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Interviewed by David Paterson in 1989
Interview (48 mins)
Jess Sweetser attended Exeter where he was on the track team, and he graduated from in Yale 1923. He won the National Intercollegiate Championship in 1920 (USGA) and placed second in 1921. Subsequently, in 1922 he won the US Amateur and played on the Walker Cup team in 1923. He was the first American-born man to win the British Amateur (1926), and he won the Bob Jones Award in 1985 (1). While at Yale, he was a member of the Yale track team as well as the golf team (the latter was considered “a minor sport”).
The only fellow Yale golf team members he mentions are Dexter Cummings (2). The Yale team played at the “hard to get to” Racebrook course. Other Yale players to win the US Amateur are Robert Gardner and Ellis Knowles. He later played with Gardner (who was captain of the Walker Cup team of which he was a member) and (“world pole vault record”). When he competed in the national intercollegiate championships, there were no more than 50 in the field and almost none from west of the Mississippi . His Amateur trophy and Bob Jones award are going to Burning Tree, while his British Amateur trophy is going to the USGA Golf House.
He and Paterson both agreed that Yale was not the first course… Dartmouth ?1923. He remembers visiting the Greist estate property as a member of the committee to decide whether the property would be an appropriate site as the Tompkins’ gift for an area for Yale golf, hockey, skiing etc. The trip was on a February day when the temperature was 12 degrees, and the estate had “beautiful potential.” He recommended C. B. Macdonald as architect because of his experience playing courses that Macdonald had designed, especially Lido on Long Island. Apparently, he had never heard of Charles Banks. Sweetser talked about Yale’s plan to raise $450,000 from 400-500 alumni @ $1,000 each, but not sure how the money was actually raised. Paterson relates how he found plans of a match to open the course in 1926 between Sarazen, Ouimet and local pros, but he could find no evidence that it actually took place.
Sweetser improved his game with the help of pro Tommy Corrigan, who later introduced him to Gene Sarazen (winner of 7 “majors” including 1922 US Open & 1922,’23 PGA)(Brooklawn) and Johnny Farrell (1928 US Open champion)(?Winged Foot). Together they played $5 Nassau at Quaker Ridge (which he rated # 1), Winged Foot, and Wykagyl. As a result, when he got to the national amateur match play tournaments he did quite well. In the 1922 US Amateur at the Country Club he beat Hunter (British A. Champion), Gilford (US Amateur Champion), Bob Jones and then Chick Evans (winner of 1916 US Open & Amateur and 1920 Amateur) in the final. Sweetser asserted that during the 1920’s, his “record in amateur play was as good or better than all others, except for Bob Jones.” He played in two US Opens, and his best was and eleventh place finish in the year it was won by Jim Barnes (1921). In British Amateur at Muirfield played against George Duncan (1920 British Open champion), a “beautiful golfer” at that time in his 40’s with Jess in his 20’s.
From 1935-45 he was a member of National Golf Links and met, but never played with Macdonald and had never been to the Yale course with him (a “great fellow…great character”). Good friend of Robert Trent Jones, fellow member of Burning Tree Golf Club (in Venturi interview Sweetser is mentioned as his sponsor to membership at Burning Tree). He was active on USGA Committees; treasurer in the 1940’s ($45,000 in revenue). He expressed disdain for the USGA Mid-Amateur championship as he saw it as an effort to accommodate the “semi-pros” of college golf. Gave example of Ben Crenshaw as a student at the U. of Texas “flunking four courses” and still playing for the team. Paterson claimed that some schools spend “14 weeks on the road competing and not attending class”…Sweetser’s response, ”they are not amateurs”.
Sweetser never saw the latest clubhouse, which was donated by Bill Beinecke and whom Sweetser said that he “liked very much”, …“is he still alive”,… if so “give him my best regards.”
(1) The Bob Jones Award is presented yearly since 1955 by the USGA in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf: “The award seeks to recognize a person who emulates Jones’s spirit, his personal qualities and his attitude toward the game and its players.”
(2) Cummings won the national intercollegiate in 1923 and 1924, though he can’t be Chester Bowles of ad and political fame since he was 1924-82.