The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 14, 2013

Goodwin: Golfing rivalry with Springfield started in 1930

By Clair Goodwin
Special to The Globe

— In the late 1920s, a tall, lean golfer from the Springfield area walked in the front door of the pro shop of Oak Hill Country Club in Joplin as another youngster, this one from Zinc, Ark., was going out the back door.

It really didn’t happen quite that way, but you get the picture.

Horton Smith, who would go on to golfing immortality as the first winner of the Bobby Jones’ clambake known as the Masters, first club pro at Augusta National and first president of the PGA of America, took over as head pro at Oak Hill, now known as Twin Hills Golf and Country Club.

The kid walking out the back door was Ky Laffoon, who later would achieve fame as a touring pro and teacher as well as one the most colorful players on the PGA Tour.

In 1930, as Smith’s golfing fame spread across the nation, golfers in Joplin and Springfield began arguing over which community could or should claim Horton as their own.

Both had good points. Smith, after all, built a reputation as a top amateur around Springfield before he took the Joplin job.

But Horton was pro at Oak Hill when he made a major splash on the professional winter tour in 1929 and 1930 and earning for himself the sobriquet “The Joplin Ghost.” That moniker was hung on him by sports writers who had never heard of the young sharpshooter before he began winning tournaments.

In 1930, a group of Springfield and Joplin golfers decided to settle which city had the strongest claim by setting up a golf match. Joplin won.

But the friendships that were cemented that first year and the fun had by the contestants made inevitable that more matches would follow.

By the calendar this will be the 83rd year of the matches. But three years were lost to World War II.

Regardless of how you count the years, the Horton Smith matches have earned an indelible place in golfing history. I don’t know of any similar rivalries. And if there were any, I doubt they could trace their heritage back 80 years.

Over the years, every top player in the Joplin and Springfield areas have teed it up for their teams in the annual matches, which started out as individual match-play matches and have been expanded to also include two-man competition.

There are a variety of reasons why the Horton Smith Cup matches have been so resilient to age. One, of course, is its long, proud history. Another has been the close friendships that have been built between Joplin and Springfield golfers over the decades. I know of quite a few players who say they look forward to the Horton Smith Cup competition more than any other tournament because of the match-play format.

According to lore, Horton Smith donated the large permanent silver traveling cup that goes to the winning team each year. Laffoon bought the trophy that bears his name.

The annual matches will continue on Aug. 17-18 at Springfield, with sites yet to be determined.

Qualifying for the Horton Smith Cup (players under 50) and Ky Laffoon Cup (players 50 and older) is scheduled Aug. 3-4. Entry fee is $80. The Joplin Horton Smith and Ky Laffoon teams will be comprised of 16 players each. Team members will receive shirts and a hat to wear during the competition.

 Bonnie & Clyde

The 11th annual Bonnie & Clyde Shootout, a couples invitational scramble, is scheduled Aug, 2, 3 and 4 at Crestwood Country Club in Pittsburg, Kan.

Entry fee is $305 for a non-member team or $260 for a member with a cart or on the club’s cart program. Checks should be made payable to: Crestwood Country Club and mailed to Bonnie & Clyde Shootout, c/o Betty Pentola, 3003 Woodgate Dr., Pittsburg, Kan. 66762.  

Rest of the story

I recounted in a recent column Harold Kirk’s experience as pro at Schifferdecker Municipal Golf Course when a young man walked into the pro shop for “a sack of bats, a ball and a wooden peg” so he could play golf.

A long-time golfing friend, John Gardner, reminded me of part of the story I forgot to mention. The fellow also wanted to rent a “come-along,” which Harold finally figured out was a pull cart. The young man got the cart and I assume played his round, until, that is, he either broke his wooden peg or lost his only golf ball.