Georgia Amateur has plenty of history

July 7, 2014 

A field of 144 of the top amateur golfers in Georgia will begin play at the Idle Hour Club on Thursday in the 96th annual Georgia Amateur Championship. The year marks the record eighth time the 6,448-yard par-70 layout has been chosen for the prestigious event and the first time since the 2008 tournament. Idle Hour also was the site in 1923, 1940, 1953, 1968, 1978 and 1997.

The Capital City Club in Atlanta was host of the first Georgia Amateur back in 1916 and was won by 14-year-old Bobby Jones, who in 1930 won golf’s Grand Slam (at the time the U.S. and British opens and the U.S. and British amateurs).

Four Macon golfers have accounted for 10 Georgia Amateur titles. Watts Gunn, who played at Lanier, where his team never lost a match during his high school career, took the title in 1923 at Idle Hour when he defeated Charles Black of Atlanta 1-up. Gunn, who also played at Georgia Tech and is a member of the school’s athletics hall of fame, won again in 1927, beating Harold Callaway 8-and-7 at Savannah Country Club.

Arnold Blum dominated the Georgia Amateur in the 1940s and 1950s, winning a then-record five championships with two runner-up finishes. He beat Danny Yates of Atlanta 2-and-1 in 1946 at Atlanta’s Capital City Club, Jack Key Jr. of Columbus 2-and-1 in Athens in 1950, Frank Mulherin of Augusta in 37 holes at Druid Hills Golf Club in 1951, Alfred Gallagher of Atlanta 10-9 at Augusta Country Club in 1952 and Atlanta’s Charlie Harrison at East Lake in 37 holes in 1956.

Blum is the only winner to take the title three consecutive years. Interestingly, he finished as runner-up twice on his home course, Idle Hour, in 1940, losing to Jennings Gordon of Rome 2-and-1 and to North Carolinian Harvie Ward, who lived in Atlanta at the time, 5-and-3 in 1953.

It took almost three decades before a Macon player won another state title with Peter Persons taking top honors at the Savannah Inn and Country Club in 1984. By that time, the tournament had changed from a match-play format to medal play, and Persons shot a 282 score during the four rounds. He won in a sudden death playoff over Louis Brown of Newnan.

Current PGA Tour player Russell Henley won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009. His first came at Idle Hour when he posted a one-stroke victory over Harris English and the following year, Henley won going away, beating David Noll Jr. of Dalton by eight strokes.

All four Macon winners have had success far beyond the Georgia Amateur. Both Blum and Persons won SEC individual titles while playing at Georgia, Blum in 1941 and Persons in 1985.

Three of the four have represented the United States in Walker Cup Competition: Gunn in 1926 and 1928, Blum in 1957 and Henley in 2011.

Gunn was the runner-up to Bobby Jones in the 1925 U.S. Amateur and Persons to Sam Randolph in the 1985 event. Blum qualified for the U.S. Amateur field 16 times, advancing to the quarterfinals twice.

Henley and Persons both have wins on the PGA Tour. Henley took the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii and the 2014 Honda Classic in Florida, while Persons captured the Chattanooga Classic in 1990.

Five Maconites qualified for this year’s Georgia Amateur field: Sandy Burgess, Travis Steed, John Walker IV, Conner Albright and Taylor Jernigan. Two Houston County golfers and one from Jones County also will be playing. They are Stan Gann Jr. of Bonaire. Shawn Hodge of Kathleen and Stephen Amerson of Gray.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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