The worldwide television audience for the Ryder Cup this week is proof enough of that, but the Medinah No.3 course, where this year's event is being held, has an even more direct link with the missionary movement that took a popular pastime from the Scottish links and planted it firmly at the heart of American culture.
Much changed and, at 7600 yards, much lengthened from when it was laid out more than 80 years ago, Medinah's design was the work of Tom Bendelow, an exiled Aberdonian typesetter who, over three decades, had established himself as one of the most significant of all the founding fathers of American golf.
As a golf architect, Bendelow's name may not have acquired the hallowed status accorded to such fellow Scots as Donald Ross, who created Pinehurst, and Alister Mackenzie, the man behind Augusta National. In some ways, though, he might be considered a more significant figure than those two luminaries. He almost single-handedly established the profession of the course architect in America, setting out his first course as early as 1896, but his productivity was even more remarkable for he had been credited with the creation of almost 800 courses by the time of his death in 1936.
Bendelow had been born in Aberdeen in 1868. His father, who taught him the rudiments of golf on the local links, ran a well known pie shop in the city, but the young man was drawn by the smell of newsprint rather than pastry and embarked on an apprenticeship at The Press and Journal. In 1892 he married Mary Ann Nicol, the daughter of a local farmer, and the couple emigrated to New York soon afterwards.
He took a job as a compositor at the New York Herald and it was while working there that he spotted an advertisement from the Pratt family – owners the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey – who were looking for someone to teach them the game of golf. Family legend suggests that the advertisement never actually made it into the paper. After a few lessons, Bendelow was invited to lay out a six-hole course in the grounds of the Pratt mansion on Long Island. And so his second career began.
The last years of the 19th century marked the beginning of the first American golf boom. Scottish professionals and club makers flocked across the Atlantic to take advantage of the opportunities that were opening up. Bendelow's background in the newspaper business may not have been the ideal cv, but a Scottish brogue and a half-decent swing provided passports to a new life.
After his private commission from the Pratt family, Bendelow opened an indoor golf school in New York, but it was course design that fascinated him most. In 1898 he was hired by the New York City Park Authority to lay out and manage the Van Cortlandt Park course, the first 18-hole municipal course in America. The commission appealed to Bendelow, who had an almost evangelical enthusiasm for making the game more accessible.
By happy coincidence, his aims were shared, albeit for more hard-headed reasons, by the Spalding sports goods company, which had just moved into manufacturing golf equipment. Golfers needed places to play if they were to buy clubs and balls, so Spading hired Bendelow as their director of golf course development. The Scot's role included accompanying the great Harry Vardon on a promotional tour (and even caddying for him when he won the 1900 US Open at Chicago Golf Club), but his main aim was to get more courses built.
His kindlier biographers have praised Bendelow's naturalistic and minimalistic approach to course design. In truth, he was generally working within financial constraints that meant shifting huge quantities of earth, installing sophisticated drainage systems or any other costly luxuries were out of the question, although he was responsible for creating Atlanta's famous East Lake course, the site of last weekend's Tour Championship event, in 1908. However, as he criss-crossed the country drumming up business, it was mostly quantity, not quality, that mattered.
For his prolific habits, Bendelow was nicknamed 'the Johnny Appleseed of American golf'. In other quarters, he was ridiculed for a way of working dismissed as '18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon', a reference to his practice of marking out nine tee boxes and nine greens with wooden posts and letting the greenkeeper do the rest.
"He strove to use the natural features of the chosen site to maximum advantage," was one assessment of Bendelow's method. The authoritative World Atlas of Golf takes a rather less charitable view of his output. "He laid out some of the most abominable examples of golf landscaping ever seen," it says. The truth probably lies somewhere between those two extremes.
Bendelow was raised in a deeply religious Brethren family and never lost his faith, retaining egalitarian instincts and a preference for restraint in his designs. He remained a strong supporter of public golf courses throughout his life. In a biography of his grandfather, Stuart Bendelow explained that "he felt that if he could just get the community started, their enthusiasm for the game would grow and lead to bigger and better recreation facilities".
The foreword to that book also acknowledges that Bendelow was also once described as "an imposter, rogue, a flimflam con artist who never played golf". Yet Bendelow was also held in sufficiently high regard for the University of Illinois to invite him to conduct an annual series of lectures on course design, maintenance, an unprecedented mark of respect at the time for the new profession of course architect.
In 1920, Bendelow moved on from Spalding to become chief designer for American Park Builders, a leading course construction company. This was the era of F Scott Fitzgerald, of swank and style, and a glut of expensive, speculative projects. The balance of Bendelow's workload swung towards upscale country clubs.
Which is how he came to Medinah. In 1924, a group of Chicago businessmen formed the club exclusively for members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, the Freemason-like organisation better known as the Shriners. Bendelow was hired to design the first course, No.1, which opened in 1925. Course No.2 opened two years later.
No.3 was almost an afterthought, conceived as a nine-hole ladies' course, but Bendelow argued that the club, with 1500 members by then, needed another 18 holes. The construction was mired in legal problems, as the club's founders had cynically acquired some adjacent land in the hope of turning a quick buck, and the first layout, shoehorned into too tight a space, was not a success. When the land became available, Bendelow went back to work.
"Bendelow presented diagrams for a redesigned No.3 to the board of directors," wrote Chicago sportswriter Tim Cronin. "It was an astonishing change, a makeover that was as brilliant as it was extensive. There were eight new holes . . . [turning a] pussycat into a 6820-yard tiger."
It may be almost 800 yards longer today, but that, in essence, is the course on which the Ryder Cup will be decided this week. And when you're glued to your TV on Sunday evening, don't forget to raise a glass to the unsung Aberdonian who put it there. And just think how apt it would be if it fell to Paul Lawrie to sink the winning putt.
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