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[Deathwatch] Chandler Harper, a Hall of Fame golfer, 90

Many thanks to a loyal reader for this one - Ed.

Local golf legend, mentor and Hall of Famer, dies

Chandler Harper

By JIM DUCIBELLA, The Virginian-Pilot
November 9, 2004

PORTSMOUTH ? Chandler Harper, a Hall of Fame golfer who won 11 PGA Tour
events, mentored U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and co-founded
Portsmouth?s Bide-a-Wee Golf Club, died Monday at his home. He was 90.

A legend in Virginia golf for the better part of 70 years, Harper won
one of golf?s most prestigious tournaments ? the PGA Championship in
1950 ? finished in the top 10 three times in the Masters and competed
against, and sometimes beat, some of the game?s greats, including Sam
Snead and Ben Hogan.

Harper won the Virginia state amateur three times and dominated the
state open for three decades, winning it 10 times, a record that stands

Long and lanky, nicknamed ?Old Bones? by his fellow competitors, Harper
beat opponents with cunning and finesse, not the power game some of his
competitors possessed, and that defines today?s modern game.

?The lifetime achievements of Chandler Harper can be measured beyond
the summit he attained by winning a PGA Championship,? said the
president of the PGA of America, M.G. Orender. ?He was a wonderful
teacher, a man with a great sense of humor and someone who was willing
to give back to the community he loved and those who sought his advice
and counsel.

?The game will miss him, but his name will forever be etched among the
elite members of the association who became the best and brought out
the best in others.? In addition to his 11 PGA Tour victories, the
lifelong Portsmouth resident also finished second in seven other PGA
Tour events. In 1955, he played in the Ryder Cup, a tournament pitting
the best golfers from the United States against the best from Great
Britain. He was elected to the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 1968 and
was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1973.

Harper?s competitive career stretched from 1938 to 1955 but was often
interrupted by job responsibilities at the local courses with which he
was affiliated. He was the first golf pro at Elizabeth Manor Country
Club. He also oversaw the construction of Bide-A-Wee in 1955 and was
head pro and proprietor there until his retirement in 1992.

It was also at Bide-A-Wee where Harper experienced one of the great low
points of his career. He helped the facility grow to 2,300 members,
making it the largest private club in the state. Yet, the course, built
on public land, became a focal point of racial tension for two decades
because blacks were excluded.

Efforts to change that policy began in 1969, but the first local blacks
weren?t allowed to play until 1988, under orders from the City Council.

However, white players maintained special privileges at Bide-A-Wee. It
wasn?t until 1990 that the club, after continued pressure from the
council, ended its private-club status and agreed to grant equal
privileges to all.

The council refused to renew Harper?s lease in 1992, effectively ending
his 37-year affiliation with Bide-A-Wee.

Today, Portsmouth?s director of golf, Andy Giles, says the course has
become ?a whole new deal.?

?The whole thing has changed now from the old school ? ? Giles said. ?I
get the pulse of the community in my job, and I think they all forgave
him for all that stuff.? PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, upon
hearing of Harper?s death Monday, cited the ?great contributions to the
growth of golf in Virginia as well as nationally? that Harper made.

?He will be greatly missed by all who knew him,? said Finchem, who is
from Virginia Beach.

Among those who knew Harper best was Curtis Strange. In 1969, Harper
took over as mentor for the 14-year-old when Strange?s father died of
cancer. Out of that teacher-pupil relationship developed a lasting

?He?s certainly been a big part of my career, especially starting out,?
Strange, winner of back-to-back U.S. Opens, said recently in a phone
interview. ?You need guidance as a youngster and you need
encouragement, which Chandler always gave me plenty of. I trusted him
and his advice because he had been there and done that.

?He had an incredible life, not only within the game, but with all of
his friends in Portsmouth.?

J.P. Leigh, Harper?s friend and the No.1-ranked senior golfer in
Virginia, called Harper ?one of the most colorful characters you?ll
ever meet.?

He meant it literally.

?You know, he would wear any color at any time,? Leigh said. . ?When a
bunch of us would get together to play in a tournament, we?d bet a
couple of bucks on what color Chandler Harper would come out to the
course in.?

Despite playing a limited schedule, Harper made a name for himself in
some of golf?s most historic events. In 1953, the entire nation saw
Harper fall in one of the most bizarre finishes in sports history.

He held a one-shot lead over fellow Virginian Lew Worsham in the
$75,000 World Championship of Golf in Chicago, the first tournament
ever televised.

The only camera the network used caught Worsham, the last man playing,
as he hit a shot at the final hole into the cup from 104 yards away.
The incredible shot turned Harper?s one-shot lead into a one-shot loss.

?I had that tournament won and I was being interviewed on the radio by
Jimmy Demaret when Lew Worsham eagled,? Harper recalled later.

But there were significant triumphs, too.

At the 1954 Texas Open in San Antonio, Harper followed an opening-round
70 with three consecutive rounds of 63. His final 54-hole score of 189
remains tied with John Cook, Mark Calcavecchia and Tommy Armour III for
the PGA Tour?s all-time record.

In 1968, Harper won the World Seniors championship in Dundee, Scotland.

But the highlight of his career was his victory in the 1950 PGA
Championship, one of golf?s four major tournaments, at Scioto Country
Club in Columbus, Ohio. Because Harper generally played in so few Tour
events, the PGA of America considered Harper the last living ?club? pro
to win its prestigious tournament.

The event utilized a match-play format at the time, pitting players in
one-on-one competition.

Among those Harper beat that week were Dick Metz, Bob Toski, Lloyd
Mangrum and Demaret. He then topped Henry Williams Jr. in the finals,
broadcast back to this region by a local radio station. Born March 10,
1914, Harper was introduced to golf when he attended a match in 1923
between legends Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen at Cavalier Yacht and
Golf Club in Virginia Beach.

?I was hooked,? he said in a 1998 interview. ?To this day, I have never
forgotten what a thrill it was watching those two great American
players.? When he was 15, Harper traveled to Winged Foot Country Club
in New York to watch the U.S. Open.

There, he met Bobby Jones, the most famous golfer in America at the
time. The two started a friendship that they maintained during Harper?s
annual visits to the Masters in Augusta, Ga.

Harper, a baseball and golf standout at Wilson High, was especially
proud of a painting he was given of Jones. It was done, Harper said,
?by an amateur painter named Dwight D. Eisenhower.?

In addition to Jones, Harper counted among his friends entertainment
legends Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. He spent time with each during the
years he played in Crosby?s famous tournament in California.

Harper was long known for having one of the best short games in golf.
His pitching, chipping and putting often enabled him to compete against
stronger players who hit the ball much longer distances.

Rival Sam Snead once remarked that Harper ?could get it up and down
from inside a shoebox.?

Ben Hogan once proclaimed Harper to be the best putter on the
professional tour.

?He came up in one of golf?s great eras,? Strange said, ?and that was
something I loved to hear him talk about. We?d play a round at
Bide-A-Wee, then go into the shop and have a sandwich. It would take a
while to get him to start telling stories, but once he got started, he
could go all night.?

Long after his playing career ended, Harper remained poised for
competition and never willing to enter a contest unprepared to give his

Four weeks ago, the Norfolk Sports Club and Portsmouth Sports Club
staged a putting contest.

Harper and his close friend Ace Parker, a former pro football and
baseball star, represented Portsmouth. The day before the event, Harper
went by City Park?s 18-hole grass putting course.

?He was out there for an hour and a half sharpening up and practicing,?
Giles said. ?I went out there and told him, 'Mr. Harper, you?ve got to
be the most competitive man I?ve ever seen in my life.??

Harper was 16 when he became the youngest player to win the Virginia
State Golf Association?s Amateur championship, a distinction he still
holds. Forty years later, he became the oldest man to win the VSGA?s
State Open, another distinction that endures. In all, he won the State
Open 10 times between 1932 and 1970.

VSGA executive director David Norman accords Harper a special place in
golf history.

?Chandler Harper?s record undoubtedly solidifies his place as one of
Virginia?s finest golf champions,? Norman said. ?He joins Sam Snead as
a legend sorely missed from the commonwealth?s golf landscape.?

Harper was predeceased by his wife Essie. His sister, seven-time State
women?s amateur champion Lily Harper Martin, and a brother, ?Chubby?
Harper, also predeceased him.

A viewing will be held on Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Foster Funeral
Home, 1926 High St. in Portsmouth. Funeral services are Thursday at 11
a.m. at Pinecrest Baptist Church, 209 Felton Road in Portsmouth.