Friday, March 4

George S. May, Hero of American Golf (Conclusion)

Between 1941 and 1958, some of the greatest golf tournaments in America were staged just west of Chicago at Tam O’Shanter Country Club in Niles, Illinois. The man behind them was the country club owner and tournament organizer, George S. May. Golf Magazine would name May one of the “100 Heroes of American Golf.” And Senior Golfer magazine said of May, he “singlehandedly lifted golf to prominence.”

Following is the conclusion of a two-part story on May. You can read Part 1 here.


By John Coyne
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


GEORGE MAY’S GREATEST MOMENT in golf came in July 1953 when The Tam O’Shanter World Championship became the first golf tournament to be nationally televised. By now, the winner’s share of the tournament had grown to $25,000, an amount higher than the total purse of every other professional tournament.

Fledgling network ABC became interested in the event because of the large prize and offered to do a one-hour broadcast of the final round if May paid $32,000. May understood the publicity value of televising the tournament, both in terms of the people watching and the print coverage of the broadcast.

(Photo: John Coyne)


It is said that an estimated one million people watched as a single camera located above the grandstand on the 18th green followed the conclusion of the tournament. There were only ten minutes left in the broadcast when golfer Lew Worsham, trailing by one shot, made a 115-yard eagle to win the tournament and the $25,000. It was great television and immediately showed the potential for golf on the medium. Not to be upstaged, May stepped onto the green to announce that the first-place prize for the 1954 tournament would be doubled to $50,000, plus the winner would also have the opportunity to play 50 exhibitions to promote his consulting company at $1,000 each.

Following in May’s footsteps, the U.S. Open was nationally televised for the first time in 1954 and the Masters in 1956.

The end of professional golf’s association with May would come a few years later, in 1958, when he refused to meet the PGA’s demands for even more money. So furious was he at professional golfers, he put a sign outside the club’s main entrance banning any PGA pros from coming on the grounds.

May continued to operate Tam O’Shanter Country Club until his death in 1962. His widow eventually sold the property to a developer in the late 1960s. Today, a few of the old holes are still part of the public course run by the town of Niles, and George May lives on in the memory of those who were lucky enough to be around when he turned golf into a television sport.

John Coyne is the author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played with Hickory. His next book, coming this spring, is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

2 comments :

Brian Kuehn said...

Thanks for the information about George S. May. Quite an innovator. I like his refusal to pony up more money to the PGA. Too bad everyone didn't follow suit.

The Armchair Golfer said...

It's hard to fathom that the PGA asked May for even more money. His Tam O'Shanter World Championship in the mid 1950s had a first prize ($50,000) that was DOUBLE the total purses of most PGA events.