Catching a glimpse of the great Ben Hogan honing his golf game
By Irv Lightstone (May 2006)
Back in the early 1960s, four young aspiring Canadian golfers – George Knudson, Alvie Thompson, Ken Jacobs and myself – were hanging out in Florida, trying to become the next Ben Hogan.
There were no mini-tours to speak of back them, but there was always some form of competition if you looked hard enough. In those days many Canadian pros, including Moe Norman, would head for Daytona Beach. It was a great golf town but the weather was unpredictable, so we spent most of our time further south near Palm Beach. The wonderful “Dub” Pagan was the pro at the West Palm Beach Country Club and he was kind enough to let us hang our hats there for the winter.
In the early part of March as our time in the south was coming to an end, we played in a tournament at the North Palm Beach GC. One of the participants was a young assistant from the very private and very prestigious Seminole Golf Club named Dave Marr. After spending the winter with Claude Harmon, the head pro at Seminole, Marr would migrate north with him to the equally prestigious Winged Foot GC in New York. After spending some time with Dave, we learned that Harmon’s good friend Ben Hogan could be found at Seminole nearly every day, preparing for the upcoming Masters Tournament. Naturally, we asked Dave about the possibility of getting in to watch Hogan and his answer was a definite no. “Don’t even think about it,” he told us. “First of all, you would never find the entrance because there are no signs, and second, no one but no one gets in unless you are with a member”.
Despite Dave’s admonishment, for the next couple of days, the thought of watching Hogan hit balls never left our minds.
Finally one morning at breakfast, Alvie looked at us and said, “Let’s sneak in. The worst they can do is ask us to leave.” We headed out that very morning looking for the entrance to the Seminole Golf Club and Ben Hogan. Dave Marr wasn’t kidding, it took us a while to find the entrance to the course, but we did. After parking our car on the side of the highway, we began our attack on Seminole. As we got to the end of the driveway, to the left was the parking lot and to the left of the parking lot was a fairway, which we would learn later was the ninth. As we made our way through the bushes and the trees and got close to the golf course, there in front of us was the unmistakable figure of Ben Hogan, hitting practice balls up the fairway. Apparently, Hogan hit balls there every morning around 10 o’clock. We stood in awe for about 20 minutes before we were spotted. A security guard came over and in no uncertain terms told us to get lost. As we were being escorted off the property, I saw Hogan pause to watch our departure.
Not to be deterred, we returned the next morning and although we managed to find a more discreet hiding place, we were eventually found out and evicted once more. I’m sure that Hogan was aware of our shenanigans.
We didn’t go back the next morning, knowing the guard would be looking for us, but the morning after that we decided to try our luck again. This time we lasted about 45 minutes before the guard spotted us and started towards the grove of bushes we were hiding in. As the guard neared the nine-time major champion, Hogan called him over and after a very brief conversation the guard returned to his post, leaving us to enjoy two more hours of Hogan-watching.
To this day, the kindness Ben Hogan showed four young Canadian golfers that morning has not been forgotten. Soon George appeared on the PGA Tour and he and Hogan struck up a friendship that would last many years.