IT ZIEHMS TO ME: `King of Clubs’ uncovers piece of Chicago golf history

After reading “King of Clubs: The Great Golf Marathon of 1938’’ I felt there was a message to be delivered about how bad slow play has gotten.

Virginia-based sports writing veteran Jim Ducibella recounts the story of J. Smith Ferebee, a Chicago stockbroker and Olympia Fields Country Club member who was briefly in the national spotlight for his bid to play 600 holes of golf in eight cities over four consecutive days.

Think about this. Seven decades ago Ferebee played more than 33 rounds of golf in 96 hours and never shot 100. Had he hit triple digits he would have lost the bet that started his whole ordeal, and Ferebee did post 99 in one round. Most of his scores were in the 80s, however, and he was playing on many courses – located from Los Angeles to New York – that he’d never seen before.

To put the feat in better perspective, Ferebee would play at least 144 holes per day, keeping a very brisk pace between each shot. There were no golf carts involved, and Ferebee had to tee up his drives and take the ball from each cup after he putted out. Those were the terms of the bet.

Then he’d board a plane, with an entourage that included a doctor, caddie and publicist among others, and fly to the next stop to do it all again. I recall twice playing 45 holes in a day, walking all in the second, in tours of the five Chicago Park District nine-hole courses. Those tours were organized by KemperSports in the early 1990s. They were a lot of fun, as a few media friends would get van transportation between each course.

Playing that much golf in a day that started at dawn at the Marovitz course on Lake Michigan and finished at dusk at Columbus Park was considered a noteworthy back then – at least by us – but we had nothing on J.Smith Ferebee. In one stretch he played 144 holes in 15 hours 7 minutes and averaged 86 for every 18 holes. In that time he walked an estimated 40 miles. I’m staggered by it all.

Olympia Fields, his home club, had four courses back then including one (now known as the North course) that has hosted two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships. Ferebee played those four courses in the middle of his marathon in 89, 83, 85 and 89. All of the courses he played were short by today’s standards, but hardly of the pitch-and-putt variety.

Anyway, with all due respect to my Big-3 partner – golf historian extraordinaire Tim Cronin – Ducibella’s “King of Clubs’’ deserves a place in Chicago’s golf history archives. It is much more than a recounting of a whacky pre-World War II publicity stunt. Ducibella tells me that very few people (including the current membership and staff at Olympia Fields) knew much – if anything – about Ferebee.

That’s surprising, given that Ferebee’s quest to complete his marathon was closely followed by media outlets throughout the country. In Chicago his adventure shared the spotlight with a late-season charge by the Cubs to the National League pennant.

Perhaps Ferebee’s moment in the spotlight was simply a reflection of another, most colorful, era in the history of Chicago sports. Still, it makes for most interesting reading. I heartily recommend this book, published by Potomac Books of Dulles, Va.

BMW, JDC tourneys honored by PGA

The PGA Tour gave glowing reports to its 2012 tournaments with Illinois connections. The BMW Championship, conducted by the Western Golf Assn., was selected as the circuit’s Tournament of the Year and the John Deere Classic received the Most Engaged Community Award.

In 2012 the BMW raised $3.1 million for the Evans Scholars Foundation and was one of the top-attended tournaments of the year. The crowd count for the week at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis in September was 143,000 – a good reason for the WGA to continue its recent policy of moving its biggest event out of Chicago every other year.

The WGA took the event to Bellerive, in St. Louis, in 2008. The BMW Championship was also the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year that time.

Winning the Most Engaged Community Award isn’t anything new for the JDC, held annually at TPC Deere Run in the Quad Cities. The JDC previously won the award in 2008 and 2011. This year’s event showed a 12 percent increase in ticket sales, a 27 percent increase in money raised through its Birdies for Charity campaign and a record $6.79 million windfall for 493 local charities. That amount was raised from more than 20,000 individual donors.

Did you know?

Two Chicago golf leaders of a few decades back passed away with a month of each other recently. Nat Rosasco was owner and president of Northwestern Golf Co., a prominent equipment manufacturer, and Charles Chudek was the founder of Chicagoland Golfer, a twice-a-week publication that flourished in the early 1960s. Chudek’s publication is not to be confused with Chicagoland Golf, which operated under the late Phil Kosin from 1989-2009. Rosasco was 83, Chudek 82.

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The University of Illinois’ Luke Guthrie played in only 10 events on the Tour this year after using up his collegiate eligibility, but he was one of three finalists for the circuit’s player-of-the-year award. It went to money-leader Casey Wittenberg through a vote of tour members. Guthrie, second on the money list, is headed for the PGA Tour in 2013.

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The NCAA announced its postseason sites for 2014 and 2015. Rich Harvest Farms was awarded a men’s regional, with Northern Illinois the host school, in 2014.