the photos, he is first a handsome, confident young Harvard man, hands
wrapped around the top prize in American amateur golf: the 1904 U.S.
National Amateur Championship.
And then suddenly he is a middle-aged man in plus-fours, dark hair
going gray, face lined from the sun and teeth clenched on the ever-present
In between, we find no photos, no record chronicling his disappearance
from the game or his barnstorming return. No glimpses of him among
the blossoms of his apple and pear trees, no captured moments of concentration
as he planned a rolling fairway on one of the many golf courses he
designed. Something like a quarter of century passes unrecorded—half
of the too-short life of Henry Chandler Egan.
He was born into a socially prominent Chicago family in 1884, with
a silver spoon, if not a mashie, in his mouth. As the 19th century
was ending, the Midwest had become the center of American golf—the
first 18-hole golf course in America was built in 1893 just outside
of Chicago. At age 12, Egan played his first game of golf in Lake
Geneva, Wis., where his family escaped the steamy Chicago summers.
Three years before the founding of Eugene Country Club, the man who
would design the “new” course nearly three decades later
had found his game.
“The next summer,” Egan recalled, just before his death,
“my brother and I, aided by other boys in the neighborhood,
built a nine-hole course up and down the street parkway, over the
neighboring lawns and through the Egan cow pasture. With two irons,
which cost a dollar each, we had a lot of fun on the makeshift course
for two summers, until 1899, when my father joined Exmoor Country
By the time Egan went east to Harvard in 1902—just six years
after he first touched a club—he was one of the best golfers
in the country. At 18, he was slightly built, but blessed with enormously
strong wrists that gave him tremendous (and occasionally wild) power.
He could snap the ball out of rough that could pass for a wheatfield.
He thrilled galleries with his prodigious recovery shots. (He was
also a fine tennis player, and years later he won the Oregon State
Egan’s first major victory on the golf course came at the 1902
Western Amateur, played in Wheaton, Ill. It was a family affair—albeit
played at a venue much improved over the neighbor’s cow pasture—and
he defeated his cousin Walter Egan, also one of the leading American
golfers of the time. “Chan” was Western Amateur runner-up
in 1903, when Walter had his revenge, then regained the title in 1904
and again in 1907.
From 1902 through 1904, Chandler Egan captained what may well have
been the greatest golf team in the history of Harvard University.
He won the national intercollegiate championship in 1903, but his
eyes were on a higher prize: the U.S. National Amateur.
September of 1904 Egan took his classical swing, long-hitting power
and solid all-around game to Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey to
play the U.S. Amateur, which had been dominated for several years
by the great Walter Travis. The 20-year-old Chicagoan won the 54-hole
qualifying event going away, then took the match-play finals with
a 54-hole total of 242—a low score in those days wood-shafted
clubs and less-than-lively golf balls.
A year later, he defended his national title at the Chicago Golf Club
in Wheaton, Ill., the site of his first Western Amateur victory. Egan
had now, at the age of 21, captured two Western Amateurs, two national
amateur championships and the intercollegiate title. All while studying
at and graduating from Harvard. He would finish second at the national
championship in 1909. For the first few years of the 20th century,
Chandler Egan was the greatest amateur golfer in America. Only one
title slipped from his grasp: the gold medal at the 1904 St. Louis
Olympic golf in those days meant playing 36 holes a day for six days,
18 in the morning and 18 in the afternoon. In the Olympic tournament
(a meeting at the Glen Echo course of 70 Americans and three Canadians,
the British players having chosen not to come), the final matched
the smooth young Egan against a 46-year-old Canadian named George
Lyon, possessed of an odd, unwieldy swing (described by one golf reporter
as “a man heaving coal into a furnace”) and nerves of
Lyon was the surprise of the tournament, hitting with incredible distance
and accuracy, and putting with a previously unrevealed precision.
Egan had arrived at the finals with predicted ease, and was favored
to end the upstart Lyon’s roll. Observers of the event found
it unthinkable that the 20-year-old national champion, “the
epitome of style,” could fall victim to the much older and far
less graceful Lyon.
They played the final in a torrential downpour. So much water pooled
on the course that the players used irons on the green, chipping over
puddles of standing water to get near the hole. The greenskeeper borrowed
a broom from a street car conductor standing just over the boundary
fence and furiously swept water off the greens as the twosome approached.
Although Egan was used to hitting his drives past everyone, Lyon consistently
out-hit him on every hole. Several of the older man’s drives
passed 300 yards. In response, Egan began swinging too hard and grew
wild off the tee. On the 33rd hole he was down two and in trouble.
He knocked his tee shot into the rough and his second shot into a
tree. His third shot flew dangerously right and hit another tree.
It was all over—Lyon quietly put the match away, carrying home
a gold medal the size of a salad plate and a massive gold-plated Olympian
cup—considered in those long-ago days to be the finest prizes
ever awarded in the game of golf.
After finishing as runner-up in the 1909 nationals, Egan abruptly
disappeared from competition, as well as from the historical record.
Then in May of 1911, he surfaced several thousand miles and several
lifestyles west in the small town of Medford, Oregon. He’d decided
to abandon the comforts and excitement of the big city for 115 acres
of apples and pears.
The front-page-top headline in the Medford Mail-Tribune read
“Noted Bates Orchard Sells for $75,000.” This printed
above the news of a killer heat wave in Chicago and a visit
to Portland by then-Governor Woodrow Wilson. One of the area’s
finest orchards, according to the story, heavy with Newton and Jonathan
apples and D’Anjou pears, had been sold to the “famous
amateur golf champion and Chicagoan.”
So, for awhile, Chandler Egan found himself a long way from the nearest
golf course (which at that time may well have been the first Eugene
Country Club course). But it wasn’t long before he was asked
to design a golf course in the Medford area, and his 25-year tenure
as a golf architect began. The Tualitan Country Club in Portland was
next, and in 1918 Egan designed the Eastmoreland course in Portland,
followed by courses in Seaside and Coos County. ((add characterization
of his courses, if ya got it))
One summer day in 1914, the 30-year-old orchardist, who hadn’t
played competitive golf in five years, dusted off his clubs and entered
the Pacific Northwest Amateur championship. He finished second, rekindling
his tournament fire. The following year, he won the Pacific Northwest
championship, as he did in 1920, 1923, 1925 and 1932. In eight appearances
in the event, he never failed to reach the semi-finals. At the 1921
Northwest, in which he finished second, Egan hit what one golf magazine
of the day called “the greatest golf shot we ever saw.”
On the tenth at Waverly, Egan decided he could pick up some ground
by attacking the green, which required hitting the ball over a large
stand of trees and carrying it over the greenskeeper’s cottage.
His shot soared over the obstacles, landing on the green three feet
from the cup.
Egan was coming to dominate golf in the Northwest as he had in the
Midwest. He went south to win the California Amateur in 1926.
Early in the Roaring ‘20s, Egan was approached by a group from
Eugene who had just purchased a beautiful, tree-covered, occasionally
flood-prone tract of farmland. Egan created the wonderful new course
at Eugene Country Club over the same productive years that he designed
or remodeled Waverly Country Club, Oswego Lake Country Club and Riverside
Country Club in Portland. His work at ECC was some of his finest.
Egan fell in love with the Monterey Peninsula in the late 1920s, eventually
moving to Del Monte to undertake a significant renovation of the famous
Pebble Beach course, working with Robert Hunter. He completed the
redesign in 1928. Through Hunter, Egan met internationally acclaimed
British golf architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie, and the two partnered
for a short time. When they announced thier affiliation, a golf magazine
described Egan’s principle occupation as “pear rancher,”
which calls to mind tiny little lassos and very careful horses. Egan’s
work at Pebble Beach was his highest profile architecture, praised
at the time by the early 20th century’s most famous golf architect,
A.W. Tillinghast. Today, however, Egan is seldomed credited with the
design of the famous course.
The 1929 U.S. Amateur, played for the first time on the west coast
at the Pebble Beach course Egan had remodeled for the event, marked
the return of H. Chandler Egan to the national golf scene. At the
age of 45, he reached the semifinals and was the talk and the toast
of the championship.
The following year, Egan was named to the U.S. Walker Cup team and
in the words of Northwest Golfer traveled “across the
pond to the old sod” of England, playing some great golf on
the way to the cup title. He was selected for the Cup team again in
1934, three decades after he first won the U.S. Amateur championship.
Fifty years old, Egan was legendary for both his sportsmanship and
his play—and fresh from an upset win over the young U.S. Open
champion Johnny Goodman, whom he defeated in the first round of the
1933 U.S. Amateur. Both Egan and Goodman, also a Walker Cup team member,
played brilliantly as America took the cup at St. Andrews. The sportswriter
Grantland Rice wrote of Egan: “He represents one of the most
remarkable figures left in golf. [Egan is] a fine swinger and a cool,
Egan returned to great acclaim and “grand old man of golf”
status after his second Walker Cup, splitting time between homes in
Medford and Del Monte. Much in demand, he designed North Fulton Municipal
Golf Course in Georgia in 1935. He began work on West Seattle Golf
Course early in 1936. Shortly thereafter he went north to Everett,
Wash., to design a course for the American Legion Memorial Park. It
would be his last.
On March 30, 1936, Chandler Egan came down with pneumonia while working
on the Everett course. He was hospitalized, but his condition continued
to worsen. Baffled, the doctors tried several treatments. Nothing
worked, and Egan grew progressively weaker. On April 5, he died. It
was an unexpected shock to everyone familiar with the game of golf.
“My heart bleeds when I think that H. Chandler Egan is no more,”
wrote golf author and magazine editor D. Scott Chisholm in the rich
prose of the time. “There was a champion to the very core. He
possessed every fine and gracious quality; he represented the very
essence of what a champion should be. 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 our youth to follow.”
Another golf magazine wrote: “When Chandler Egan passed to the
Fairways Beyond, golfdom lost one of its most lovable characters.”
And the editors of the Oregonian wrote: “In a more
delectable land than our own, and far more spacious, the native meadows
and swales would be naturally adapted to use as greens and fairways.
It is a reflection that comes to one with word of the passing of H.
Chandler Egan, a champion of the game called golf—a great champion
and a courteous one.”
In the final photo, taken after his death, Chan isn’t even there—just
two men in heavy coats looking at Egan’s model for a lovely
green on the West Seattle course. But somewhere just out of sight,
it’s easy to believe there is a confident man in plus-fours,
club in hand, planning to lift the ball high over the trees.