The story of the 1904 Olympic golf gold medal
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The story of the 1904 Olympic golf gold medal

Golf has been in the modern Olympic program just twice, in the 1900 Games in Paris and four years later in St. Louis.

And, as far as anyone knows, only two of the gold medals awarded are in existence.

The story of golf's few Olympic trophies -- the ones that disappeared and reappeared -- weaves into the history of the game in the early 20th century.

In 1900, the Paris games had two golf competitions: a 36-hole stroke-play event for men and a nine-hole event for women. A grand total of 22 players from the United States, France, Great Britain and Greece competed. Americans Charles Sands and Margaret Abbott won their respective events.

There was also a third event in Paris, played with handicaps. It didn't count as an official Olympic event, but St. Louis businessman Al Lambert won it. Lambert, founder of Listerine-maker Lambert Pharmacal Co., was overseas on a business visit to his company's Paris office. Lambert returned to the United States and told his story to father-in-law Colonel George McGrew, who was founder and president of Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis. In Fall 1902, McGrew announced he intended to host a world championship at his club, one of the finest 18-hole facilities in the U.S. at the time, in 1904.

In 1903, St. Louis landed the Olympics. McGrew decided to turn his world championship idea into the Olympic golf tournament.

Curiously, St. Louis was simultaneously host for the World's Fair that year. The dual hosting duties drove the city to hold an extended Olympics, running from July 1 to Nov. 23. The Olympics -- nowadays, despite their largesse, truncated to around 16 days -- were five months long in 1904. (They were more than six months long in London in 1908!)

The 1904 Olympic golf competition was held from Sept. 16-24 -- one of the few sports to fall outside the bulk of the events eventually fully recognized by the International Olympic Committee -- at Glen Echo Country Club, which is still around today.

However, because of the elongated Olympic program and the difficulty at the time of traveling to St. Louis from most anywhere outside North America, the participating golfers were largely from the United States and Canada. However, the golfers weren't representing their countries. Rather, they represented golf associations.

Unlike the 1900 Games, golf wasn't solely an individual affair in St. Louis. In fact, there were four events: an individual U.S. Amateur-style match-play tournament, a 36-hole team event, a driving contest and a putting competition.

The team contest started the program, with three, 10-player teams competing over 36 holes. However, Day 1 didn't count toward the Olympic contest. Rather, it was a money match. The Trans-Mississippi Golf Association team bested the Western Golf Association and the United States Golf Association teams to win the day's Nassau.

However, Day 2 was for the Olympic medal. WGA leader Chandler Egan, who won the U.S. Amateur earlier in 1904 and again in '05, switched his team's lineup around, leading to a win and the team Olympic gold medal. The TMGA team finished second and the USGA team finished third.

Right after the end of the team competition, Glen Echo hosted a driving contest in front of the club, adjacent to the 18th green. There's some conflict as to whether or not it was a long-drive contest.

One account claims each of the 29 participants was allotted three shots, which only counted if they landed in a marked grid away from the clubhouse. The ball had to fly at least 175 yards stay in bounds. If a shot did, the golfer earned two points. Another version labeled it a pure long-drive contest, with a player simply needing to find the grid once to qualify. Either way, both accounts arrive at the same winner.

Egan won the competition and the trophy, hitting the grid with two drives, one of 202 yards and another that went 234 yards. Arthur Havemeyer -- son of Theodore, the first USGA president and the namesake of the U.S. Amateur trophy -- finished in second.

Douglas Cadwallader had the longest drive at 238 yards, though it missed the grid.

George Lyon, a 46-year-old Canadian who took up the game at 37, didn't arrive in time to take part in the driving contest. However, Lyon would make up for it in the match-play championship.

Later that night, Glen Echo also hosted a putting contest on the nine-hole putting course McGrew commissioned specifically for the Olympics. Burt McKinnie won the contest, beating Clement Smoot with a score of 21.

On the 17th, the match-play event began with 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying. It's said 77 players -- 72 from the U.S., three from Canada and two from Great Britain -- tried to qualify, with 32 players moving on to the match play bracket. Stuart Stickney and Ralph McKittrick were the co-medalists, shooting 81-82--163. Four players, including Havemeyer, rounded out the bracket with 36-hole scores of 183.

However, the stroke-play scoring had nothing to do with the matchups created in the opening match-play Round of 32. Each round was a 36-hole match in the late summer St. Louis heat and humidity, making it a true test of endurance.

1904 Olympic golf champion George S. Lyon

Lyon, who was a cricket star before taking up golf when prodded why he didn't play a "man's sport", made it all the way to the final, meeting up with Egan, who, at barely 21 years old, was the star of the week.

The final match was played in rainy conditions, softening Glen Echo and forcing Egan to press off the tee to compete with Lyon's prodigious length. Despite Lyon setting a new course record in the morning 18 with a round of 77, the pair remained in a close match until the 33rd hole, when Egan pulled his tee shot into a water hazard, leaving Lyon 2 up with three to play. Another poor tee shot on the 34th hole opened the door for Lyon to close out the match, which he did with a par, to win by a 3-and-2 count.

1904 Olympic golf individual trophy

The Canadian celebrated by walking on his hands across Glen Echo's Great Room.

There were four other match-play flights for the players who didn't qualify for the Olympic tournament. Those winners didn't get medals.

All told, the U.S. won six medals, including the silver and two bronzes in the individual match-play competition, contributing slightly to the 239 the American claimed in the Games. However, Canada walked away with the all-important individual gold medal -- designed by McGrew -- and a silver trophy.

In the intervening years, the McGrew-designed medals -- actually made of gold, silver and bronze -- largely disappeared.

Lyon lost his gold medal, and the story goes that he probably sold it during the Great Depression to put food on the table. It was probably melted down. A family member, however, claims to have been in possession of the medal but at some point lost it when her son took it out of the home to show some kids on their street. One of Lyon's nieces appealed to the IOC to make a copy of the medal. After a decade of asking, they did, but the original is probably long gone.

As for the team medals, Glen Echo Country Club has said they've only been able to locate a pair of them. One belongs to the family of Chandler Egan, which also has his silver individual medal, too. The other of those medals belonged to Robert Hunter (not the golf course architect), one of the 10 players on the victorious Western Golf Association team.

1909 Yale varsity golf team photo; Robert E. Hunter, second in second row

Hunter, who was two months from turning 18 when he competed in the Olympics, went on to have a remarkable golf career. He went to Yale and played on the golf team at a time when the Bulldogs won nine consecutive NCAA team championships. Hunter also won the individual title in 1910 at Essex County Country Club. He finished tied for 23rd in the 1904 U.S. Open, two shots behind Egan, at Glen View Club. He finished tied for 39th at Onwentsia Club in the 1906 U.S. Open.

Hunter died in 1971 at age 84, and much of his estate, including most of his golf awards, were sold at auction, including one of only two known Olympic golf gold medals still in existence.



The whereabouts of several of the trophies awarded that week -- including for each of the contests, medalists and flight winners -- are also known. Egan's runner-up trophy remains in the collection of the Amateur Athletic Foundation since the 1988 Los Angeles Games. The USGA has a semifinalist trophy that went to Francis Newton, which looks nearly exactly the same as Lyon’s silver trophy. Burt McKinnie's trophies, one for the putting contest and another for reaching the match-play semifinals, are also accounted for. Lyon's silver trophy is in the hands of Golf Canada and is making the rounds in this Olympic year.

The USGA Museum also has the trophy won by Albert Lambert, who won the handicap competition in Paris in 1900.

In Rio in 2016, six golf medals will be awarded: three each for the men's and women's stroke-play competitions. Golf will also be in the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Its future beyond then will be decided in 2017 in a vote of the International Olympic Committee.

Had it been left to Lyon, golf wouldn't have been out of the Olympic program for 112 years. In fact, Lyon went over to London with every intention of defending his title in 1908. London organizers had planned to host a six-round, 108-hole stroke-play event at Royal. St George's and Prince's Golf Club in Sandwich and Royal Cinque Ports in Deal (all courses which still exist today).

However, the R&A and the Olympic golf organizers got into a dispute over who was eligible to compete. Since the R&A, the game's governing body outside of the U.S. and Mexico, ultimately didn't give its blessing to the competition, the British golfers intending to play withdrew. The event was canceled due to a lack of entries. The story goes the Olympic committee felt bad for Lyon, who traveled to the U.K. unaware of what had transpired, and offered him a symbolic gold medal. He declined and went home to Canada.

Lyon died in 1938 at age 79.

Egan went on to successfully defend his U.S. Amateur title the next year, reaching the pinnacle of his competitive golf career. After losing in the final of 1909 U.S. Amateur, Egan disappeared. Two years later, his name resurfaced when he purchased more than 100 acres of land in Oregon. In 1914, he began to play high-level competitive golf again, going on to win the Pacific Northwest Amateur five times. He worked with Alister MacKenzie in renovating Pebble Beach Golf Links before the 1929 U.S. Amateur, where Egan used his course knowledge to reach the semifinals. In 1930 and '34, Egan played on victorious U.S. Walker Cup teams. However, in late March of 1936, Egan came down with pneumonia and, after a week of fighting the illness, passed away.

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