U.S. Golf Started on a Cow Pasture

Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open. Public Domain

Originally published on September 4, 2013

This month, one hundred years ago, a game of golf changed the sport forever. Taking on two of the topseeded players in the world, an unassuming 20-year-old beat all odds to win the 1913 U.S. Open.

But who was Francis Ouimet — and why isn’t he as well-known as Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan or Tiger Woods? It has a lot to do with the man, who was humble to a fault.

Award-winning Golf Channel writer Mercer Baggs took a closer look at one of the most influential players in the history of the game.

“When I started doing my research, I didn’t think that I was really going to have an opportunity to meet anyone who actually knew Francis Ouimet,” Baggs said.

He got more than he bargained for: Baggs was surprised to discover that one of Ouimet’s daughters, Barbara McLean, was still alive. The spry 92-year-old remembered her father as anything but “famous.”

“Dad didn’t like talking about himself and the things that he did,” McLean told Baggs.

Francis Ouimet was a family man. When he came home, he was just “Dad.” He did chores around the house, picked the kids up from school and played with them.

Francis Ouimet came from meager means, but that didn’t prevent him from loving golf. In his case, it all came down to location, location, location. The house in which he was raised sat opposite the 17th hole at the Country Club, the now-famed golf course in Brookline, Mass.

“He could literally walk straight ahead […] from his house and right onto the course,” Baggs says. “The proximity is astounding.”

There was more to the Ouimet family’s house than just the location, Baggs notes. “Their backyard was a cow pasture, and Francis and his brother created a three-hole course. They were able to practice shots, and that gave [Ouimet] the practice he needed.”

According to Baggs, Ouimet’s U.S. Open win showed the casual golfer that anyone could play the game. “If this kid who is a caddy can walk from his home across the street [to the Country Club in Boston] and compete with the greatest players in the world of their time — Ted Ray and Harry Vardon — and beat them, then I can do it too.”

The 1913 U.S. Open game inspired others to take up the sport. Golf greats such as Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen took inspiration from Ouimet’s win.

In researching Francis Ouimet, Baggs discovered the athlete was humble to a fault. Not even his autobiography reveals much about the man behind the historic U.S. Open win.

“If you didn’t know who [Ouimet] was, then you weren’t going to find out, because he wasn’t going to tell you,” Baggs says.

“Francis Oiumet never believed that golf was a profession. Even though he could have easily made a living off of it, it wasn’t the way he was brought up,” Baggs says. “He didn’t play the game for money. He played because he loved the game.”

Given his appreciation for Ouimet’s impact on the rise of golf in the U.S., you might expect Baggs to place him at the top of his list of all-time greatest golfers. Not so.

“My father was a huge Jack Nicklaus fan,” Baggs says. “I would think of him as the greatest player of all time, just based on how much my father appreciated him.”

You can read Mercer Baggs’ fascinating account of Francis Ouimet here.