HEWLET HARBOR, NEW YORK | There are generally two stories about each of the leading amateur golf invitationals that are held throughout the U.S. each year. One has to do with the tournaments themselves, competitive yet congenial events that boast many of the best players in the land. And the other has to do with the names of the contests, and the people who they memorialize. Like the Coleman and Crump, for example. The Travis Invitational and Stocker Cup, too.
Every golf season in the Metropolitan New York area is kicked off by one of those tournaments, the Richardson Memorial Invitational. Named after the esteemed New York Times golf writer and editor William D. Richardson and started the year after his death in 1947, it brings the finest amateurs in the region together the first weekend in May at the Seawane Club in Hewlett Harbor, N.Y. The tournament begins with an 18-hole qualifier and is followed by two days of match play.
Conditions are usually difficult so early in the year, and the golf swings and putting strokes often rusty from long, cold winters off. But the competition is always fierce for the right to hoist a sterling silver bowl that was donated by the Times at the tournament’s inception and has been won over the years by some of the best golfers in Met Area history, including Dick Siderowf, Jerry Courville Sr. and George Zahringer.
For competitors, there is a lot to like about the Richardson, which has been played at Seawane from the start. “It always generates a lot of excitement for the players,” says Joe Saladino, an amateur stalwart in the Met Area and this year’s defending champion. “Part of that is because it’s the first tournament of the season. We are all pumped to be playing again, and we all enjoy getting back in touch with guys we haven’t seen all winter.”
According to Casey Alexander, another frequent Richardson contestant, the track at Seawane is also a draw. “It is a terrific match play course,” he says. “It’s on the water, and the wind can make it really difficult.”
Alexander is also enticed by the history of the event. “And look at the guys who have won it in the past,” he adds. “The list includes some of the best golfers who ever played in this area, which tells you the esteem in which this tournament has long been held.”
The name of the invitational also sets it apart, for Richardson was a man of great repute in the newspaper business. A native of Milwaukee, Wis., who worked for local publications in the Badger State before moving to New York, he covered a multitude of sports as a journalist, whether baseball or football, track or horse racing. Richardson also enjoyed writing about rowing, a pleasure no doubt born of the time he served as coxswain on the varsity crew team at the University of Wisconsin.
But it was golf that seemed to give Richardson the most joy in his work. And it was where he made his mark. A remembrance published in the Times shortly after his death at the age of 62 described the World War I veteran as the “dean of golf writers” in America and “an enthusiastic advocate” of the game as well as a promoter of amateur competitions at all levels.
He covered The Masters before it actually was The Masters – and was called The Augusta National Invitation Tournament instead. He reported on Bobby Jones in his heyday and was a close friend of Gene Sarazen’s. Richardson was credited with bringing the game of golf into the mainstream nationally, through his writings in the Times, and also his work in the elegant and much-praised Golf Illustrated magazine.
In addition, he wrote and edited a number of books on the sport. His New York Times obituary lauded his “brilliant writing style” and described him as “keen of wit and ever friendly.” A natty dresser, Richardson came to be known in pressrooms around the land as “the Gentleman from The Times.”
In 1946, Richardson helped found the Golf Writers Association of America, and that group felt strongly enough about his impact on the sport that it introduced the William D. Richardson award in 1948, the year after he died. The decree was that it be given each year to an individual who has consistently made an outstanding contribution to golf. It is a coveted prize, presented at the annual GWAA dinner in Augusta during Masters weeks, and past winners include Bing Crosby, Dwight Eisenhower, Babe Zaharias, Arnold Palmer, Bob Hope, Ben Hogan, Pete Dye and Peggy Kirk Bell.
That same year, The Times created the Richardson Invitational in conjunction with the Long Island Golf Association, which has run the event at Seawane from the beginning. Sixty-four years later, it stands as among the best regional invitationals in the country.
It’s also a pretty good way to remember the gentleman journalist who did so much for golf.