USGA FOUNDATION
Generous Donation Keeps Ouimet Medals at USGA Golf Museum December 6, 2018 By Jordan Schwartz, USGA

One of the first exhibits that visitors to the USGA Golf Museum encounter is a display that celebrates Francis Ouimet’s historic victory in the 1913 U.S. Open Championship through rare photographs, artifacts and film. The display is titled “America’s First Golf Hero,” and with good reason.

Before the 20-year-old amateur’s monumental win, the game was dominated by British professionals such as Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. And it was those two men who were tied atop the leader board as former caddie Ouimet made a late charge during the final round at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. The hometown underdog eventually drew even with the two goliaths, forcing a playoff the following day in the 19th edition of the championship.

“It’s the stuff of legend,” said USGA Museum senior historian Victoria Student. “You can’t make it up. It’s one of the most dramatic events in golf history.”

With thousands lining the fairways, Ouimet – accompanied by his 10-year-old caddie Eddie Lowery – became the first amateur to capture the championship, forever changing golf in this country.

“Following his win, thousands of Americans took up the game,” Student said. “His working-class roots helped erode the thought that golf was only for the elite. This was now a game that anyone could play and so you saw this huge rise in public golf.”

Several artifacts document Ouimet’s landmark achievement, including his putter and irons as well as scorecards and golf balls used by the three men in the 18-hole playoff. But the centerpiece of the collection is the champion’s gold medal.

Along with Ouimet’s 1914 and 1931 U.S. Amateur Championship medals, the 1913 prize had been on loan to the USGA Museum since 1984. Recently, however, the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, which had retained ownership of the medals since his death in 1967, proposed putting them up for auction to raise additional funds.

1913 U.S. Open Championship medal won by Francis Ouimet. (USGA/John Mummert)

Losing possession of the medals would be a substantial blow to a museum that prides itself on preserving the world’s most comprehensive collection of golf memorabilia. Imagine the Louvre without the Venus de Milo or the American Museum of Natural History without the Great Blue Whale.

“It’s the Museum’s responsibility to collect these artifacts so future generations can be inspired by them,” Student said. “To have a champion’s medal is such a direct connection to a champion. It embodies everything about USGA championships.”

Thankfully, Don M. Wilson III of Vero Beach, Fla., made a very generous donation.

“Francis Ouimet is one of the most important people in the history of American golf. It was vital to secure his wonderful championship medals so that they are permanently housed at the USGA Museum,” said Wilson. “I hope very much that the Ouimet display helps attract more visitors to our special venue. I am grateful to be a founding trustee of the USGA Foundation and to have served on the Museum Committee since 2001.”

You too can help celebrate golf’s traditions by making a special contribution to the USGA. Your meaningful gift will drive golf forward through the curation of stories about legendary champions, iconic venues and signature moments, as well as through the preservation of important artifacts.

Ouimet went on to play on the initial eight Walker Cup Teams for the USA and captained a record six times (two while also playing). He later became the first American named Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, and the scholarship fund that bears his name was founded in 1949. In 1955, he was the inaugural winner of the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor bestowed by the USGA, and the U.S. Senior Open Trophy bears his name.

Ouimet’s importance cannot be overstated, and it all started when he captured the 1913 U.S. Open gold medal, an artifact that will remain on permanent display at the USGA Golf Museum, thanks to Wilson.

 “He saved a very important piece of history,” said Student.

Jordan Schwartz is the creative and content lead for the USGA Foundation. Email him at jschwartz@usga.org.