By Dick Brown
George Low served as green superintendent and golf professional at Baltusrol from 1903 to 1925. To find out more about the man and his contribution to both Baltusrol and golf, Dick Brown took on the assignment and wrote a very thorough account that also parallels the early history of the game of golf in America from its crude beginnings in the 1890s to the early 1930s.
Dick spent long hours searching through archives, libraries and archival clipping services. What follows are some of the highlights from Dick’s work that we thought the membership would enjoy reading. Because of its length, the complete story will be published as a PDF file and made available on our Web site. Other excerpts will appear in future issues of the Baltusrol News.
Golf grew rapidly during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then, as now, the players owned the game. It was, however, the club professionals who facilitated and made the game’s growth happen. Most importantly, they taught the new enthusiasts how to play. They designed many new golf courses, an amazing number of which are still among the top rated a century later. They manufactured the golf clubs. Importantly, they arranged and played in the large numbers of exhibition matches that were of great interest to golfers and also presented the game to the public at large.
Low had no biographer and left no written record. He was mentioned in many of the minutes of Baltusrol’s Board of Governors meetings, in the two Club histories and more than 5,000 newspaper articles in the New York and New Jersey newspapers and golf magazines. We obtained and read many of those articles and what we know about Low was learned mostly from them. We learned that he was one of the best golfers of his day, an effective golf teacher, a charming and genial and often generous man, and a hard worker who accomplished much.
George Low lived on the Baltusrol property, raised his family here, played championship caliber golf, taught the game to a number of very good players and was an honorary life member. He turned the Old Course into a gem and was given full credit for that.
Low was born in Carnoustie, Scotland in 1874. At presumably a very young age, he went to work in Archie Simpson’s golf shop at Carnoustie where he learned the club maker’s trade. At some point he moved to Aberdeen, where he became a top-ranking golfer.
Low arrived in the United States in 1899 and lost no time introducing himself to the American golfing scene. He found a job with the Dyker Meadow Golf Club in Brooklyn as green keeper and professional golfer, but in the summer of 1900 Low also accepted a job as professional and green keeper at the Ekwanok Club in Manchester, Vermont, which he held in addition to his Dyker Meadow job.
In April 1903, Louis Keller announced that he had engaged Low to be the golf professional and green keeper at Baltusrol. Low in effect gave Dyker Meadow and Ekwanok only two weeks’ notice of his departure, but none of the papers noted any kind of an ethical lapse on his part.
It soon became clear that Low brought a special flair to his work and was a brilliant success at Baltusrol. Members enjoyed exhibitions and Low brought in all the best local and touring professionals, probably to the great satisfaction of Louis Keller, who thought that such events added to the reputation and stature of the Club. When Low played well in exhibitions and matches, the news reporting the events always mentioned “George Low, of Baltusrol,” which our members must have enjoyed reading in their Monday morning papers.
The papers reported regularly about the activities at area clubs, and George Low’s name often appeared in headlines. One such report, in a December 1906 issue of the Brooklyn Eagle, said that Low had taken on three members in a match a few days earlier and beat their best ball, using only his putter.
Low treated the members to more than a look at one of the best golf swings of the day. As he walked down the fairways he entertained, and produced in a thick Scots brogue a steady flow of commentary and humor.
It was customary in the early 1900s for the golf professional to handle course upkeep, and Low performed that duty at Baltusrol. The information we have is that Low was skillful, careful and achieved good results. There was frequent mention in the press of the good conditioning of Baltusrol’s golf course, and compliments to the Green Committee resulting from members’ satisfaction were from time to time recorded.
Low’s most important design accreditation could have been Baltusrol’s Old Course that was constantly in flux and under improvement from the day in was started in 1895 to the day it was abandoned in 1919. In fact, The Green Committee, in its annual report presented to the Board in October 1915, included the following commendation: “In June we held the Open Tournament of the USGA which was described by the officers of that Association as one of most successful ever held. A large share of the credit for the improvements and condition of the course is due to George Low, who has been indefatigable and has given much thought and time to it.”
We noted that Low made a name for himself as a club maker at Dyker Meadow, and he took that business with him to Baltusrol. He advertised his business regularly in the golf magazines. Low’s biggest challenge as a club maker occurred in March 1909 when the Club’s original clubhouse burned down. Low’s repair shop was saved, but some 400 sets of members’ clubs were destroyed. In those days, there were no standardized sets of clubs, and each golfer’s assortment of clubs was highly individualized. Low must have suffered the tortures of the damned as he responded to each replacement order, and he must have earned a pretty penny as he did so. But, as one newspaper observed, Low suffered large losses to his own account in the fire so that what he made in sales was partially offset by his losses in the fire.
Low kept his club manufacturing business going at least until 1937, but his NYC shop probably closed before then.
Low resigned from Baltusrol in October 1925, effective at the end of the season, stating that he intended to start a golf course architecture business with Herbert Strong, an Englishman who was his counterpart at Appawamis. His resignation was accepted, although with regret, and the Board took immediate steps to hire a new professional.
Sadly, the golf course architecture business Low was hoping for never materialized. The Strong and Low partnership never produced a single golf course and, as it happened, Low was never credited with another design. Strong apparently had no business either until 1927, when he designed two courses. It may be the case that Low confined himself to his golf shop in NYC, concentrating on his club making business. Certainly, the Great Depression would have forestalled any new golf course work.
George Low died in Clearwater, Florida in 1950. His obituary in the New York Times, which had since 1900 mentioned him in its columns more than three hundred times, occupied less than a column inch.