THE KING AND I (an excerpt from Tom’s upcoming autobiography “Balls of Balata”)< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">
By Tom “The Golf Czar” Wojcik
Being born “inside the beltway” in Baltimore City, you’d never think that the King and I would have some things in common.
Yes, Baltimore City a Mecca for the “golf industry” and the “King”. My story starts in 1949 when my parent’s, 6 years before my birth, purchased their first home on the north end of town. As luck would have it, a “green space” was only two blocks away. A play ground to me and my many friends. Two hundred acres of creeks, ponds, sewage drains, mowed fields and a forest to build forts, catch frogs and play football on. The “green space” was Mount Pleasant Golf course on Hillen Road, Baltimore, MD, built in 1933.
My first recollection of being at the “Mount” goes back to when I was about 4 years old. In later years at the “Mount” we would sleigh ride down number 18, a straight down hill, a tough straight up walk, 10 years later carrying two bags at one time up 18’s hill as a caddie for $5.00 per loop. My buddies and I built the coolest underground fort with a “borrowed” kerosene lantern (that’s what they used in the 60’s) off the left side of thirteen and we walked 2 miles under the roads of Baltimore climbing into a sewage drain off fourteen fairway. No computer games back then………
The “Mount” is where I “fine tuned” my average golf game, a great track with not many flat spots and long par 4’s. Before I was a teenager I started to follow the PGA and players like Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson. I later made the Calvert Hall golf team, with the nickname of “bear”. A teenage golf addict before 14 and before a “Tiger” was around. I guess a “Tiger” trumps a “Bear” though…….
Obviously, this story doesn’t end like Francis Ouimet’s did, who lived next door to The Country Club, in Brookline Mass. Ouimet won the US Open as a amateur, beating two of the all time greats from England Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913,Wojcik, was never close!
I “shagged” (not the English definition) balls for the Pro Mr. John O’Donnell to play for free. There were no mechanical ball pickers then. I also would sneak through a hole in the fence on 15 and played 3 balls in; I could hit it pretty well back then. Never thinking someone had to mow the grass and later entering University of Maryland’s Institute of Applied Agriculture in ’73 for a Horticulture certificate. Missed that one big time, I could have been the Superintendent at Eagle’s Landing!
THE KING COMES INTO THE STORY
Back in the mid 50’s and early 60’s Baltimore was the host of the Eastern Open. It was held first at the “Mount” and then it moved to the newly constructed Pine Ridge and then back to the “Mount”. It had to be around ‘58 or ’59 (3 or 4 years old) and I was on my dad’s shoulders watching men named Hogan, Casper, Borous and Sneed chasing these white balls. I can remember the crowds being thick and having a great time. Gene Littler won the 1960 tournament and the total prize money was $25,000.
The “King”, Mr. Arnold Palmer also made it to the “Mount”, but he played a different game than I did. No forts, football and no sneaking through a hole in the fence. In 1956 he drove right down Hillen Road and walked into the same pro shop I hung around for years and won the Eastern Open. The history continues: the victory is said to be his first in the USA followed by 70 more PGA wins. The “Mount” a historical “Green Space” for Mr. Wojcik and Mr. Palmer! Pretty cool.
His first professional win is said to have occurred in Canada, but only the win at the “Mount” matters to me. Mr. Palmer and I have another thing in common we both hooked a drive into Hillen road. Mr. Palmer’s was on his first swing of the 1956 tournament. It was reported that he told his caddie after the swing “That’s it I quit” but his playing partner Sam Snead talked him into continuing and you know the rest of the story. I have probably put 20 balls into Hillen road, but not with the success of Mr. Palmer.
Mr. Palmer after his victory said the “Mounts” number 15 was the hardest hole in golf. I remember it well. It was a long dog leg par 4 with the green tucked in front of a creek and a beautiful dogwood tree to its side. It had to be 450 yards in the 50’s. I bet I found 200 balls in that creek during my youth. It’s different hole today, because the routing had to be changed for Perring Parkway, but it is still a championship hole and course.
I still try to play the “Mount” once a year for the memories. It probably is in better shape today than when the “King” and I played it back in the day. It’s managed by the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation and sees tens of thousands of rounds a year, all happy customers. I wonder though how many of these players know of Mr. Palmer’s or Mr. Wojcik’s history here.
If you want to play it with me I’ll show you where the cave is off twelve. I still remember the day, as if it was yesterday, when in the dark cave a snake slithered up my pants leg only realizing it was there when I saw its tail sticking out over the top of my shoe! There also might be tear in my eyes……….
My memories of the “Mount and the King will last forever…Pretty cool to walk the same fairways with the “King” .