In my fifth year as a member of North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, I am always on the lookout for additional information on the club’s history and heritage.
Everyone knows there’s a lot of it, but very little has been kept around and what’s left of old newspapers is waiting patiently in microfiche for history enthusiasts to convert it to a form that’s findable.
A friend of mine, Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design, recently turned me on to the letters written by legendary golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast to the then president of the PGA, George Jacobus.
Tillinghast designed some of the greatest golf courses in the history of golf – 265 total – including:
- Winged Foot, West (Golf Digest’s #10 course in the US, #14 in the world)
- San Francisco (#37 US, #81 world)
- Bethpage State Park, Black Course (#38 US)
- Baltusrol, Lower (#39 US)
- Baltusrol, Upper (#61 US)
- Winged Foot, East (#62 US)
- Somerset Hills (#64 US)
- Quaker Ridge (#76 US)
In 1935, “Tilly” was called to North Hills by PGA member John Bird to look at the “troublesome” par three then-sixteenth hole (shown in the header photo):
Tillinghast’s letter to the President of the PGA concerning North Hills Country Club from November 16, 1935
Tilly’s difficult-to-read follow-up letter from 1936
The sixteenth, now the seventh since the front and back nine were flipped, was at that time a 127-yard uphill shot to a putting surface 20 yards short of where it is now above the Menomonee River. Redesigning this par three to have a ribbon green on top of the hill both stretched out the yardage and made the green more susceptible to holding tee shots.
Many competitive matches swing on the seventh hole at North Hills, which is my favorite par three on my home course.
I have my only ever hole-out from the tee on the seventh, and it’s literally a couple thousand feet from our backyard.
Other great “new” material about North Hills Country Club
As luck would have it, when I tried searching Google for the same Tillinghast letters on my laptop I found some great material that always evaded me: Proof that Ben Hogan and Sam Snead competed at North Hills.
The 1940 Milwaukee Open
I’ve heard this story before, and have told it to several guests. If I had to guess, this article points at the same occasion: On the 16th hole of the final round of a PGA tournament, Ben Hogan was tied for the lead on the uphill [now seventh, since the nines have since been reversed] par three. Hogan was on in two and three-putted. At the clubhouse following the event, Ben guaranteed everyone that the first putt he hit would never break that way again. They all walked in the dark (a walk I am awfully familiar with) from the clubhouse with their drinks and lanterns to the now seventh green; Hogan hit putt after putt, and the crowd watched them all fall the same way they did that led to his double-bogey that took him out of contention.
The seventh is my favorite par three on my home course, and is the site of my only ever sort-of-hole-in-one a few months ago. It’s a fantastic par three that, as Hogan proved, can make or break a match with ease.
Chicago Tribune – August 5, 1940
Ralph Guldahl of Chicago won the 1940 Milwaukee Open at -16, followed by Ed Oliver (-14) and the great Sam Snead just three strokes back at -13. Hogan would finish fourth with a final score of 272 (-12).
References of the 1940 Milwaukee Open, as found on revolvy.com:
- Bartlett, Charles (August 4, 1940). “Bulla cards 131 to take lead in Milwaukee Open”. Chicago Sunday Tribune. p. 6, sec. 2.
- “Ralph Guldahl wins Milwaukee Open golf”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). United Press. August 5, 1940. p. 2.
- Bartlett, Charles (August 5, 1940). “Guldahl wins in Milwaukee Open with 268”. Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 19.
- “Guldahl makes blazing finish”. Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. August 5, 1940. p. 9.
- “Johnny Bulla leads Milwaukee Open”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. August 4, 1940. p. 10.
The 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open
Joe Kirkwood, Jr., more commonly known as Hollywood movie star Joe Palooka in those days, won the 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open at North Hills. Joe “beat out Sam Snead by two strokes in a fighting duel for the third biggest prize of the year” ($2,750 for first place).
Eugene Register Guard – July 23, 1951
Probably my favorite part of this article is Kirkwood’s celebratory remarks: “‘I’m glad to win for all my friends,’ and left for northern Wisconsin to go fishing.”
There is a photo taken on the 3rd hole (now 12th) at this event situated on the desk in Captain Frederick Pabst’s office at what is now “The Best Place” – a top spot for downtown weddings in Milwaukee.
References to the 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open, as found on revolvy.com:
- “Joe Kirkwood cards final round 64 to win Blue Ribbon golf tourney”. St. Petersburg Times. (Florida). Associated Press. July 23, 1951. p. 11.
- “Ferrier leads in Milwaukee Open”. Chicago Sunday Tribune. Associated Press. July 22, 1951. p. 6, sec. 2.
- “Kirkwood’s 271 wins golf meet at Milwaukee”. Chicago Daily Tribune. Associated Press. July 23, 1951. p. 2, sec. 3.
- “Kirkwood edges Snead for first”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). United Press. July 23, 1961. p. 10.
The 1961 Milwaukee Open
Australian Bruce Crampton won the 1961 Milwaukee Open, winning his $4,300 share of the $30,000 purse.
Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus tied for sixth place, which was great for Player but forfeited by Nicklaus as this would prove to be his final golf event as an amateur before turning pro the following week in the Quad Cities.
Daytona Beach Morning Journal – July 24, 1961
References to the 1961 Milwaukee Open, as found on revolvy.com:
- “Massengale, Hawkins knotted”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 21, 1961. p. 2B.
- “Aussie wins Milwaukee with 272”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (Florida). Associated Press. July 24, 1961. p. 9.
- “Palmer bypasses Milwaukee event”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (Florida). Associated Press. July 19, 1961. p. 7.
Prior research on North Hills Country Club
North Hills Country Club, Feherty Interview with Golf Legend Ken Venturi (2015)
Hole-by-Hole Review of North Hills Country Club (2013)