The original Havemeyer Trophy can never be replaced, so the USGA did the next best thing.
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the June 1996 issue of Golf Journal.)
By Andrew C. Mutch
||The Havemeyer Trophy on display in the USGA Museum. (John Mummert/USGA)
The likely suspect was a carelessly tossed cigarette butt at the Saturday night dinner dance, but whatever the reason, The Atlanta Constitution’s Monday headline read, “Loss of Prized Trophies Mourned by Golfers Here.” In the early hours of Nov. 22, 1925, the magnificent, fire-proof East Lake Golf Club had burned to the ground for the second time in 13 years.
It seems that no club history is complete without a chapter heading that reads, “The Fire.” But East Lake was supposed to be different. The members had their one blaze in 1914 and rebuilt the clubhouse according to stringent specifications, including the installation of insulated piping around all electrical wiring and fire-proof roof beams. But the club burned a second time anyway, and lost in the flames was the most coveted prize in American golf, the Havemeyer Trophy, given each year to the winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship.
The provenance of the original Havemeyer Trophy can be traced back to the very roots of organized golf in America. The USGA was formed out of a controversy surrounding two national amateur champions crowned the same year. The golf powers assembled at the Calumet Club in December 1894 and created a national governing body that, among other responsibilities, would conduct an official national amateur golf championship. In fact, their original name for the organization was the Amateur Golf Association of the United States, but eventually they settled upon The United States Golf Association.
It then came as no surprise when Theodore A. Havemeyer, president of the fledgling USGA, volunteered to fund the creation of a suitable prize for the Association’s most significant championship. Havemeyer, a Wall Street sugar baron, stipulated during the March 28, 1895, meeting of the Executive Committee that the trophy be a perpetual one and shall be “held for that year by the club from which the winner shall have entered.”
And so, J. E. Caldwell and Company of Philadelphia was deemed to have presented the finest design, thereby earning a commission to perform the necessary work for the sum of $1,000.
The Amateur was and is, after all, revered among national championships because it embodies the foundation of the USGA and the purest form of competitive golf. No big-money purses, endorsements or giant egos – just a love of the game. The Havemeyer Trophy became an ornate, gleaming symbol of amateur spirit. Indeed, C. B. Macdonald, its first recipient, was right when he later described it as “the genius of the game in America” and praised its “far-reaching sentimental value.” As specified by Havemeyer, Macdonald brought the trophy back to his Chicago Golf Club in 1895 for safe keeping, initiating 30 years of collaborative care by more than a dozen clubs.
Onwentsia’s H. J. Whigham kept the trophy in Chicagoland for two more years, winning the 1896 and 1897 Amateurs, and Walter Travis returned home to Garden City Golf three times with trophy in tow. The trophy had multiple stays at Woodland, thanks to two of its mightiest members, Francis Ouimet and Jesse Guilford. Both W. C. Fownes Jr. and S. Davidson Herron made Oakmont proud, and Harold Hilton triumphantly transported the Havemeyer across the Atlantic to Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.
With his breakthrough victory in 1924, Bob Jones, the pride of Atlanta, became the 19th man to win the championship. Fittingly, he returned the coveted award to East Lake, which, like Montclair, Siwanoy, Edgewater and others before, would take custody of their hero’s prize.
East Lake displayed the distinguished trophy in a case in the main room of the clubhouse, alongside the Georgia State Amateur trophy and a number of the club’s team golf and swimming trophies. The trophy case was not often bare, as the club’s membership boasted the elite of amateur golf, including Jones, Alexa Stirling, Watts Gunn, Perry Adair and C. V. Rainwater. By 1925, the membership at East Lake had claimed five Georgia Amateurs, three U. S. Women’s Amateurs, a Canadian Women’s Amateur, five Southern Amateurs, two U. S. Amateurs and a U.S. Open. This was not the place for a wealthy stranger to appear, looking for a quick game.
“Early rebuilding of clubhouse expected,” the morning edition said, while tiny flames still flickered in the embers and a thin veil of smoke lingered in the air. Sure enough, the club was rebuilt, bigger and better than ever, but the Havemeyer Trophy would not be granted the same fate. Soon after the blaze it was dubiously decided that another design would be more appropriate, one that would incorporate more space for engraving the names of future winners.
Edwin S. Moore, retiring treasurer of the USGA, generously donated the funds in much the same spirit as Havemeyer. The new trophy was designed by renowned silversmith Ernest M. Currier and retained its previous title. The high-standing urn was inspired by the classical period of the Renaissance and made entirely of 18-carat gold. It has filled the role of the original Havemeyer Trophy admirably and is unquestionably a stunning trophy. The pity of it all, however, is that some 70 years later, only a scant few can even recall the original.
That is, until April 1996, when an ornate, gleaming replica of the original 1895 trophy arrived at Golf House from London. The Special Commissions section of Garrard, the Crown Jewellers, created a stirling silver copy based on only two photographs. An image of Jones holding the trophy assisted with scale and proportions, while a close-up provided clues to the late Victorian-style decorations.
Many traditional elements, such as the griffin heads perched atop the handles, were produced through master patterns and poured wax molds. Finer details were chased and engraved on the surface and later joined in sections. Even its total weight was of particular concern, as the delicate neck could not bear an overly weighty top. To draw the trophy in full was in itself a monumental design feat, but the wondrous, three-dimensional result arrived after months of meticulous work.
It is safe to say that the original national championship trophies elicit strong emotional ties with all who have competed and won their annual right of custody. This sentiment was evidenced just a few years ago when the family and friends of former USGA President Harton S. Semple arranged for the duplication of the Women’s Open trophy in his name. Ask Arnold Palmer about the Havemeyer Trophy and his eyes will tell the whole story. Try to tell Jack Nicklaus that his Havemeyer Trophies have less meaning than his Opens or green jackets. At face value they are objects of extraordinary refinement, but their true masterpiece is reflected in all they represent.