As much as anything else, Seve Ballesteros is celebrated as the man who rescued the Ryder Cup.
It was his stellar play and cut-throat competitiveness that led Europe to multiple victories beginning in 1985 in an event that squads from Great Britain and Ireland had only managed to win three times over the previous 56 years. Ballesteros truly believed that he could beat whatever player the Americans pitted against him. And his cocky confidence led many of his teammates – Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and José María Olazábal, among them – to feel the same way. Together, they transformed a match that had become borderline boring into one of the most compelling affairs in sports.
Significant as Seve may have been to the Ryder Cup, however, he was not its first savior. Some three decades earlier, a wholesale grocer from Portland, Oregon, named Robert A. Hudson delivered the biennial match from near-death when he financed and also chaired the 1947 edition, ensuring that it was played after a 10-year hiatus due to World War II. In addition, Hudson played major roles in subsequent Ryder Cups as Great Britain – and to a lesser extent the United States – struggled to emerge from the ravages of that conflict.
A 16-handicapper who had a weekly game with managers from his company at the Portland Golf Club, Hudson became involved in professional golf when he established the Portland Open in 1944. He put up the $10,000 purse and served as tournament chairman. Staged at his home course in the Rose City, the inaugural event produced a worthy winner in Sam Snead, who prevailed by two strokes over Mike Turnesa.
Hudson came through in a similar way in 1945 when Ben Hogan beat runner-up Byron Nelson by 11 shots. And the following year, Portland played host to the PGA Championship. Hudson sponsored that tournament as well, to the tune of $25,000.
It was during that PGA, which Hogan won for his first major championship, that Hudson heard rumors that the Ryder Cup slated to be played in 1947 might not take place, largely due to money concerns on both sides of the pond. The Brits were in an especially bad way, with food still being rationed and their economy in tatters. As for the competition, which had only been played on six prior occasions, it had hardly established itself as an event of note. As a result, the Ryder Cup was much in danger of simply fading away.
Once again, Hudson stepped up.
Newspaper accounts indicate that in addition to offering up Portland Golf Club as the site for the 1947 Ryder Cup, he underwrote the travel expenses for both teams. That included paying for passage to the States on the Queen Mary for the Brits. Hudson met the golfers when they arrived in New York and later threw them a sumptuous dinner party at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Then, he went with them across the country by train.
That year’s Ryder Cup was staged over two days, November 1-2. It was the seventh time the matches had been held – and the first since 1937. Not surprisingly given how rainy Portland often is in the fall, the golf course was extremely wet, and the U.S. squad, led by player-captain Ben Hogan and featuring such players as Snead, Byron Nelson and Jimmy Demaret, squashed the Brits, 11-1.
As important as staging that match was for the future of the Ryder Cup, Hudson well understood that its survival was by no means assured. So, he continued his support. When the teams squared off again in 1949 at the Ganton Golf Club in England, for example, he is said to have shipped half a ton of meat to Great Britain with the American team, a load that included steaks, hams, sides of beef and boxes of bacon. Hudson only wanted to be sure that the Yanks were well-fed. Ever the good sports and sensitive to newspaper reports criticizing them for thinking British food was not good enough for them, the Americans happily shared the grub with their opponents.
Hudson’s involvement with the Ryder Cup continued through the 1950s. He was a co-sponsor on the 1951 match, which was held at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, and was the main reason why the 1955 Ryder Cup was played at the Thunderbird Country Club in Palm Springs, California, where he happened to have a winter home. Four years later, in 1958, Hudson pushed to have the match held once again in the desert, this time at the newly formed El Dorado Country Club. Given all he had contributed to the Ryder Cup through the years, PGA of America officials acceded to his wishes. True to form, Hudson picked up the travel expenses for the visiting team in both those U.S.-based matches.
While the Ryder Cup was the most visible of his involvements in professional golf, Hudson was active in a number of other ways. In 1949, he put up the money for a team tournament in the PGA’s Pacific Northwest Section that came to be called the Hudson Cup. Six years later, he sponsored the Western Open when it came to Portland Golf Club. Hudson also sat on the board of the Western Golf Association for a spell and those of the PGA of America and the British PGA. In addition, he led the Pacific Northwest Golf Association as its president for a time.
In many ways, Hudson was just as closely connected to his mates in the British Isles. Following the 1947 Ryder Cup, for example, he sent Christmas baskets of food to all members of the Great Britain team. And he continued to do that after subsequent Ryder Cups, even after food rationing had ended in the U.K.
“I don’t like yachts and have done all the traveling I want to do. I like golf tournaments. They are my only luxury, and less expensive than a yacht.” – Robert A. Hudson
Hudson also developed a close relationship with members of the South Herts Golf Club outside London, where the great Harry Vardon served as the golf professional from 1902 to 1937. Prior to the 1937 Ryder Cup, the U.S. team had visited South Herts for pre-match practice – and to lay a wreath on the grave of Vardon, who had passed away earlier that year. American squads continued that tradition after World War II whenever they traveled to the British Isles. Hudson was so smitten with the club and its members that he offered to sponsor a tournament at South Herts. And in 1959, the year of the club’s Diamond Jubilee, he donated a silver casket to be played for by invited clubs in a tournament called the Hudson Trophy. Later, South Herts made Hudson an honorary life member.
People often asked Hudson, who died in Portland in 1974 at the age of 87, about why he made golf such an important part of his life. “Some fellows have luxurious yachts or took extravagant European vacations,” he once replied. “I don’t like yachts and have done all the traveling I want to do. I like golf tournaments. They are my only luxury, and less expensive than a yacht.”
Like Seve, Robert Hudson made the Ryder Cup what it is today.
Top: Sir Henry Cotton, playing captain for Great Britain in the 1947 Ryder Cup. Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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