.'” Clifford Roberts, the legendarily gruff co-founder of Augusta National, would have approved. When Roberts, at a meeting of the club’s governors, asked Charles Yates, the board’s secretary, whether he had the minutes, Yates asked, “Do you mean last year’s, this year’s, or next year’s?”.

Clifford Roberts, the archetype of the golf-club benevolent dictator.

Clifford Roberts, the original golf-club benevolent dictator.

I’ve been lucky, over the years, to play quite a few rounds at Pine Valley. One day in 2001, while I was visiting as the guest of a man who, at the time, was also a member of my nine-hole home club, I set out in my car for the club’s driving range, to hit a few balls before our group teed off. At the little intersection nearest the clubhouse, I nosed out a few feet past the stop sign and, when I did, crashed into a Mercedes, which was coming down the hill from the right. Luckily, I recognized the driver as Ransome, and apologized profusely, even though I wasn’t certain the crash had been my fault. A maintenance cart with a trailer attached to it was parked across the intersection, and Ransome, in order to avoid it, had been driving on the wrong side of the road. He had also been driving quite fast. At any rate, he said that he was late for a doctor’s appointment, and asked me to let Lenny Ward, the club’s caddie master, know what had happened. I did, and when I met with Ransome that afternoon I told him to simply send me the repair bill. And that’s what he did.

Ransome Letter

The bodywork had been done at a dealership in Delaware owned by Buddy Marucci, a Pine Valley member and Tiger Woods’s opponent in the extraordinary final match of the 1995 U.S. Amateur.

marucci bill

I happily paid the bill, and I didn’t make an insurance claim, because I didn’t want an adjuster to take a position that might upset Ransome and, as a consequence, make life unpleasant for the member who had been my host. I decided to think of the $2,889.20 as a retroactive surcharge for all the rounds I had played at Pine Valley over the years, and when I divided it by that number it didn’t seem onerous.

Owen letter

Here’s another Ransome story from Jerry Tarde’s tribute:

One day as Ransome was approaching his ball on 11, a golfer hit a particularly bad drive off 16 and, reacting viscerally, winged his club into the sandy waste in front of the tee. Ransome, with hands on hips, did what might be described as a slow burn in the fairway, which caught the eye of the angry golfer still standing on the tee. “We. . .don’t. . .throw. . .clubs. . .at Pine Valley,” Ransome finally boomed.

“I’m the member in this group,” yelled back the angry golfer. “Who the [expletive] are you?!”

To which, Ransome immediately replied: “Not anymore you aren’t.” Then, to the caddies: “Boys, take the bags in.”

You see, that’s what I wanted to avoid.

Ransome played lacrosse at Princeton. That's him in the center in 1946.

Ransome played lacrosse at Princeton. That’s him, in the center, in 1946.

Reader’s Trip Report: 19-Year-Old Son in the U.S. Amateur

Francis Ouimet's childhood home, across from the seventeenth hole at The Country Club. All photos by Bob McIver.

Francis Ouimet’s childhood home, across from the seventeenth green at the Country Club. All photos by Bob McIver.

Bob McIver, a reader and an executive of a small air-services company in Montana, attended the recent U.S. Amateur, in Boston. He went because his son, Brandon, who plays for the University of Oregon, was a competitor. Brandon had qualified by shooting 65-70 at Old Works Golf Club, Anaconda, Montana, the month before. (The 65 was a course record.)  Bob McIver writes:

The event was held at the Country Club, in Brookline, and Charles River Country Club, in Newton. The differences in their setup was stark. Charles River is a Donald Ross course, built in 1921. The fairways were wide, sometimes fifty or sixty yards; the greens were very large, with big undulations; and the greenside bunkers were nicely trimmed. One volunteer, a member, told me it was playing the way it does for members: rough not too long, greens about 11 on the Stimpmeter, fairways as wide as they normally are.

Brandon McIver, Charles River Country Club, No. 17/

Brandon McIver, Charles River Country Club, No. 17.

By contrast, the Country Club was unruly: fairways about thirty yards wide; first cut of rough just two yards wide; primary rough very thick and very lush. Brown, knee-high grass came into play around the greenside bunkers and some fairways. The greens were tiny, perhaps only a third the size of those at Charles River. They didn’t have much undulation, but many were steeply pitched from back to front or side to side. The back quarter of No. 18 could’t accept a hole location, because of the slope. An employee told me that many members had quit playing several weeks back because the U.S.G.A. setup was just too tough.

Greenside bunker, No. 18, The Country Club. That's Brandon in the sand.

Greenside bunker, No. 18, the Country Club. That’s Brandon in the sand.

The event itself resembled a very large college tournament: lots of young bucks running around with college-logo golf bags and very nice golf swings.

US am

Perhaps most impressive were the the Country Club’s facilities. I counted fifteen separate buildings in an aerial photo, including a clubhouse, horse stables (U.S.G.A. headquarters of the event), swimming pool, warming house for ice-skating, skeet-shooting facility (the range is over the first fairway, and is presumably used only when the course is closed), golf shop, men’s locker room, a museum building, and several others. It looked more like a compound than a country club.

Second green, The Country Club.

Second green, The Country Club.

Brandon shot 71-78, and missed match play by five shots. “After that, he decided it wasn’t so fun anymore,” his father told me, “so I sucked up some airline travel penalties and we came home early.” Next year!

Memorable Golfers: The Strafaci Family

Michael Strafaci, possibly at Doral, where he became the director of golf in 1960.

Frank Strafaci, probably at Doral, where he became the director of golf in 1960.

On Sunday, seven of my friends and I left home at 4:30 a.m. so that we could drive to Brooklyn in time to play Dyker Beach Golf Course with members of Shore View Golf Club. I’ve written about Dyker and Shore View a couple of times recently, and I’ll have more to say about them in an upcoming Golf Digest column.

During our round at Dyker, I learned about the Strafacis, a historically significant Brooklyn golf family, and today I learned more. There were five Strafaci brothers, all talented players. The most accomplished was Frank, who won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship (on the thirty-seventh hole) in 1935, when he was nineteen. (He was described by the Brooklyn Eagle as “curly-haired little Frankie Strafaci.”) He finished ninth in the 1937 U.S. Open, ahead of Gene Sarazen, Jimmy Demaret, and Byron Nelson, among others, and that performance earned him an invitation to the 1938 Masters, from which he withdrew after three rounds. He was playing poorly and the tournament had been delayed by rain, and he knew that if he stayed for the fourth round he wouldn’t be able to qualify for the North and South Amateur—which he then won, both that year and the next.

Frank Strafaci and Bobby Dunkleberger, following the former's defeat of the latter on the thirty-sixth hole of the 1939 North and South, Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Frank Strafaci and Bobby Dunkleberger, following the former’s defeat of the latter on the thirty-sixth hole of the final match of the 1939 North and South, Pinehurst, North Carolina.

During the Second World War, Strafaci was a technical sergeant in the Army’s DUKW Command, which handled amphibious transport. He took part in the Battle of the Philippines, in 1944, and on the second day was pinned behind a tree by Japanese snipers. Shortly afterward, he described the experience in a letter to Morton Bogue, the president of the U.S.G.A.:

I couldn’t see them and so I held my fire, and it was at this time that I got to thinking  of the five foot putt I had to make to tie the 8th hole in an exhibition golf match played in Brisbane only a few weeks ago (Captain Bud Ward came down from Dutch New Guinea for five days, and I arranged a match for the benefit of the Australian Red Cross, which we lost 3-2). Our opponents, Alex College and Dick Coogan, played a bit too good for us. I thought of what a tough spot we would have been in if I missed the putt. I can assure you I’ll never try hard for another putt for as long as I live, at least it won’t seem like trying. 

The U.S.G.A. had sent a shipment of golf balls to the Red Cross in Australia, as a morale-booster, and Strafaci thanked Bogue. He also wrote:

[When] I get back to the States I hope to present the USGA with a golf ball that has already traveled over 43,000 miles and been used for 52 rounds of golf. It was used in America, Australia, Dutch New Guinea, I expect soon to use it in the Philippines, China and Japan. I used it for the first time at my club Sound View, and from there it went to Omaha, back to Sound View then to Frisco, Adelaide, Australia, Melbourne, Townsville, Cairns, Sydney, Cairns, Brisbane, Cairns, Brisbane, Dutch New Guinea (I didn’t have a club, I batted it around with a club made out of a branch.)

Dan Hubbard, who works in the communications department of the U.S.G.A. and, as it happens, is a member of my club, told me in an email: “We do not have a record of a golf ball coming in from Frank Strafaci, but we do have a five-peso bill issued by the Japanese government from the Philippines which he sent to Morton Bogue from Leyte in April of 1945.” Strafaci’s inspiration for his long-distance ball stunt may have been a series of cartoons in 1936 by Frank King, in his syndicated strip Gasoline Alley. In that series, Doc sets out to play a golf ball from San Francisco to New York—and in the strip below he’s nearing his goal:

Blog Photos1

In subsequent installments, Doc “breaks 80” between the post office and the East River, and finishes with a transcontinental score of 14,197. (In 1927, according to the book Golf in the Comic Strips, “a plumber and golfer by the name of Joe Grahame set out to achieve the same goal. He disappeared somewhere in the middle of Texas.”)

Strafaci played in a second Masters, in 1950, and he lost to Arnold Palmer on the eighteenth hole in the first match-play round in the 1954 U.S. Amateur. Palmer, who went on to win (and then to turn pro), said his match with Strafaci had been his toughest in the tournament. Strafaci became the director of golf at Doral in 1960, and named the Blue Monster. He died in 1988.

Frank’s father, Joseph Strafaci, owned a small farm that included the site now occupied by the Dyker clubhouse. Frank’s brother Thomas, and Thomas’s son Thomas, Jr., served as Dyker’s head professionals from 1958 until 1983. Frank’s grandnephew Paul is a recent past president of Shore View—the fifth Strafaci to hold that position—and a highly decorated New York City detective. Paul and a brother—another Frank—were members of the golf team at St. John’s University in the nineteen-eighties. And Jill Strafaci, who is the wife of Paul’s cousin Frank (the son of the one who tested Arnold Palmer), was a star golfer at the University of Florida and, later, an executive in the Miami Dolphins organization. Her husband was an executive of the Florida State Golf Association and is now a member of its advisory board.

The fivesome in the photo below—which was taken in Queens in 1936, possibly at Oakland Golf Club, which was redesigned Seth Raynor in 1915 but buried by expressways in 1952 and 1960—consists of the five Strafaci brothers. From left to right they are Thomas, Dominick, Pasquale, Ralph, and Frank.