For a 21-year period in the early 1900’s, the standard of golf excellence in the Northwest was defined by the “Grand Old Master,” Henry Chandler Egan. Playing in only 10 PNGA Men’s Amateur championships, Egan reached at least the semifinals in eight of them. The other two were in 1933 and 1934, at the end of his golfing prime.
Egan's Start in Chicago
There was a splendid array of golfing talent in the Chicago area in the late 1890’s. A heated rivalry between Chicago golfers and players from the New York-New Jersey area arose when the first U.S. Amateur title was captured by Chicago’s C.B. Macdonald at Rhode Island’s Newport Country Club in 1895. Chicago’s H.J. Whigham won the 1896 and 1897 titles. Other top Windy City “sticks” included the first Western Amateur champion, David Forgan, as well as William Waller, Walter Smith and H.C. Smith.
Chandler Egan was the most sensational of all Chicago’s golfers. While a sophomore at Harvard in 1902, he won his first championship of note, the U.S. Intercollegiate title. That same year he defeated his cousin Walter in the Western Amateur. The next year the pair reversed the order, with Walter the winner. Chandler’s run continued with Western Amateur wins in 1904, 1905 and 1907. He brought fame to the Chicago area in 1904 when he captured the first of two successive U.S. Amateur crowns. Egan began a trend in the U.S. Amateur which survives today: the collegiate golfer as amateur champion.
As the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Egan was expected to win the gold medal for America at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis. But it was not to be. Gold medal-winning George Lyons enjoyed match-play defeats of the French champion A.B. Lambert, the PNGA Champion F.C. Newton of Seattle, and Egan. As always, Egan took the loss with grace, admitting he’d been outclassed by “one of the cleverest players I have met.”
The Move to Oregon.
At the height of his golfing career, Egan moved to an unlikely locale, Medford, Oregon. One can only speculate why Egan changed addresses. Perhaps, after having four different jobs in a five-year stretch after Harvard, he had a strong desire for a new beginning. Maybe the advertisements in Eastern newspapers, from which he had heard of the booming fruit business in Oregon, lured Egan to the West Coast.
After visiting Oregon in 1910, Egan returned the following May to buy the Bates orchard for $75,000. The property included 115 acres of apple and pear trees. Perhaps the real winners in the relocation were the members of Medford Golf Club. Shortly after arriving in Oregon, Egan upgraded the Medford golf facility, and later, designed the present-day Rogue Valley Country Club.
Meanwhile, on the Northwest tournament scene, area players would need to raise their standard of play to beat this former U.S. Amateur champion.
Egan's Northwest Competitions
In the 1914 PNGA Men’s Amateur at Seattle Golf Club, Jack Neville displayed unparalleled play, demolishing A.V. Macan 11 & 10 in the semifinals. Shooting a course record 69 in the morning round against Egan, Neville entered the afternoon round leading 4-up. The final result was a 5 & 4 win for Neville before one of the largest galleries to ever see a golf competition in Seattle.
In the 1915 PNGA Men’s Amateur Championship at Tacoma Country & Golf Club, Neville and Egan met again in the semifinals. But this time the Medford resident played steadier and defeated the Californian, 5 & 4. In the bottom half of the draw, Paul Ford bested former California Amateur champion, Robin Hayne. Hayne said of Ford, “If ever a man deserved to win, he did. There is not a shot in the bag he does not possess and if he is defeated by Egan in the finals, it will be because of the former champion’s greater experience.” Hayne’s analysis was correct. Egan beat Ford 3 & 2.
A Move Towards Golf Architecture
Egan’s move into golf course design in the 1920’s led him to create such outstanding Oregon layouts as Eastmoreland Golf Course, Eugene Country Club, Oswego Lake Country Club, Riverside Golf & Country Club in Portland, and Tualatin Country Club. Egan’s Washington creations include Indian Canyon Golf Course in Spokane and West Seattle Golf Course. The quiet, unassuming man was not one to preach his philosophy of golf course design. Unlike another notable Northwest golfer-turned-architect, Arthur V. Macan, it’s unclear if Egan based his golf architecture on established precepts or simply on his vast knowledge of golf. Regardless, the Northwest courses he designed rank among the region’s finest.
In 1929 Egan formed a partnership with the fabled golf architect, Alister MacKenzie (designer of Augusta National, Cypress Point Club, et al). Together, they renovated Pebble Beach for the 1929 U.S. Amateur. Egan played in this championship and reached the semifinals.
While supervising the construction of Everett’s Legion Memorial course, this gentleman of the links contracted pneumonia, and died shortly after in April 1936. The tributes paid to Egan reflect widespread appreciation for the influence he had on Northwest golf. Perhaps D. Scott Chisholm best summed up this feeling.
A real champion at heart — at home and on the links, at the card table and in the cocktail lounge. He is imbued with kindly consideration for an opponent in any sort of contest. There was a champion to the very core. He possessed every fine and gracious sporting quality a true champion should possess. He more than any other of my ken represented the very essence of what a champion should be like. When in the heat of battle, he preferred to help an opponent — never to hinder him. He was an outstanding credit to golf and a grand example for the youth of our land to follow. We ill could spare such a magnificent sportsman [in] these days of masterful chiseling.”
A lasting legacy to Egan was proposed by the president of the California Golf Association, E.B. Yoakum. The perpetual award given to the low-gross winner in the California Amateur Championship is the H. Chandler Egan Memorial Trophy.