Tommy Armour Golf – (History, The “Silver Scot”)

The history of Tommy Armour Golf

One of America’s oldest golf equipment manufacturers, the Tommy Armour Golf Company began its lineage in the early 19th Century as the Burke Golf Company. William Burke of Newark Ohio owned a business that supplied hickory whipstock to manufacturers of buggy whips. Noting that buggy whips would have little chance for growth with the introduction of the “horseless buggy”, Mr. Burke began to look to expanding other avenues of sales for his American-grown hickory.

At the time, many English and Scottish clubmakers depended on American-grown hickory for their golf shafts. In 1903, Burke decided to turn over a larger Burke Logopart of his product to the manufacturing of hickory golf shafts. The company’s success in this field was encouraging and, coupled with the increase in the popularity of the “new” game of golf in American, the Burke Golf Company dropped its whipstock business and began to make finished golf clubs in 1910.

Sales grew steadily and in 1917, the company signed its first Tour Staff: Harry Vardon, J. H. Taylor and James Braid. As a result of players of this magnitude promoting its golf equipment, the business began to boom after World War I. Soon after, Walter Hagen was added to the staff, which further spurred an increase in sales.

As a result of a business takeover, William Burke lost control of the company to Robert Crandall in 1922 and soon left the firm. The Crandall family owned and guided Burke Golf through its most successful years from the 20’s through the 50’s when Burke golf clubs were considered among the finest in the industry.

In the 1950’s, MacGregor, Spalding, and Wilson were other giants in the golf industry. In order to compete more effectively against them, Burke Golf negotiated a license agreement with the Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America to produce a professional line of golf equipment bearing the PGA logo. The pro-line was sold exclusively to PGA professionals for sale in their pro shops.

Shortly after the death of Mr. Crandall in 1959, the Crandall family sold the company to the Comptometer Corporation, a very large and successful machine company looking to expand into profitable recreational-related fields. Subsequently, in 1963, another Chicago-based company, Victor Business Machines, merged with the Comptometer Corporation to form the Victor Golf-Comptometer Corporation. Additionally, the new company included the Worthington Golf Ball Company, a DesMoines Glove and Bag Company, and the newly formed PGA Golf Division.

As the only golf club production facility under Victor, Burke had been responsible for manufacturing the PGA line of golf clubs as well as the proprietary Burke lines. Soon after the 1963 acquisition, however, a decision was made by Victor to split the two into separate markets. Burke was relegated to a dealer-line status in an attempt to satisfy a growing blue-collar, price conscious market, while the PGA Division became the arm under which the professional line of equipment as sold. This split triggered the beginning of the end of the Burke Golf line of quality golf clubs, with the last line bearing the Burke Golf name manufactured in 1977.

1964 was the first model year for PGA Golf and its premier club model was the Ryder Cup persimmon woods and logoed blade irons which also featured True TemperäRyder Cup Iron Flexi-matic steel shafts. Other club models included the Corvair, the Polaris, and the Lady PGA woods and irons. The PGA Golf accessory product line included high quality leather, vinyl and canvas golf bags; carryalls and headcovers; golf caps and gloves; jackets, shirts, socks and thermal underwear; golf umbrellas; and golf balls. All products bore the PGA logo.

In lieu of the tremendous competition created by the investment cast boom, in 1971 Burke Golf was moved in to Victor Golf’s headquarters in Morton Grove, Illinois. The Morton Grove facility was originally built in 1958 and owned by Janette Electric Company, a manufacturer of electric motors. Victor Business Machines acquired Janette Electric in 1958, renamed the company Victor Electri-Car Company and converted the operations to the manufacturing of electric golf carts. When the manufacturing operations of the Burke-Victor line of pro-line golf clubs was moved into the plant, the golf cart operations were moved to another plant in Chicago.

In 1978, Victor Golf’s parent company, Victor-Comptometer, was acquired by Walter Kidde, Inc. Kidde was a diverse corporation whose early roots were in the fields of fire safety and industrial safety products. The company’s position in the golf industry began to grow stronger under Kidde, who brought in new management and capital to underwrite the research required to develop new and better products and to market them more effectively.

In 1985 the subsidiary changed its name to Tommy Armour Golf Company. Tommy Armour’s name had appeared on one or more of the company’s products continuously from 1931, when Tommy Armour, the legendary “Silver Scot”, first signed with the Worthington Ball Company. Worthington had been acquired separately by Comptometer before the merger with Victor. In the 1960’s, Tommy Armour ended his long endorsement of MacGregor golf clubs and signed an agreement to exclusively promote Victor Golf. After his death in 1968, the Company continued the use of his name on golf clubs. Changing the company’s name to Tommy Amour Golf was in honor of Armour’s more than 50 year of association with the company, and in recognition of his outstanding record as a club professional, teacher, and player.

In 1987, Kidde, Inc., the parent company of Tommy Armour Golf, was acquired by Hanson PLC, a very large London-based British Company with diverse interests in the United States and Britain. The same year, the company’s long licensing agreement with the PGA of America came to a close by mutual agreement and the company no longer featured the PGA logo on any of its products.

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Tommy Armour “The Man” History

As long as men play golf, the name of Tommy Armour, the “Silver Scot”, will stand near the top in golf’s Hall of Fame, for here is one of the game’s most gifted players, and one of the most colorful sports figures of all time. Known in his later days as the Silver Scot, when younger he was known as “the Black Scot” for his thick tuft of black hair. A longtime friend once described him as having “a mouth like a steel trap, a nose like a ski jump, and eyes which indicate that he would enjoy seeing you get a compound fracture of the leg”.

Born on September 24, 1894 in Edinburgh Scotland, Tommy received his schooling at Fetty’s College and Edinburgh University, and while prominent as an all-around amateur in Scotland, he did not engage in serious competition until after World War I. Rising from private to Staff Major in the Tank Corps, it was said that his fine, strong fingers and superlative coordination of hand and eye made him the fastest man with a machine game in the entire Tank Corps, thus gaining him an audience with King George V. He survived a mustard gas explosion but was left blinded and with a metal plate in his head and left arm. He fought back to regain the sight of his right eye and while convalescing in a war hospital, took up golf to regain his strength.

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Recreation became an addiction. It was in the golden sports era of the 1920’s when Armour rose to golfdomes heights. His first fame came with the French Amateur title in 1920, and later that same year he made his first American championship appearance, reaching the semi-finals in the National Amateur before being defeated in the firth round by Francis Ouimet.

In 1921, he was a member of the British Amateur team in the first international competition against the United States. Later (1926), he played as a member of the American team in the first International professional matches between the United States and Great Britain, and by so doing, Armour was the first golfer ever to represent both the United States and Britain in international play.

Tommy turned professional in 1924. His first win came in 1927, when he defeated Harry Cooper in a play-off by three strokes at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. In the play-off, Cooper put his approach shot at the 17th 18 inches from the stick and holed the putt. Armour finished him by putting his own within a foot.

In succeeding years, Armour went on to bag every important golf crown. When he won the Western Open in 1929 at Ozaukee Country Club in Milwaukee with a 273, it was the lowest score ever recorded in major championship play up to that time. In 1930, Armour won the PGA Championship at Fresh Meadow on Long Island, the home club of Gene Sarazen, whom he defeated by one hole in the final. He won the Canadian Open 3 times (1927, 1930, 1934), the British Open (1931), the Western Open (1929) and was elected to Golf’s Hall of Fame in 1942.

history_player5Tommy ArmourRated by experts as one of the greatest iron players in history, Armour personally believed himself superior in wood club performance. To watch Tommy’s powerful hands and wrist action was a thing of beauty to a golfer’s eyes. His hands, which were once described as “a stalk of banana’s”, truly had to be seen to be believed. He once bested Jack Dempsey in a test of hand strength when Dempsey was in his prime and generally considered to have the most powerful hands in the world. This involved holding billiard cues out from the body by grasping them at the tip. Armour’s hands proved almost twice as strong as Dempsey’s.

Tommy’s professional career lasted from 1924 to 1935, only 11 years. In the early days of golf, a professional did not get rich or famous by winning golf tournaments. In fact, when Armour won the Canadian Open in 1934, he cashed a $500 check. Tommy’s golf career was dependent on being a club pro and teaching the game. Winning tournaments and championships was solely a means of insuring the job you already had or of finding a better one.

Armour would sit under an umbrella sipping a drink while his pupil, usually a millionaire golf nut or a famous player, broiled in the sun. After a few swings, Tommy’s tongue loosened and he went over all of the bad points of his pupil’s swing, sometimes even to the point of rudeness. His clientele loved it, and his lesson book grew and grew until it became almost impossible to have a lesson with “The Silver Scot”.

Tommy taught only in the morning and scheduled only one-half hour lessons. He never allowed the average pupil to hit more than 20 balls. His fee for a lesson ($50), was, in his own words, ‘outrageous’, yet pupils often had to wait six months to get into his lesson book, if he even agreed to accept the person as a pupil.

Many of the game’s outstanding players owe much of their skill to Armour. The impressive list of his pupils included Lawson Little, Johnny Goodman, George Dunlap, Art Doering, Betty Jameson and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

history_player1Tommy ArmourIf he had never played golf, Armour would undoubtedly have risen high in any field. He excelled in all sports, was a famed raconteur, a master bridge player, a classical violinist and a gifted businessman. During the winter and early spring months, he devoted his full-time efforts to teaching golf at the famed Boca Raton Hotel and Club in Boca Raton, Florida, where he held the position of head professional from 1929-1948. He had an impressive record at many of the country’s most famous clubs including the Congressional Country Club in Washington D.C. (1926-1929), Tam O’Shanter Golf Club in Detroit, Michigan (1929-1931), and Medinah Country Club in Chicago, Illinois (1932-1943).

Tommy wrote two instructional books, “A Round of Golf with Tommy Armour” and “How to Play Your Best Game All of the Time”. The latter, published by Simon and Schuster, was a best seller and was written with Herb Graffis. The two spent the summer of 1952 in a saloon in Mamaroneck, NY, and as Armour talked, Graffis wrote. The book was later made into a movie. At introduction, the movie was produced by Castle Films and was available in 8mm silent ($29.95), 16mm silent ($49.95) and 16mm sound ($79.95). The book is still in publication today and the movie is available in VHS format.

It was the roaring 20’s for Tommy, right up until the time he passed away. His closest friends would not have been surprised to see Walter Hagen drive up to take Armour with him to join Babe Ruth for an evening out to frolic with a few showgirls from the Ziegfield Follies. It is said that Armour’s tastes in alcohol were out of the ordinary, unless daily consumption of a couple of dozen gin bucks, followed by a Bromo Seltzer, chased down with a shot of Scotch is considered common place. That combination was Tommy’s idea of a “round”, and, more importantly, had to be consumed exactly in that sequence.

Tommy never recovered from a lung operation, made necessary in part from injuries incurred by the earlier mustard gas explosion. He passed away on September 12, 1968, just 12 days shy of his 72nd birthday. Shortly before his death, still enamoured with the game, he came out of retirement in April 1968 to become the club professional at a new club, Boca Rio in Boca Raton. The course, it is said, was designed with only Tommy in mind as the head man.

To quote another of golf’s greats, Gene Sarazen, “as a golfer, Armour possess (es) one important singularity in my mind. As an amateur, he was just a fair amateur. When he turned professional, he made himself into a magnificent professional. That may happen in other sports, but it rarely happens in golf”.
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