In the spring of 1913, the oldest of the Grout children, my dad’s brother, Duane, discovered that some of his school chums had jobs at a local golf course. Their task: carrying the clubs and balls for the rich people there. The twelve-year-old told his mother and father about this exciting new way of making money, and with their parents’ permission, Duane and his nine-year-old brother, Dick, made their way to the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club for an introduction to the new game. Soon the two were serving as caddies at the nine-hole course, which opened in 1911.
When the Grout brothers began toting golf bags, the typical caddie fee for eighteen holes was only twenty-five to thirty cents, with a tip of perhaps as much as a quarter for superior performance. Even at that modest pay, the boys earned in a single day more money than they’d ever dreamed possible. And, in a few short years, the older pair were joined on the club’s pristine grounds by their three younger brothers, Herbert, Jack and Raymond.
What sort of America did my Uncle’s Duane and Dick experience as they began caddying in 1913? A better question might be would you even recognize the place? Needless to say, in any direction you decided to gaze, this was a simple and relatively unsophisticated nation. The United States was isolated geographically, politically and culturally. Tax rates ranged from one to seven percent on incomes above $3,000. This doesn’t sound like much until you consider the average annual income was only $800. Twenty-six of those dollars, though, would have been worth one hundred today.
The motorcar had recently replaced the horse and buggy as the upper class’s favorite means of transportation but for local trips only. The pitiful condition of America’s roads discouraged long-distance car travel; eighty percent of the country’s 2.5 million miles of roads were nothing more than corrugated ribbons of mud and sand interrupted now and then by pockmarks of asphalt.
General Electric introduced the electric fan in 1913, just in time for a long, hot summer. Camel cigarettes – the brand of choice by all five Grout brothers – made a first appearance in the marketplace, along with the buffalo head nickel, peppermint life savers, Quaker Puffed Rice, and the first drive-in service station, which was in Pittsburgh, PA.
William Howard Taft was this nation’s twenty-seventh president. Taft who was an avid sportsman actually weighed 355 pounds. He also was the first president to enjoy recreational golf and his interest did inspire thousands of Americans to try their hand at the game. However, by 1913 only a little more than a quarter of a million Americans played golf. “That the game succeeded in the end is a great credit to the American people who came rapidly to the front to worship at its shrine once they had been initiated.”
The year 1913 – marked another milestone in American golf. The great Harry Vardon returned to the United States with the newest British star, Ted Ray. Both of them made an exhibition tour of the country and played in the U.S. Open. On September 30, 1913 at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, the golfing world was turned on its head when twenty-year-old American amateur Francis Ouimet defeated Vardon and Ray in an eighteen-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open Championship.
Ouimet’s incredible upset of the Brits had many beneficial and long-lasting effects on American golf, not the least of which being that caddies throughout the country received a new lease on life after it was circulated that Ouimet had started as a caddie. Instead of regarding the boys as cheap labor, golf clubs began to think of them as human beings in whose ranks there might be another Ouimet! Among the many who were inspired by the achievement of the ex-caddie were two 11-year-old boys, one in Georgia and the other in New York. Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen got a lesson in possibility.