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125 years after the first college golf match, a revenge

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125 years after the first college golf match, a revenge

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One fall day in 1896, a group of Yale students, caught up in a new sporting craze called golf, traveled from their campus in New Haven, Connecticut, by train and stage coach to a course north of New York City – one of the few clubs in the country at the time – to take on guys from Colombia.

In what became the nation’s premier inter-varsity game, Yale swept past Colombia, with all six golfers winning their matches.

Earlier this month, after 125 years, Columbia finally got her revenge.

“It’s an amazing day for our game – the college game was born 125 years ago,” current Columbia coach Rich Mueller told the two teams gathered on the practice green at Saint Andrew’s Golf Club. in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Yes, the first college golf game was played between two Ivy League teams that have rarely been in the top 100 schools in Division I for decades.

Of course, these are different times in college sport. For decades after the first college football game played by Princeton and Rutgers in 1869, Ivy League football teams remained athletic powerhouses making national headlines.

Likewise, in college golf, the 1896 match marked the start of Ivy’s dominance. The following year the first University National Championships were held, and nearly all team and individual titles up to 1930 were won by an Ivy League school – especially Yale, whose 21 national titles are still the greatest number of all colleges.

Credit…The New York Times

This was long before big, hot-weather public schools like Houston (16 national titles) and Oklahoma (11) experienced dominant eras after the NCAA took over the national championships in 1939 and became feeders for the PGA. Tower.

Yale men’s golf coach Colin Sheehan, who loves his golf history, recently came across two New York Times articles from 1896 covering the Yale-Columbia game, which he quickly mentioned to Mueller.

The coaches organized a commemorative replay of this game which has become the melting pot of intercollegiate golf, to motivate their players to discover the history and traditions of college golf, and to organize a lively competition.

The original match was played on November 6, 1896 at the Ardsley Casino, which had opened the previous year as one of the country’s premier 18-hole courses and whose members included prominent financiers such as Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt and J. Pierpont Morgan.

The club, now called Ardsley Country Club, near Dobbs Ferry, was not available to host the game this fall. And due to logistical issues with the original date, coaches have scheduled the game for October 22 at Saint Andrew’s, which is Columbia’s home course and has its own place in golf history.

Founded in 1888, the club claims to be the oldest operating golf club in the country (although several clubs claim different versions of the title) and is one of five clubs that in 1894 founded the United States Golf Association.

In fact, Columbia and Yale have had plenty of revenge over the years, with Yale winning the most, but both teams now largely play a tournament schedule instead of head-to-head matches.

So they agreed to play this one as an unofficial scrum. Still, the significance of this momentous challenge match seemed to register with the players as they traveled to the club not in stagecoaches but in sleek vans.

They stepped out dressed in bright golf shirts, baseball caps and khakis or shorts – a far cry from their 1896 counterparts, who wore breeches, monogrammed blazers, tweed caps, dress shirts and bow ties.

All 1896 teams played their top six players in a hole-won format, with the winner being the team with the most holes won by all players. The coaches have decided to keep this now obscure format for the rematch and play their full starting XI of seven players each.

An official on the first tee – Mueller’s son Kurt, 9 – announced each duo along with the names of the 1896 golfers who played in the respective group.

In one group, William Sung, 18, a freshman from Columbia, was paired with Darren Lin, 21, a senior from Yale.

Their counterparts 125 years ago were Roderick Terry Jr. of Yale and GC Pier of Columbia. Terry beat his opponent 7-0 to get an 88, the lowest score of the day. It was also an impressive feat, given that Terry and his teammates were hitting rubber gutta-percha balls with handmade wooden sticks that, instead of numbers, had names like brassie, niblick, spoon and cleek.

As for Lin and Sung, they both grew up in California competing in junior golf tournaments and perfecting their swings with the help of top teaching professionals, video aids, and various learning tools. On the course, they use range finders which give an exact distance to a target.

“It’s cool to see how far golf has come. It’s really surreal how important technology has become, ”said Sung, whose driver had an aerospace titanium head.

By 1896, golf was just beginning to take root in the United States and had only recently “caught on among colleges,” as a preview of the game noted in The Times.

A second Times article, recapping the game, detailed how Yale shut out the fledgling Columbia team 35-0. The winning Yale players each received a “First Intercollegiate Golf Meet” medal.

Columbia’s defeat came as no shock. Located in Manhattan, Columbia had no home course and had only assembled a team a few weeks before the game. Its star player, mentioned in an 1896 Columbia Spectator article as L. Tappin, was “out of the game” and lost by four holes as his team were “beaten by a big score but still didn’t. dishonored ”.

“They were basically bringing a knife for a shootout,” Mueller said. “You can imagine how quiet this stagecoach has been for Columbia.”

So this time, the Columbia men were playing “with the weight of history on their shoulders,” he said.

“We had such a big kick in the butt the first time around,” he said. “Some of my guys said they were never more nervous than on that first tee.”

The top Yale team was born out of an explosion in the popularity of golf in New Haven associated with the 1895 opening of the New Haven Golf Club near campus.

Yale had dozens of golfers on its squad, and the starting six were made up of skilled players from prominent golf families including John Reid Jr. and FC Havemeyer, whose fathers helped found the USGA.

Reid Jr. won his match against Columbia by 10 holes and would win Yale’s first individual national title in 1898. He was the son of John Reid, a Scottish immigrant who helped found Saint Andrew’s in 1888 as a track three. holes in a grazing cow in Yonkers.

Elder Reid’s former golf clubs are on display in Saint Andrew’s John Reid Room in the original clubhouse where members like Andrew Carnegie and Stanford White relaxed, said historic committee member Rick Powers of the club.

The Ivy League’s sporting dominance, including golf, eventually faded as large state colleges outside the Northeast gained momentum and the Ivies prioritized academics over the Athletics.

“I joke that all of the team are here because Conrad Ray didn’t make them an offer,” Sheehan said of the male golf coach at Stanford, the golf powerhouse where Tiger Woods played.

Yale is still a dominant force in the Ivies, and despite his ignorance of Saint Andrew’s, he had his moments in the recent game. There were the tough ups and downs of Ben Carpenter just off the green to win the 16th hole and the return of Lin nine which included an 18 chip-in to beat Sung, 1-0.

But in the end, the day belonged to Columbia, whose 15-2 victory put some balm on the 125-year-old spanking.

Watching his team reach historic moment, Mueller later said, was “by far the proudest moment in my 22 years of training.”

That night, he said, he texted his players telling them the Columbia guys from 1896 would be proud.

“Despite the fact that they’re dead now,” he wrote, “I’m also sure tonight they’re all smiling at you basking in redemption.”

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