Each hole on the Champions Nine at the Legends Golf and Country Club is named after a golf champion. Read a brief biography of each champion below.
Ben Hogan (1912 – 1997)
Ben Hogan, an American golfer, was one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. Hogan won more than 60 tournaments, including the United States Open four times, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) tournament twice, the Masters twice, and the British Open once.
In 1949, a bus struck the car Hogan was driving. The collision fractured his left collarbone, left ankle, pelvis, and a rib. Hogan barely survived the injuries. Doctors feared he might not be able to walk again, much less play golf. Yet, just 17 months after the accident, Hogan won the 1950 US Open. He played the tournament with his legs wrapped in bandages. Hogan was one of the smallest golf champions, weighing only 135 pounds (61kg).
Hogan, through his own diligence, became the finest shotmaker ever in the game and one of just five men (Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods are the others) who achieved a career grand slam of at least one victory in each of the four modern major championships: the Masters, US Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. He was the hardest working player in the game during a career that earned 63 victories on the PGA Tour, third-best in tour history, and nine major championships, fourth-best behind Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, and Walter Hagen. He also was probably the least-known star in sport because of a stern, no-nonsense exterior that intimidated outsiders. Because he was reluctant to leave his Fort Worth, Texas home after he retired, he was seldom seen the last 30 years of his life.
Byron Nelson (1912 – 2006)
Born in Texas, Nelson is remembered as one of the most consistent golfers of all time. Nelson’s is a remarkable story. He grew up close to Ben Hogan and both men caddied at the same golf club. Although Nelson turned professional in 1932, it would be five years before he won his first major, the US Masters.
During the 1940s, he played in 133 tournaments and was in the money list in every one of them. At that time that meant the top 10. He had 11 consecutive wins in 1945 and won the PGA Championship. He was also that year’s leading money earner. According to Ben Crenshaw, “Byron’s 11 straight victories will never be matched.”
The story goes that his wife suggested that he play golf in order to raise money to buy their own ranch rather than touch their savings. Nelson achieved that goal in 1946 and he retired at age 34 to become a farmer in his native Texas.
On the short list of records that may never be broken, Nelson owns two. In 1945, he won 18 of 30 tournaments he played, including 11 in a row, in a torrid season no one has seriously approached since. He averaged 68.33 strokes per round that year, an average that never has been bettered.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1911 – 1956)
Mildred Ella Didrikson was born in Port Arthur, Texas. She was nicknamed Babe after baseball slugger Babe Ruth because of the many home runs she hit playing baseball as a child. Babe Didrikson Zaharias is generally considered the greatest female athlete in sports history. She gained her most enduring fame in golf and track and field, but she also competed in basketball, baseball, pocket billiards, tennis, diving, and swimming. At the 1932 Olympic Games, she set world records in the 80-meter hurdles, the javelin throw, and the high jump.
Didrikson began concentrating on golf in the early 1930s. Her style of play dramatically changed women’s golf. Her powerful swing, low scores, and showmanship attracted many new fans to women’s golf. Didrikson won the US Women’s Amateur tournament in 1946. In 1946 and 1947, she won 17 tournaments in a row, including the 1947 British Women’s Amateur tournament. She was one of the founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). She won the US Women’s Open in 1948, 1950, and 1954.
Gene Sarazen (1902 – 1999)
Gene Sarazen was the first golfer to win all four modern-day majors—the Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship—and was one of the youngest winners of a major, taking the US Open in 1922 at age 20. A championship career that spanned more than 50 years produced seven major titles in all and one of the most famous shots in the history of the game: a double eagle on the 15th hole at Augusta National Golf Club in the final round of the 1935 Masters. It got him into a 36-hole playoff that he won the next day. Sarazen also earned the lasting gratitude of golfers everywhere by inventing the sand wedge in 1931.
Walter Hagen (1892 – 1969)
Generally regarded as the greatest match player ever, “The Haig” won five PGA Championships at match play, four in a row from 1924-1927 with a string of 22 consecutive match-play victories. He also won most of the challenge matches he played against the top players of his day, including a 12 and 11 defeat of Bobby Jones in a 72-hole match in 1926. Hagen also won the British Open four times and the US Open twice from 1914 to 1929. After his second US Open victory in 1919, he became the world’s first full-time tournament professional and was the first to earn more than $1 million playing the game. Because of his spirit for the game and lavish lifestyle, he is credited with doing more than anyone else to raise the societal status of the golf professional.
Walter Hagen was a great golfer and the player most responsible for elevating professional golf into a major sport. Hagen’s insistence on first-class treatment at tournaments raised the stature of professional golfers during a time when amateur players dominated the game. His popularity greatly contributed to making golf a spectator sport.
Hagen’s skill as a player combined with his showmanship and colourful lifestyle made him golf’s first celebrity. Hagen sometimes arrived for a match in a chauffeur-driven limousine and wearing a tuxedo. He was the first golfer to earn more than a million dollars in tournaments and exhibitions and the first player to market golf equipment bearing his name.
Walter Charles Hagen was born in Rochester, New York. Between 1914 and 1929, he won 11 major tournaments. He won the United States Open in 1914 and 1919; the British Open in 1922, 1924, 1928, and 1929; and the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) tournament in 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, and 1927.
Bobby Jones (1902 – 1971)
Bobby Jones, born in Atlanta, Georgia, was one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. In 1930, Jones became the only player ever to win the United States Open, the British Open, the United States Amateur, and the British Amateur tournaments in one year. These were the world’s four major golf events at that time. After completing this “Grand Slam” Jones retired from tournament play at the age of 28.
Between 1923 and 1930, Jones won 13 major titles. In addition to his Grand Slam, he won the US Open in 1923, 1926, and 1929; the British Open in 1926 and 1927; and the US Amateur in 1924, 1925, 1927, and 1928.
Bobby Jones was well known for his sense of humor. On being told it was more than 100 degrees in the shade, he replied, “Well, I’m glad we don’t have to play in the shade.”
His full name was Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. After his retirement, Jones and banker Clifford Roberts founded the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. In 1934, Jones and Roberts established an annual tournament for the course: the Masters.
Harry Vardon (1870 – 1937)
Born in Grouville, Jersey, Channel Islands, Harry Vardon became one of the most famous golfers the game has seen and was known to say “Don’t play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty.”
He started out life as a gardener, but it was his ability on, not with, the green that made Vardon famous, and during his sporting career he won six Open Championships—a feat still unmatched.
Remembered as the leading member of golf’s “triumvirate”, he dominated the Open at the turn of the 20th century alongside J. H. Taylor and James Braid. Together, the three men won 16 of the 21 Open Championships between 1984 and 1914 and did much to establish golf as an international sport.
Despite the fact that the implements he played with were primitive by modern standards, he was the straightest player who ever lived. In one stretch, for example, he is reported to have played seven consecutive tournament rounds without once hitting the ball off the fairway. When he first visited the US at the turn of the century, his accuracy was so confounding that it nurtured the famous mythological story that Harry never liked to play the same course twice on the same day—on his afternoon round he would have to play out of the divot marks he had made that morning his first time around!
Vardon was known for his accurate drives and his introduction of the overlapping grip on the golf club. Although he did not invent the grip, he certainly popularized it. Known worldwide as the Vardon grip, it is still used by 70% of golfers.
Every year the Vardon trophy is awarded to the player on the PGA Tour with the lowest stroke average.
James Braid (1870 – 1950)
James Braid was a Scotsman from Earlsferry (not far from St. Andrews). He was a self-taught golfer, but he taught many others. He played down his own skill at the game, even though he was the first to establish a record of five British Open wins. He was a British National Champion, a clubmaker of some skill, a club professional for many years at various clubs, a course designer (nearly 350 of them), and a co-founder of the Professional Golfers Association of Britain.
James Braid was a fierce competitor, whether in stroke play, or in match play, in which he excelled. The name “Braid” in Scottish means “an attack” and that was what he did when he played the game. He set records and often won by margins akin to those of Tiger Woods today. It wasn’t uncommon for the golf correspondent covering a match play championship to report, “Braid is in the final! I believe there is someone else in it too!”
During his career he had to face the stiffest form of competition in Harry Vardon and J. H. Taylor, fondly known as The Great Triumvirate. These three British players won 16 of the 21 Open Championships between 1984 and 1914.
Old Tom Morris 1821 – 1908
Old Tom was born at St. Andrews in 1821 and competed in every Open championship up to and including 1896. He also won the Open four times and remains the oldest ever winner, having won in 1867 aged 46. Old Tom died at St. Andrews in 1908, and is commemorated, amongst other ways, in the name of the final hole at the Old Course.
Tom Morris was born and bred in St. Andrews, on the east coast of Scotland. He began his career as an apprentice feather ball maker with Allan Robertson with whom he worked for 12 years until 1849 when the new gutta ball took away their livelihood.
Morris was Keeper of the Greens in Prestwick from 1851 until 1864. In 1860 Old Tom Morris was instrumental in starting an annual tournament: The British Open. Old Tom won four Open Championships in the 1860s (1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867) and is still the oldest person to have won the event at the age of 46.
Old Tom was famed for his course design; his fee: “£1 a day plus expenses”. He played a part in the design of many famous courses, including Prestwick, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal County Down, Nairn, and Cruden Bay. More than any man of his time, Old Tom left his imprint on the game. At the Old Course at St. Andrews he helped devise the first metal cups for firming up the hole. He also discovered how sand, scattered over bare spots, encouraged the growth of grass. He crossed the British Isles by donkey cart, train, and steamer, laying out golf courses as obscure as Askernish and as renowned as Muirfield and Royal Dornoch. He even invented the double-loop routing of nine holes to a side that is now standard.
As a player, Old Tom was known for good course management and accuracy from tee to green. His weakness was the short putt, suggesting that he patented the yips as well. A letter was once addressed to THE MISSER OF SHORT PUTTS, PRESTWICK, and the document was promptly delivered to Morris.
Old Tom’s clubmaking business was established in 1867 by the side of the 18th green of the Old Course. Old Tom Morris died in the year 1908 aged 86. Tom had gained so much respect, that his funeral procession itself spanned the length of South Street in St. Andrews.