The Rose Factor - My 40 Years a Whitemarsh Valley

Whitemarsh Valley Country Club Whitemarsh Valley Country Club is celebrating its 100th year with a host of activities to mark the occasion. It started on April 5th with a Centenial Gala, attended by more than 500 members and guests, with noted golf historian Jim Finegan as the guest speaker. The club will be host to this year’s GAP Amateur Championship, the week of June 10-14, the 14th time that WVCC has been chosen as the venue.

On June 24th, a special day is planned, as Champions Tour stars and former IVB Classic winners Tom Kite, Hubert Green, Tom Jenkins and Doug Tewell will return to the site of their tour wins to put on an exhibition and play a 9-hole Skins Game for the members. On June 29, there will be a picnic and fireworks. The culmination of the year’s celebration will be the annual Christmas Ball, where members will receive a special commemerative Centenial Book, with the foreword written by the IVB’s first winner Arnold Palmer.

Whitemarsh has always been one of my favorite courses in the region, a classic design by George Thomas, famous for his work at Bel Aire CC, Riviera CC and Los Angeles Country Club. Over the past 40 years, I’ve had some memorable experiences and rounds, and had the chance to play with and meet some of the best players in the world. I’ll set the time machine to the early 1960’s as we return to the good old days of the PGA Tour in Philadelphia and the IVB Classic.


My father was a real golf nut, played golf for 25 years with Sam Snead at the Greenbriar and never missed his games with his buddies on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. When the PGA Tour came to Whitemarsh, he made sure he was on the list to play in the Wednesday Pro-Am. In 1965, Dad was paired with tour veteran Bob Duden, not one of the greats but somewhat famous for his Croquet style putting stroke (later used by Sam Snead, only to be banned by the USGA when Bobby Jones saw it). Dad invited Bob to join us for dinner but he couldn’t make it. Instead Bob asked if we would allow a young tour rookie, far away from his home in Oregon, to join us for a rare home cooked meal. So Dad brought Tom Shaw home to dinner.

I was a pretty good high school golfer at Abington and it was exciting for me to hear all about the ups and downs of Tour life from Tommy. After dinner, my sister Bonnie and a friend took Tommy out for some fun at Willow Grove Park, where they rode Lightning Bolt and Tommy won my sister the big teddy bear. I think we relaxed him quite a bit, he was ready for the tournament.

Whitemarsh Valley Country Club

We all went out to watch Tommy play on Thursday, hoping for a respectable score. What we saw was more than respectable, it was a 6-under par 66 and a tie for the lead. We were so excited!! He hung tough the next three days, shooting 72-70-72 to finish in the top 10, his best finish ever (some guy named Nicklaus won). Tommy went on to win four times on tour, including Pebble Beach, and twice on the Senior Tour. We like to think that The Rose Factor was a big help in his success.


In today’s world of pro golf, every player has his or her own personal caddie, one who travels with them the entire year. In 1966, the players didn’t have tour caddies and would come to town in need of a caddie for the week. I was just home from my first year at Indiana University and I had my Dad put in a call to Whitemarsh Caddie Master Mike Smith to see if I could get a bag for the upcoming IVB. Mike cut me a break and handed me the bag of Bill Garrett, a 6-foot-6-journeyman from Texas. I shagged balls for Bill on the range, carried his bag in the Wednesday Pro-Am and for the first two rounds. A 73-74 didn’t make the cut and I was handed a whopping $47 for my efforts (I should have charged him for slammming his 9-iron on my foot after the awful shot he hit on #9). The highlight for me was on the driving range, where I stood next to Ben Hogan’s caddie shagging balls. His caddie never moved a muscle as “the Hawk” hit 5-iron after 5-iron to within a yard of where the caddie stood. That was the day I learned what practice was all about. There was no one like Ben Hogan.


Long out of school, I was now working full time in the brokerage business and trying to play some amateur golf when time allowed. I was a 3-handicap who had trouble with my hook, couldn’t seem to control my game enough to finish well in a tournament or qualify for the Philly Amateur. I went out to the IVB one day to watch the pros, maybe learn something. Walking from the parking lot toward the Whitemarsh Valley course, I stopped at the 7th tee just off Thomas Road. On the tee was Tour vet Victor Regalado. The crowd stood silent as Vic approached the tee shot. He took a smooth swing and hit this low rising fade that started at the left rough, hit the center of the fairway and released another 20 yards. I couldn’t believe it! I always thought a hook went farther than a fade. As I learned that day and as Trevino said later, “you can talk to a fade, but a hook never listens.” I changed my game that next day, started working my ball flight left to right. Two weeks later, I qualifed for my first ever Philly Am and the rest is history. The next year, I was the low qualifier, won the GAP Silver Cross and qualified for my first Philly Open. All thanks to the “Vic’ fade.


Whitemarsh Valley Country Club I came to Whitemarsh to play in the Boyle Cup, a mixed event in the Chapman format, both players drive, hit each other’s 2nd shots, then choose one ball and continue to play alternately. The field would qualify for 16 spots, then play match play. I had played in the tournament for many years with my mother, and we came close to winning but never did. I was playing with Jan Albert, one of my sisters close friends and a really good player from Green Valley. Whitemarsh was in great shape, it was a course that both of us felt we could handle. We were able to quaify for Championship flight. We barely won our first match 1-up, but we really rolled after that. We won the next match 2 & 1, won 4 & 3 in the semis, then played under par in romping to the title with a 5 & 4 victory. The gods of Whitemarsh had shined upon us.


I was a pretty good local player at this point, having won a number of local events. I had even made it to a USGA event, playing in the ’83 Mid Am at Cherry Hills in Denver, where I made the match play, lost in the first round but then watched Aronimink legend Jay Sigel win the title. So it was exciting for me to be paired with Jay in the 1985 Patterson Cup at Whitemarsh Valley. I thought my game was ready to give him a run for his money. We started on #10, where Jay hit his 1-iron on to Thomas Road and out of bounds. I made 4, Jay made 6. On #11, I made a birdie 4, Jay again found the road and made a 6. Hmmmm, I’m now 4 shots up. But this was a 36-hole event and the rest of my day is not worth mentioning. Jay settled down, as all the great ones do. He made the turn in 2-over. After a monster drive on #1, Jay smoothed a wedge right into the hole for an eagle 2. He shot 74. His second round was magic. He made an early birdie, and some pars before reaching the 7th. My other playing partner, Carl Everett from Merion, and I were shocked when Jay topped it off the tee. With 240 left to the par-4 green, Jay smoked a 5-wood to gimme range for a birdie. On the short 9th, with the pin just a few paces from the front bunker, Jay hit his wedge past the hole and we watched as the ball spun back into the hole for an ACE!! Case closed, tournament all but over. Jay shot a 4-under 68 to win in 142. Carl and I don’t remember what we shot but we still talk about Jay’s play every time we see each other. Another great Whitemarsh memory.


Whitemarsh was the host of the USGA Amateur qualifi er and my hopes were high to make a second trip to the national championship. To my surprise, I was paired with a player who had come to Whitemarsh from West Virginia, having heard great things about the course. My pairing was none other than amateur golf legend William Campbell. Bill had won the U.S. Amateur, also the British Amateur and, was a many time Walker Cup player, also its captain. He was past him prime but still competitive. I had met Bill at the Greenbriar many years before, and he remembered me and my father as friends of Sam Snead. We talked about Sam as well as many stories we both had of playing with another legend of amateur golf, his contempory, Bill Hyndman III of Huntingdon Valley. Bill is one of the true gentleman of the game, distinguished as the first American to be named Captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The play that day for both of us was nondescript but the experience of playing with Bill will always remain with me. You don’t get to play with a legend that often.


When the 2004 tournament schedule came out, I was elated to see that Whitemarsh Valley would be the host of the USGA Senior Amateur qualifier. This was a major I really wanted to make, especially since the tournament would be held at another great George Thomas course, Bel Aire CC in Los Angeles. I was in a late pairing, so I knew what I would need to make one of the 5 qualifying spots. At the turn I learned that

• My friend and neighbor Dave Brookreson was in at 71, so he and his wife Dona would be going to LA.
• Ron Vanelli from New Jersey was at 3 under par at the turn but received a 4-shot penalty for allowing his caddie to ride in his cart, a big no-no. But he rallied with a birdie on #18 from the fairway bunker, to qualify with a par round 72.

Whitemarsh Valley Country Club With another 72 in the clubhouse, it meant that only 2 spots remained. I was hanging tough at 2-over par through 16, hit two great shots at #17 for a birdie and parred #18 for a 73. The final group of the day included my friend from childhood Matt Bellis and good buddy Ernie Eichenberg, who both finished with 73. That meant a 3-way playoff for the final 2 spots. I played #1 perfectly, a good drive, a wedge to 10 feet, an easy par. I was in!! Matt and Ernie were making a mess of it, Ernie making an improbable 20 footer for 5, Matt then making a gritty 10 footer for his 5. Ernie couldn’t get it up and down on #2 and Matt’s par would insure his trip with me to LaLa Land. Whitemarsh had come through for me again, and the trip to Bel Aire was one of the great golf experiences of my life.


The GAP Chapman Cup in 2005 was played at Whitemarsh Valley, where I knew that I could play my usual ugly but effective game. Up and down, a few birdies, some bogies. As I came to #18, I was 1-under par, but leaking oil. I told myself, “Don’t hit it in the left bunker”, which of course I proceeded to do. With no shot, I sculled a 4-iron 30 yards short of the green. “Don’t leave it short”, I thought. Needless to say, I limped it to the front edge, 50 feet short of the pin. As the last player to finish and with players all around the green, I hoped to not embarrass myself with a 3-putt double bogey. I closed my eyes and hit the putt hard, opening my eyes to see the ball slam into the back of the hole for a vintage Rose Factor par. My 71 tied for low score, and with a match of cards, a tournament win. Gotta love that Whitemarsh.


The 2008 GAP Philadelphia Amateur Championship will be held June 10-14 at Whitemarsh Valley, as part of the club’s 100th anniversary. I’d love to give it one more try, but as a senior, playing against all those young long hitters, my chances of qualifying, let alone winning look bleak. Two rounds each day, no carts, pretty tough. But it is Whitemarsh Valley and the aura of the place gives me hope. We’ll see. Maybe the ghost of George Thomas will smile down on me one more time.


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