As players prepare for the 46th Walker Cup Match at The Los Angeles Country Club, golf fans around the world are about to be treated to great golf and a good-natured battle between the USA and Great Britain & Ireland in golf’s premier amateur team competition.
It’s easy to embrace the genial challenge that has featured some of golf’s biggest names – from future U.S. Open champions (Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange, Tiger Woods, Webb Simpson, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson) to top amateurs (Bob Jones, Francis Ouimet, Bernard Darwin, Joseph B. Carr, Jay Sigel, Marvin “Vinny” Giles), to future Walker Cup captains ( George “Buddy” Marucci Jr., Colin Dalgliesh, 2015-17 USA captain John “Spider” Miller”) as well as former USGA president Fred Ridley, former captain of The R&A Michael Bonallack, and William Campbell, the only person in golf to serve as both president of the USGA and captain of The R&A. However, none if it could have occurred without the vision and commitment of the former USGA president whose family has been intimately involved in a century’s worth of U.S. golf and government.
After a series of matches in 1919 and 1920 between teams from the USA and Canada and a meeting with The R&A over modifying the Rules of Golf, USGA president George Herbert Walker had an idea. The St. Louis investment banker wanted to usher in the post-World War I era with a friendly international competition. He promoted the idea within the USGA, and by 1922, the trophy he donated was up for grabs as the USA and GB&I teams faced off at the National Golf Links of America, the Charles B. Macdonald masterpiece in Southampton, N.Y. New York writers dubbed the competition, won 8-4 by the USA, the Walker Cup. The name stuck, but history had just begun to be made.
By the time the USA squad had amassed an 8-0 lead in the biennial series, Walker’s son-in-law, Prescott Bush, a Wall Street investment banker, was serving as president of the USGA. He was a low-handicapper, like his father-in-law, but he felt another call to serve. Bush became a U.S. senator from Connecticut from 1952-63 and grew close with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with whom he frequently played golf. That relationship also led to the eventual kindling of political aspirations for his second son, George Herbert Walker Bush, a U.S. Navy pilot during World War II and the former captain of the Yale baseball team. Bush would go on to serve as a U.S. congressman and vice president under Ronald Reagan from 1981-88 before eventually becoming the 41st president of the United States.
President Bush passed on his passion for service to his country, with his son, George W. Bush, serving as governor of Texas from 1995-2000 and the 43rd president of the United States from 2001-2009, while his brother Jeb was serving as governor of Florida.
Throughout the succeeding generations’ political careers, golf has never been far from the minds of the descendants of George Herbert Walker. Click here to listen as President George H.W. Bush speaks during the 2001 Walker Cup Match at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Ga., about the family legacy in golf.
David Chmiel is manager of member content at the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.