Schifferdecker golf course was the home site for a second consecutive Missouri Open in 1926.
The total purse was raised to $750.
This Missouri Open brought PGA tour winner Harry Cooper to Joplin. Cooper gained the nick name of Lighthorse Harry for his fast play in winning the Los Angeles Open in 1926.
His first-place check was a whopping $3,500, a huge payout for the time.
Cooper won over 30 times on the tour and became the first player to receive the Vardon Trophy in 1937.
It is fascinating that a winner on the professional circuit would play in the Missouri Open and at Schifferdecker. Cooper and his golfing colleagues traveled great distances to compete for prize money. He joined a long list of other legendary pros that would tread the fairways at Joplin’s municipal golf course.
Once again, the Missouri Open was played in the middle of the week with two days of 36 holes played each day. Managing the greens during the August heat was a challenge to Schifferdecker greenskeeper Earl (Red) Reeves.
Eddie Held claimed his second consecutive Missouri Open with a final-round-72 and a four-round total of 285. Schifferdecker pro Ted Longworth finished four strokes back.
Earlier in the year, Longworth tied the course record with a 31-34-65. Third place went to Cooper. His trip to Joplin was a profitable stop by winning $200. Recently-turned pro Horton Smith tied for fourth with a total of $297 and won $87.50 in prize money.
Also, in 1926, Schifferdecker golf course hosted the first Tri-State Golf Championship (also known as Ozark Amateur). This would become the oldest continuously played golf tournament in the Joplin region.
Beginning in 1922, the tourney was held at alternate courses each summer. The first Tri-State tournament was held just down the street at Oak Hill. In the early years the tournament alternated between communities. Pittsburg, Kansas, was the host city in 1923, Miami, Oklahoma 1924, and Baxter Springs, Kansas in 1925.
From 1926 to the present, the Tri-State Golf Championship was played at the Schifferdecker. The event’s name was changed in 1936 to the Tri-State Open.
The playing format was modified from the initial match play to straight medal competition. In the beginning the entry fee was $2 and the tournament was open to professionals and amateurs. Eventually the name of the Tri-State Open was changed to the Ozark Amateur, and the tournament was closed to professionals.
Even in 1926, golf manufacturing companies were looking for innovative ways to improve the game. Golf shafts became part of the conversation.
One novel alternative was the use of bamboo. In New York the C. S. Burchart Company began making bamboo shafts. They were made of 12 separate strips of bamboo laminated together. Burchart ran advertisements with the tag line, “What a motor is to an automobile a shaft is to a golf club.”
Bamboo shafts were not the answer, but steel was. During the mid-1920s steel shafted clubs became legal to play in United States Golf Association (USGA) tournament competition.
This equipment improvement was a game changer.
Although steel shafts were far from new, the advantages they offered were reflected in better overall shot making. The ball traveled longer distances resulting in lower scores. The steel shaft allowed the players to swing harder and faster while keeping the club face in line with the ball and the sweet spot.
Golf club maker MacGregor was one of the first to offer steel shafted clubs with a step down taper. The United States Golf Association was aware that the ball would be flying farther and began adjusting the course length to accommodate the added longer distance. Sound familiar? The USGA was established in 1894 to regulate the game of golf.
It was first referred to as the Amateur Golf Association of the United States.
In 1926, 18 Joplin businessmen formed Redings’s Mill Inc. They created the Reding’s Mill Resort after purchasing 413 acres of wooded land adjacent to Shoal Creek.
The accomplished city planner and landscape architectural firm of Hare & Hare of Kansas City drew some ambitious plans for a year round resort and residential district. Home lots sold for $400 to $750. The plans called for a large swimming pool, civic center, hotel, dancing pavilion, tennis courts, bridle paths, riverside boardwalk, various home and cabin lots and a golf course.
The nine-hole course built on the north side of the creek was laid out by Tom Dickson. Dickson was the head pro at Oak Hill. In 1927, Dickson accepted the pro position at Schifferdecker replacing Ted Longworth.
Reding’s Mill resort covered both sides of Shoal Creek, with the historic mill as its focal point. Unfortunately, the golf course played a role in the destruction of former pioneer John Reding’s third mill. On November 8, 1936, the sulfur mixture for the course ignited a fire that destroyed the historic landmark and one of the most photographed sites in the region.
Scotsman Harry Robertson took Dickson’s position at Oak Hill. Robertson’s first home was near St. Andrews, Scotland. According to The Joplin Globe he was one of Scotland’s finest golfers, winning the country’s amateur championship in 1910. Two years later, he won the United Kingdom Jute Goods Association championship.
Robertson learned to play taking lessons from Willie Smith, the brother of MacDonald Smith, and received instructions from Archie Simpson, who was considered to be one of the earliest golf professionals in America. Robertson was a member of the famous St. Andrews.
Al Barkow, in his book The History of the PGA Tour, reflects on tournament play among the pros during this time. He states, “Before 1926 the pros generated tournaments on their own initiative.”
Often, they played for as much as they could get out of a passed hat, or the entry fee. Everyone showed up at the course, the pairings were made up between the players, and off they went. Often the entire event was 36 holes, played in one day.
Former pioneer pro Jim Barnes recalled the early days. Following a WWI tournament “The Prize,” Barnes said, “was a huge layer cake put up by one of the hotels. We washed it down with soda pop and whatever else was available.”
However, primitive the tournaments were in the mid-1920s, they were improving as the decade closed. At the time how could they ever project the astounding financial awards ahead?
With his recent U.S. Open win, Mathew Fitzpatrick received over $3 million.