By Nancy Stulack
Museum Moment: Kennedy’s Scorecard Collection Spans Continents, Documents Game’s History
Sep 22, 2011
It all began with a friendly round of golf in 1919.
Charles Leonard Fletcher, a British music hall actor, came to the United States and decided to play golf at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City. Fletcher claimed to have played more golf than anyone in the world and had 240 scorecards to prove it. His playing partner for the day was Ralph A. Kennedy, a member of Van Cortlandt Park, who had 176 scorecards documenting his travels.
The battle was on.
Kennedy worked for a large pencil company whose business took him all over the world and gave him the opportunity to visit many golf courses. It took him seven years to catch up to Fletcher and by 1926, both had played 445 courses.
Due to his failing health, Fletcher retired with 658 courses under his belt.
In 1932 on his 50th birthday, Kennedy added his 1,000th card. In 1942 he hit his 2,000th and in 1946 he hit his 2,500th at Pebble Beach.
On Sept. 17, 1951, Kennedy played the Old Course at St. Andrews, in Scotland, marking his 3,000th recorded round. Playing with him on that particular day was Ellis Knowles, U.S. Seniors champion, and Leonard Crawley and John Beck, both British Walker Cuppers. Seeing that photographers and a gallery had turned out, Kennedy was preparing to step aside for the celebrities to tee off when he realized it was him they were waiting to see.
Among the courses Kennedy played were courses made of pure sand, one that was underwater six months of the year, another with cottonseed greens, and a course pockmarked by gopher holes and inhabited by rattlesnakes. He played America’s highest- and lowest-elevation course, its best and worst, its shortest and longest, its oddest and its loveliest courses. He played courses with sand greens, grass greens, clay greens – all with three woods, eight irons and a putter.
Most of Kennedy’s golf wanderings were concentrated in the United States, about 2,500 courses. He once added 21 new courses during a seven-day trip to Chicago and 39 courses during a nine-day trip to Maine. Five cards from Peoria, Ill., represented one day of golf and a day of golf starting at 5 a.m. until pitch-dark encompassed four counties in Arkansas.
There were close to 400 in Canada, 20 in South America, all of Bermuda (taking in eight courses in two days), 26 in Scotland, seven in England and one in Ireland. Over 27,000 miles of fairways were walked in 13 countries and 48 states.
During this journey Kennedy played courses designed by golf architects such as Charles Blair Macdonald, Stanley Thompson, Tom Bendelow, Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones. He valued the time he spent with Bob Jones; the showmanship and personality of Walter Hagen; the day he played with a 6-year-old girl who grew up to be Louise Suggs and the challenge he made to Joe Kirkwood, who remarked that he had played 1,900 courses, which could not be confirmed.
The wildlife Kennedy encountered was also interesting: a bear at Jasper Park in Canada; flamingoes at Lima Country Club in Peru; rhinoceros at Nyeri Golf Course in Kenya, Africa; stags anxiously awaiting their does and fawns to return at Cypress Point in Pebble Beach, Calif.; the onlooker riding a camel as he teed up at Egypt’s Mena House course; and Bogey the Donkey, his four-legged caddie in Sudbury, England.
In 1957 Kennedy donated his collection of more than 3,150 scorecards to the United States Golf Association. Kennedy claimed a world record for the number of courses he played and he made a point of having each card dated and attested by an official of the club.
Today, the USGA Library’s collection of scorecards numbers more than 19,000 cards. They are being added to the Library database and have become a very valuable resource. In some cases these cards are the only source available for the documentation of a lost golf course. Additionally, they have been used to evaluate the historic integrity of a golf course by showing changes that have been made since its original design.
Nancy Stulack is the librarian at the USGA Museum. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Among the courses Ralph A. Kennedy played were courses made of pure sand, one that was underwater six months of the year, another with cottonseed greens, and a course pockmarked by gopher holes and inhabited by rattlesnakes. (USGA Museum)
On Sept. 17, 1951, Kennedy played the Old Course at St. Andrews, in Scotland, marking his 3,000th recorded round. (USGA Museum)
In 1957, Ralph A. Kennedy donated his collection of more than 3,150 scorecards to the United States Golf Association. Kennedy claimed a world record for the number of courses he played and he made a point of having each card dated and attested by an official of the club. (USGA Museum)