FRANCIS OUIMET (1893-1967)
Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Amateur Championship at Ekwanok in 1914, the only USGA tournament ever played in the state of Vermont.
Francis Ouimet, sometimes referred to as the “father of amateur golf” in the United States, was born May 8, 1893 in Brookline, MA. When Francis was four years old, his parents, French-Canadian and Irish immigrants, purchased a small farmhouse directly across the street from the 17th hole of The Country Club, in Brookline, MA. Francis’s father worked as a gardener for several of the club’s wealthy members living nearby, but the Ouimet family was relatively poor at the time, and not in a position to engage in serious golf. Those were the years that golf was considered to be a sport for the elite and the elderly.
Francis, however, became interested in golf as a small child, finding stray golf balls near his home. Together with his brother, he laid out a crude, three-hole golf course in a cow pasture behind the Ouimet house. He taught himself the game, and he practiced on his course constantly during the years he caddied at the club, which started when he was 11.
When he became 16, Ouimet stopped being a caddie in order to preserve his amateur status, in accordance with a rule of the USGA then in effect. But he continued to play, practice and compete in local tournaments. In 1913, when it was announced that the U.S. Open would be held at The Country Club, a friend persuaded him to try for the title. Most people familiar with the history of golf know the rest of the story: Ouimet brought along a 10-year-old friend, Eddie Lowery, to be his caddie, he became one of the 49 qualifiers for the tournament, and after four days of play he ended up in a 3-way tie with two British golfers who were among the world’s best professional golfers at the time: Harry Vardon (winner of one U.S. Open and five Open Championships to that point) and Ted Ray (winner of the 1912 Open Championship). The following day, Ouimet won the tournament, beating Vardon and Ray by 5 and 6 strokes respectively!
Ouimet was the first amateur to win the Open, and his victory was front-page news across the country. Sometime later, golf historian Herbert Warren Wind described Ouimet’s victory as “the most important round of golf ever played.” Immediately after his victory, golf in America and throughout the world began to expand beyond the elite and the elderly, to become the popular sport that it is today for anyone interested in giving it a try.
At the time, however, the U.S. Open was not considered the hugely-important tournament that it is in the 21st century, and it did not rank on Ouimet’s list of ambitions as high as the U.S. Amateur Championship, a tournament he had long thought about trying to win. Ouimet had not thought he could beat Vardon or Ray for the Open Championship, but he did think he might one day win the U.S. Amateur. As Ouimet told Joe Looney of the Boston Herald in 1953, “Winning the Open was one thing, [but] winning the Amateur was the fulfillment of an ambition. The Open was a windfall. The Amateur was within reach, or so I thought.”
Ouimet achieved what he called his “greatest thrill” just one year after his Open victory. The 1914 Amateur was played at Ekwanok in September 1914. Ouimet came to Ekwanok several weeks after trying for fifth place in the defense of this Open title. At Ekwanok, he qualified one stroke behind the co-medalists, who included William C. Fownes, Jr., the 1910 U.S. Amateur champion. After that, Ouimet had to prevail in five match-pay events, which he did, including wins over four players who had won, or would win, U.S. Amateur titles. In the final, Ouimet defeated Jerry Travers, 6 and 5, then universally considered the game’s premier match-play competitor, and the Amateur title-holder from 1907, 1908, 1912 and 1913! A plaque on Ekwanok’s 13th tee marks the hole where Ouimet won the championship:
In an article for Golf Illustrated recalling his impressions of Ekwanok’s course, Ouimet wrote:
“I cannot begin to convey the pleasure and relief of getting on the rain-softened Ekwanok turf after having experienced so much of the baked surface character of turf in some previous competitions. It was simply great to bang a shot right at the pin and feel a nice piece of turf come with the iron, all without any particular forcing. The sixteenth and eighteenth holes I consider two of the finest finishing holes on any course that has come under my observation and the fifteenth has its merits almost equal. Those who took part in the tournament I am sure will agree with me that the 16th and 18th holes are two of the finest two shot holes to be found anywhere and the 2nd is right in their class.”
In his lifetime, Ouimet won a total of 27 tournaments, including a second U.S. Amateur victory in 1931. He was also on 12 Walker Cup teams; the United States prevailed in 11 of those matches. Ouimet was a player in nine of the matches, three as playing captain; for the other three matches he was the non-playing captain.
In 1951 Ouimet became the first non-Briton Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Only two other Americans later achieved that honor: Joe Dey and Bill Campbell.
In 1949 the Massachusetts Golf Association established the Ouimet Caddie Scholarship Fund at a dinner held in his honor and raised over $40,000 in its first year. The scholarship continues to this day, having raised and given away millions of dollars to scholarship recipients.
In 1964, on the 50th Anniversary of his win in the U.S. Amateur, Ouimet was elected an honorary member of Ekwanok, and the Ekwanok Seniors Third Invitation Tournament was held that year in his honor. The record shows that, in the Invitational Tournament, Ouimet had a handicap of 7 and played in the second flight with Allan Brown, Ray Foote and Ellis Knowles. Ouimet did not win a prize that year. In the same tournament the following year, Ouimet and his partner, Charlie Pierson, won the “beaten fours.”
About Ekwanok, Ouimet said “of all places I have visited in this country perhaps the one I enjoyed the most is Ekwanok in Manchester-in-the-Mountains.”
Ouimet’s caddie at the Open in 1913, Eddie Lowry, played Ekwanok in 1937 during the New England Golf Association Championship. He did not duplicate his mentor’s record of 1914, but he did become a finalist.
Ouimet died of a heart attack in 1967 at age 74. He was a modest man who, by his very nature and as an amateur, made golf a popular game by beating the “unbeatable” British.