Ferree a Link to Inaugural U.S. Junior Amateur July 24, 2015 | Bluffton, S.C. By Stuart Hall

Former PGA and Champions Tour player Jim Ferree competed in the inaugural U.S. Junior Amateur in 1948. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Memories of the U.S. Junior Amateur’s inaugural championship in 1948 mainly exist today on the frayed pages of record books, yellowed newspaper clippings and, perhaps, some crimped black-and-white photographs boxed away.

Or in the increasingly rare first-hand recollections of the participants, such as Purvis Ferree Jr., who was a 17-year-old player from Winston-Salem, N.C., that particular August.

As the 68th annual championship unfolds this week at Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course, Ferree, better known as Jim, marvels at how the game has changed since he was among the first 128 players to compete for this title.

On Jan. 8, 1948, the USGA Executive Committee announced that it would contest a national championship for players under the age of 18, the first scheduled for eight months later in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“Back when I played, there just weren’t that many tournaments for us to play in,” said Ferree, 84, who in addition to playing on the PGA and Champions tours, served as director of golf at Long Cove Club in nearby Hilton Head, where he currently lives.

“I probably played in three that summer – the Carolinas Junior, which I couldn’t win because I wasn't good enough, our club championship and then [the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship]. And they were all match play.”

Ferree says one of the biggest factors for the sparse opportunities was the era. Three years before the U.S. Junior Amateur was created, the United States was in the final months of World War II.

“That whole period of time when we were 13, 14, 15, there were hardly any golf tournaments,” Ferree said. “So, we really weren’t very good. And most of us had very little experience playing in tournaments because nobody had much money and it took gas to drive to what tournaments they did have. So, it was a big deal.”

Despite Ferree’s modest appraisal of his game, his father thought enough of his son’s ability to encourage him to qualify for that first championship. His father, Purvis Ferree, worked early in his career for iconic golf course architect Donald Ross and Richard Tufts, grandson of Pinehurst Resort founder James Tufts. In 1942, Ferree became the head golf professional at Old Town Club in Winston-Salem.

Ferree recollects qualifying in Charlotte, N.C., one of 41 sectional sites that first year, and advancing, along with Torrence Jones.

The two made the trip to Michigan together as most of the field arrived in Ann Arbor by car, bus or train. The players were housed in the University of Michigan’s dormitories and given a meal pass to the student union. 

Among the 495 entrants who advanced through sectional qualifying were Mason Rudolph, a 14-year-old Tennessee native who was the youngest qualifier; Gay Brewer Jr., who went on to win the 1967 Masters; and a sweet-playing Ken Venturi, a 17-year-old from San Francisco whose reputation was wide spread.

Ferree played a practice round with Venturi.

“I knew his reputation as a player, and the thing I was so amazed with was how good he was out of bunkers,” said Ferree of Venturi, who nearly won the 1956 Masters as an amateur and won the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., while suffering from heat exhaustion.

“In that practice round, he just kept hitting balls out of bunkers. He was hitting them close, while the rest of us would get it out somehow and say, ‘We’re good.'”

The championship was held at the University of Michigan Golf Course, a tightly crafted Alister MacKenzie design that was nearly as old as the boys walking its fairways. The course, which was 6,660 yards and played to par 72, opened in 1931, and was already gaining a reputation as being a classic. In 1947, the course hosted the NCAA Championship, which was won by LSU.

“It was a beautiful course,” Ferree said, “and it was the first time I had ever played on bentgrass.”

Amid temperatures in the mid to high 80s, the four-day, seven-round match play championship began on a Wednesday. Ferree drew Don Guariglia, of St. Louis, in the opening round.

Guariglia eventually won the 1949 and 1951 PGA National Caddie Championship, the 1950 and 1951 Missouri State High School Athletic Association's individual titles and the 1953 St. Louis District Golf Association Championship.

“He had a twin brother [Ron, who was also in the field], and I could have sworn one was driving the ball and the other was putting,” Ferree joked. “He was good.”

Good enough to defeat Ferree, 3 and 1, and advance to a second-round matchup against Venturi, who opened with a 2-and-1 victory.

Venturi cruised past Guariglia, 6 and 5, en route to a spot in the championship match. Of Venturi’s first six matches, none reached the 18th hole and four were decided before the 16th hole.

In the championship match, Venturi lost, 4 and 2, to Dean Lind, of Rockford, Ill. Lind was able to parlay his win into a scholarship to Michigan, where the Wolverines won a pair of Big Ten titles with Lind on the team.

Ferree returned home and attended the University of North Carolina in 1949. In 1953, Ferree helped the Tar Heels to a second-place finish in the NCAA Championship.

After college, Ferree was drafted into the Army and stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. His commanding officer was a golf enthusiast, so Ferree was able to hone his game as time allowed.

When Ferree completed his military service, he was prepared to work for Malcolm McLean, who in 1934 helped found McLean Trucking Co. McLean, an Old Town Club member and friend of Purvis Ferree, had given Jim a job loading trucks at night so that he could play golf during the day for two summers while he was in high school.

“I never had an idea of being a golf [club] pro and my dad didn’t want me to be a golf [club] pro because there was a limit on how much you could make and you had to work all of the holidays,” Ferree said.

McLean, whose company morphed and merged into what is now Maersk Line, the world’s largest container ship and supply vessel operator, was keenly aware of Ferree’s golfing abilities and did not want him to regret never trying to play professionally. So he was willing to bankroll Ferree for three years.

“You have to remember, playing on tour was not like it is today,” Ferree said. “So I went back to my dad and asked if he thought I was good enough to play. He said ‘Yep.’ He said I drove the ball really well, was a wonderful long- and medium-iron player and I putted fairly well. And I said ‘OK.’”

In 1957, Ferree tied for 17th in the U.S. Open at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. The finish was his best in six appearances and a year later he won his only PGA Tour title, the Vancouver Open Invitational. He later joined and won twice on the Champions Tour, which modeled its logo after Ferree’s rhythmic swing and signature knickers fashion statement.

For Ferree, who first picked up a club eight decades ago, at age 4, the game has taken him places he never would have imagined.

The first of those was Ann Arbor for the inaugural U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.