Courtesy of Golf Atlas
Interview with Jim Healey, July 2003
Jim Healey is a St. Louis golf writer. In 1996 he published ‘Golfing Before The Arch; A History of St. Louis Golf’ that chronicled golf in the Bi-State region form 1895 – 1996. He interviewed dozens of area golfers and related individuals for the book including; Judy Rankin, Hale Irwin, Bob Goalby, Jay Haas, Keith Foster and Tom Wargo. More recently he has written club histories for some of the oldest St. Louis clubs, including Glen Echo CC (1901), Algonquin GC (1903) and Norwood Hills CC (1922) site of the 1948 PGA. A member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Jim has published dozens of articles related to St. Louis area golf and its history. His research led him to the Foulis family and their illustrious history as part of the growth of golf in the Midwest.
There were five Foulis brothers, Dave, Jim, Robert, John and Simpson. Of these, all but John were golfers – though John was an expert ballmaker and did work as a bookkeeper at Chicago golf from 1901 to his untimely death in 1907 – and only Simpson remained an amateur throughout his life, while the remaining three were professionals at some of the most prestigious clubs in America. They were born in St. Andrews, Scotland and lived at 166 South Street, just four blocks from the Old Course. They came to America between 1895 and 1905 and made their mark on dozens of courses and clubs from Minnesota to Missouri and from Chicago to Denver.
James Foulis Sr. was the foreman for Tom Morris at his shop in St. Andrews. James Sr. was recognized as an expert clubmaker. All the boys worked at one time or another in Tom Morris’ shop for their father. Their grandfather tended sheep on the Old Course when George III was King of England and prior to the war of 1812. Old Tom Morris took Robert under his wing for special attention and taught him how to make clubs, featherie balls, and about golf course design as they walked the Old Course in the evenings. He pointed out how the wind had shaped the course and how the sheep, lying against the mounds and bunkers to shield themselves from the wind, had shaped these with the help of Mother Nature.
Robert’s first design contract was given to him in 1889 by Old Tom for Ranfurly Castle Golf Club in Bridge of Weir, just west of Glasgow. An excellent moorlands course, it offered outstanding views of the Clyde Estuary. This was also near the home of legendary Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Following the construction of the course, the club sought out a professional for the new layout. With a personal recommendation from Old Tom, Robert was selected for that position, which he held for several years.
In late 1894, following the construction of America’s first and oldest eighteen-hole golf course, Chicago GC, Charles Blair Macdonald wrote to Robert to come to America for the position of golf professional at his new course. Macdonald and the Foulis’ had met when he was a student at St. Andrews University, where Macdonald lived with his grandfather, and had obviously thought highly of their skills. Robert, who was still under contract to Ranfurly, would not think of breaking his commitment to them, so in his place he recommended his older brother Jim. Jim had learned his golf from Old Tom as well, and had also worked for Forgan & Company. An excellent player, he and Robert had had many great matches over the Old Course.
Arriving in this country aboard the SS Umbria out of Liverpool on March 11, 1895, it wouldn’t take long for the 24-year old to quickly make his mark. Jim immediately traveled to Chicago where he became the first golf professional at Chicago GC, and the first golf professional in the western United States.
In the summer of 1895, Jim cabled Robert that he had a contract for him to design a course in Lake Forest. Robert arrived on July 13, 1895, aboard the ship SS St. Louis by coincidence, and began work on the course over the next several months. The new Lake Forest CC opened in 1896 with their 9-hole layout. Today that course is part of Onwentsia Club.
Dave arrived in March 1896 and went to work with Jim at Chicago GC. In 1899 James Sr. and the rest of his family made the journey to Chicago where most lived for the remainder of their lives.
In 1895, Jim was part of the eleven men who made up the field for the first U.S. Open at Newport GC. He shot a 176, finishing third behind Horace Rawlins and Willie Dunn with Rawlins shooting a score of 173. Jim was renowned for his driving ability, and was considered one of the longest drivers of the ball in the country for years. Records of exhibitions in which he participated, often with players like Alex Smith, Jock Hutchison, Willie Hunter and others, Jim would drive greens over 300 yards from the tee.
In 1896, in the Open at Shinnecock Hills, using a gutta-percha ball, Jim shot rounds of 74 and 78 for a 152 total to win the second U.S. Open. His two-round total stood as a record until 1903 when Willie Anderson posted a 149 for his first two rounds, while winning his second of four Open titles. Jim’s single round score of 74 also stood for still another year until Willie Anderson shot a 72 in 1904.
Robert competed in the 1897 Open at Chicago GC, finishing in a tie for 15th, while Jim was finishing third. Jim continued to compete in the Open through 1906, with Robert competing again in 1900 and Dave in 1904
Jim collaborated with Robert, and occasionally with Dave as well, as they designed and constructed additional courses. In many of instances, Jim did the routing of the course, while the actual construction was left to Robert. These include; Glen Echo (1901), Normandie (1901), Bellerive CC (1910), Sunset CC (1917) and Wheaton GC (1909).
Following Robert’s success at Lake Forest, C.B. Macdonald wrote a letter ofrecommendation for him and he traveled to Minneapolis where he built the Town & Country Club. He would also construct the original 9-holes for the Minikahda Club in 1898, and later worked with Willie Watson on the 2nd nine in 1906.
Robert continued designing courses on his own, though one would believe that he was in contact with his brothers on a regular basis for their input. Robert also assumed the role of golf professional and greenkeeper at many of his courses. Robert’s designs include; Lake Geneva CC (1897), Meadowbrook CC (1912), Jefferson City CC (1922), Bogey Club (1910), Forest Park GC (1913), Log Cabin GC (1909), Triple A GC (1902), Ruth Park GC (1930), Riverview GC (1916).
In November 1900, Jim was contacted by Colonel George McGrew, founder of Glen Echo CC, to come to St. Louis and design the St. Louis area’s first 18-hole course. Jim arrived in January 1901, with Robert alongside. Together they began to layout and construct Glen Echo on over 350 acres of pristine land. The course opened on May 25, 1901. Jim returned to Chicago, while Robert stayed on as golf professional and greenkeeper. He and Jim also designed the Normandie GC, which sits adjacent to Glen Echo and at one time their borders touched. Robert left Glen Echo in 1907 and moved to Normandie. Then in 1909 he began construction of the original Bellerive CC, which opened in 1910. He moved there and remained as their head pro and greenkeeper until 1942.
In 1903, a few years after the development of the Haskell ball in 1900, Jim and Dave were in their shop at Chicago GC experimenting with clubs and balls. They had determined that this new ball, while more durable than the old gutties, did not fly very far, except when ‘cut’ following several shots. They went into the fairway at Chicago GC and Jim and Dave began hitting the newly designed rubber-covered golf ball [the Haskell]. ‘Jimmy and I played one of the first dozen ever turned out’, Dave would recall years later ‘and even Jim couldn’t keep them from ducking to the ground just off the tee. We quit after a little while and rode our bicycles back to Wheaton. We remolded the balls, marking them the same as we used to mark the solid gutta-percha ones. That fixed them; Jimmy made ’em go after that. The trouble was that the covers were too smooth; they wouldn’t grip the air.’ In an interesting addition to this story, Coburn Haskell, the inventor of the rubber-coated ball, heard what the Foulis had done to his ball, and threatened to sue them. What the brothers were doing was buying his ball, marking them to make them fly better and then reselling them. Haskell eventually did nothing, but he did buy one of their molds to mark his balls as well!
The new Foulis brothers’ bramble-pattern balls, named appropriately the American Eagle, was made and sold by them for years, though it has been reported that they likely gave away as many balls as they sold.
With the new ball flight, the brothers saw the need for a new club, one that fell between a mashie (5-iron) and the niblick (9-iron). ‘That brought up the need for a new club, for the old ones wouldn’t hold a middle distance pitch shot on the green with the new and faster ball. I took a niblick and remade it, and the result was the mashie-niblick!’ [Today a 7-iron]. Dave built it and Jim tested it. Together they applied-for and received a patent on the new club. They held the patent on the club until 1920, and received royalties on each club sold.
After leaving Chicago GC around 1916, Dave ran their highly successful J&D Foulis Company until 1921. At that time he moved to Hinsdale GC in Chicago and rebuilt it from a mediocre course to one of the finest in the Midwest. He remained there as pro-greenkeeper for 18 seasons before retiring at the end of the 1939 season.
The brothers continued to be very innovative in other areas as well. One of the things we take for granted is the liner inside the hole. Early on, the holes were just excavated by the greenkeeper and were not changed daily. The size of the hole would vary as player after player holed out. Dave made the following observation in a 1905 article in Golf Illustrated, ‘After a few days the hole would get deeper and deeper, as caddies would scoop sand from the bottom of the cup to make tees at the next teeing ground!’ While the liner is said to have first appeared in Scotland in the 1870’s, Dave Foulis brought the concept to America and sold the first metal liners around 1902!
Another of their innovations was the ‘Foulis Flag’ which took advantage of the new metal liner inside the cup to hold the flag in a ‘perfectly upright position’. The Foulis brother’s ad for this item was included in the Olympic Program in 1904.
Robert, Jim and Dave learned their golf and their design from the master himself at St. Andrews. His love of the natural style of golf deeply influenced them and in the days without mechanical earth-moving equipment, they were forced to select the correct piece of land and position the holes on it for the most enjoyment possible. This was the era when golf was more sport than entertainment. The challenges lay in
the bunkering, greens, hills, and lakes that dotted the landscape, keeping in mind the prevailing winds impact on each shot as well. At the same time, they provided generous fairways for their landing areas. Through the years many clubs have planted trees that were never meant to infringe on their original designs (or those of many other architects of this era). As a result, the open designs they created have been reverse-designed as players must maneuver around large trees instead of fairway bunkers or the more penal cross-bunkers.
However, the Foulis’ would best be remembered for bringing to the Midwest their love of the game. From the heart and mind of Old Tom they brought to their courses in Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota and Colorado, the shot values, features and memories of the best of golf from Scotland. They did it with class, an attention to detail, and a spirit that made them among the most respected and admired men of their day. While many of their closest friends are among the ranks of the great designers – Macdonald, Ross, Park and Bendelow – it would be safe to say that these brothers found solace and satisfaction in staying near the courses they created, while giving back to the members at those clubs, their knowledge and love of the game.
They are all buried at the Wheaton Cemetery, adjacent to the Chicago Golf Club, the site where most of them made their mark and where Jim and Dave spent many years as pioneers of golf in the western United States.
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