Ben Hogan only played in one Open Championship, but he left an indelible mark on Scotland’s east coast because of how he won the game’s oldest major and how he prepared for it.
Hogan famously captured the 1953 Open at Carnoustie Golf Links by shooting a final-round 68 while battling the flu. Four years after an automobile accident nearly killed him, he beat four men by four shots in his lone voyage to Scotland.
That journey to the Claret Jug, however, began two weeks earlier when Hogan, accompanied only by his caddy, Cecil Timms, arrived at Panmure Golf Club to acclimatize to the terrain of links golf and to acquaint himself with the smaller 1.62-inch British ball that was used at the time.
Hogan was the only participant in the Open given the privilege of playing at Panmure Golf Club. At that time, Panmure was an extremely private club, and Hogan could practice away from the prying eyes of the public and the press.
Legend has it that Hogan intently studied Macdonald Smith’s swing to improve his own. Smith and his family started life in Barry, Carnoustie, before emigrating to America in 1908. Smith is widely regarded as one of the best players of all time who never won a major championship. When he returned to Panmure in 1931 to qualify for the first Open Championship at Carnoustie, Smith set a new course record of 70.
Panmure is a historic Scottish club, only 1.5 miles from Carnoustie Golf Links and a 45-minute drive from St. Andrews. It was founded in 1845 by a collection of 17 gentlemen, and the Club’s name and shell logo come from a close connection with the Maule Ramsay family. The Rt. Hon Earl of Dalhousie remains the Club’s honorary president, and King George VI accepted honorary membership of the Club in 1930.
Panmure is the world’s 21st oldest golf club and moved to its current site in Barry in 1899. The original layout was designed by Old Tom Morris and constructed by R. Duff of Edinburgh, who also built the New course at St Andrews and Muirfield. Many of the original holes remain.
Five-time Open champion James Braid gave suggestions for modifications in the 1920s, and those were among the most significant changes over the past century.
Some of the charming characteristics include holes designed by these greats. Braid’s par-3, 180-yard 9thhole, with its undulating green protected by large bunkers and dunes, and Old Tom’s par-4, 396-yard 12thhole which requires an accurate approach shot to carry the Buddon Burn guarding the front of the green.
Today the course measures 6,551 yards, plays to a par 70, and combines the best elements of links and heathland with tight fairways, challenging carries, and undulating greens. True to links golf, holes mostly play firm and fast, and the rolling fairways wind through dunes and pine trees, leading to greens that are protected by proper Scottish bunkers.
Ben Hogan would never play in the Open again, but his legacy at Panmure remains. The sixth hole, a 414-yard par 4 (stroke index 1), was Hogan’s favourite and named after the legendary Texan. He suggested to the club that a strategically placed pot bunker be built to the front and right of the green. It was, and it is still known as Hogan’s bunker.
Another favorite story from Hogan’s Panmure experience came on the par-4, 401-yard 17th hole. Hogan liked the green and spent much time putting there, but he wanted it to run quicker than it did. So, he asked William Falconer, the head greenkeeper, if the mower could shave the green a tad tighter. Falconer said it was possible but pointed to the mower and mentioned that Hogan was free to do it himself. He did, and word is that he later returned the mower to Falconer in pristine condition after insisting on cleaning it first.
Panmure has hosted many prestigious championships over the years, ranging from national amateur tournaments to final qualifying for The Open Championship. Recently, the Club has hosted regional qualifying for The Open, the R&A Girls Amateur Championship, final qualifying for the AIG Women’s Open, and the stroke play qualifying for the R&A Boys Amateur Championship.
The colorfully clad Doug Sanders advanced through qualifying at Panmure in 1970 and later lost to Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff with a chance to win the Open. Nicklaus shot an even-par 72 to clip Sanders by one and earn his second of three Opens. Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Padraig Harrington are a few Open champions who have played at Panmure for years.
The Club’s iconic clubhouse is one of Scotland’s finest old golf buildings and was modeled – architecturally and spiritually – on Royal Calcutta Golf Club. It features three lounges, each perfect for a post-round beverage.
Ben Hogan never returned to Scotland, and the victory at Carnoustie marked the last major that he’d ever win. The Scots still refer to him as the “Wee Ice Mon” because of his steely demeanor, determination, and ability to perform best under pressure. The Open victory and his presence at Panmure in the preceding weeks were enough for Hogan to remain a legend in the area forever.
Panmure remains a private member’s club, but they are delighted to welcome visitors to experience its classic links. Are you ready to take on the Ben Hogan challenge?
Photos Courtesy of Panmure Golf Club