News From Terre Haute, Indiana

On & Off the Course

April 26, 2009

The Haig changed golf off the course


“The Haig,” as Hagen was known, was recognized for his stylish attire on the links and his boldness on and off the course. He was vocal about allowing all professionals to play in all of the major tournaments; he hated the time-honored tradition that gentlemen only played for the love of sport rather than pay.

Pros who played golf for money were looked down upon in those days. They were considered servants; craftsmen who crafted golf clubs in the pro shops, gave lessons, and were gamblers on the course (for the most part). They did not mix with the gentry — that is, until Walter Hagen changed all that.

The three British Opens made all the difference. In one, Hagen was told he had to eat his meals in the pro shop with the other hired hands. The next day, in typical flamboyant style, The Haig rented a chauffeured limousine to drive him to the front of the pro shop, where he sat in regal splendor in the back of the car while a footman served him an elaborate luncheon with the appropriate wine for each course.

At another Open, when he was made to dress in the pro shop instead of the club locker room, he again hired a chauffeured limo, where he changed into his tailored clothes in the back of the car while parked in front of the pro shop.

These were attention getters, but would not have done anything if it had not been for the Prince of Wales. The prince, who later became King Edward VIII, invited Walter Hagen to have lunch in the clubhouse at an English course. Some club attendants whispered to the prince that Hagen, as a golf pro, was not allowed in the clubhouse. The prince loudly replied that if Hagen left, he would too. And that was how the social distinction between pros and amateurs was erased.

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