News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 19, 2013

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: George Lance dominates intercity golf rivalry in 1927

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — What was expected to be a close match between two Terre Haute golfers for the 1927 Indiana Amateur Golf championship turned out to be a cakewalk.

George Lance, representing Rea Park, easily defeated defending champion Johnny Simpson of the Country Club of Terre Haute, 8 and 6, on Simpson’s home course.

Lance was a newcomer. In practices leading up to the tournament, he emerged as  a dark horse after finishing one round at the tough new course at two strokes under par.

Though a newcomer to Terre Haute, he was not a newcomer to the game. A native of California, Lance won the Sacramento City title in 1915 at age 21 and, later, was runner-up in the Los Angeles city tournament.

Lance began playing the game at age 13 and, four years later, was hired as the professional at the El Paso Country Club. However, he quit after three months and spent three years in efforts to win back his amateur status.

Marsee A. Cox, later editor of the Terre Haute Tribune, lauded Lance:

“He is a real golfer. His form is perfect, with the possible exception of a fast back swing, which the majority of the processionals condemn as improper but, generally,  his game of shinny is of the first water.

“In spite of his comparatively light weight (132 pounds), his drives carry consistently to the 250-yard mark. On Thursday, when he defeated Will Reed, crack Indianapolis golfer, Lance laid one down the fairway for 310 yards on the first hole of the second round.”

Simpson needed no introduction. A native of Paris, Ill., he married Lucille Topping of Terre Haute, daughter of Wilbur and Clara Tipping. Lucille’s father was president of Columbian Stamping and Enameling Co.

At age 18 in 1915, he won the annual Indiana Amateur title representing the Country Club of Terre Haute.

Simpson served in the Army Air Corps in World War I and was seriously injured in a 1917 airplane crash at Scott Field, Ill. However, he recovered to win the 1921 and 1926 Indiana Amateur crowns under the colors of the Country Club of Terre Haute.

Simpson was the third Terre Haute man to win an Indiana Amateur. Harry Irving Miller won the inaugural title in 1900 and Newton Cox captured the 1904 meet, held at the Country Club of Terre Haute course when it was located at the site of present Phoenix Hills subdivision.

The final 1927 match featured a spectacular 68 shot by Lance in the morning round.

That was somewhat anticlimactic, coming on the heels of his sensational round on Friday, Aug. 12, against John Lehman of Gary in the rain.

After nine holes, there with little doubt of the winner. Simpson conceded defeat by picking up his opponent’s ball on the twelfth hole.

Reporter Cox also praised the loser:

“Simpson, the defeated player, is also a player with perfect form and a good eye. His drives are long and, as a rule, very accurate. During the tournament, Simpson experienced much difficulty in getting his putter to work. This trouble, together with his bad approaching, contributed in a large measure to his defeat.”

Simpson accepted the loss gracefully. Afternoon picking up Lance’s ball, Simpson tossed it to him and extended his hand in congratulations.

“You played beautiful golf,” the three-time Indiana champion said as he patted the winner’s back.  Lance smiled and nodded in acknowledgment of the compliment.

Lance repeated as champion in 1928, defeating Will Diddel of Indianapolis – the only five-time winner of the Indiana Amateur – in the final match, 9 and 8. Horace Fisbeck of Terre Haute was one of the finalists.

Lance won his third straight title in 1929, coming from behind to overpower Dwight Mitchell of French Lick, the 1925 Indiana Amateur champ, on his home course.

In 1930, Lance won his fourth consecutive Indiana Amateur by overwhelming Diddel in the championship match, 9 and 8. He became the first player to win four consecutive tournaments.

Though he relocated to Indianapolis before the 1930 tournament, Lance still represented Rea Park of Terre Haute.

In a semi-final match against Bill Bassett of Fort Wayne in the 1930 competition, Lance carded a hole-in-one.

Officials of the Country Club of Terre Haute and the Indiana Golf Association were lauded for their handling of the tournament.

• • •

Earl A. Parker, first manager of Jungle Park Speedway located about eight miles north of Rockville, was struck and fatally injured by a race car on Aug. 14, 1927 while repairing a rut in the track.

Built by A. Earl Padgett in 1925, Jungle Park complex was situated on a 72-acre tract west of Turkey Run State Park on U.S. Highway 41. Besides the “nearly half mile long” race track and 3,500-seat grandstand, it included a nine-room hotel, several guest cabins, a restaurant and a silver fox ranch.

Lights were installed in 1930, making it the first track in the area to offer night racing.

The first Jungle Park race was held July 5, 1926. Many of the finest drivers in the Midwest competed there including Ira Hall of Terre Haute, Billy McCoy of Sullivan, Mauri Rose, Emil Andres, Rex Mays, Joie Chitwood, Dutch Baumann, Wild Bill Cummings, John Gerber, Sherman “Red” Campbell, Mark Billman, Harry McQuinn, Louis Schneider and Bob Carey.

The federal government halted auto racing in 1942 during World War II. The Padgett and Dan Sleek families resided there during the war and maintained the facility sufficiently to permit racing to resume three weeks after the war ended.

According to internet sources, Padgett sold Jungle Park in 1946 but the track remained open until 1960.