Oregon Trails: Egan Remembered

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MEDFORD, Ore. — The Masters Golf Tournament is underway at the prestigious Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Georgia this weekend and as the days get longer and warmer, more and more golfers are heading out onto the courses around our area as well.

Spring in the rogue valley and the golfers are flocking to courses all over the region. For ninety years, the premier course has been the rogue valley country club and its genesis can be traced back to the turn of the century when a pipe smoking orchardist wannabe, Henry Chandler Egan, landed in the Rogue Valley, with his golf bag in tow.

Egan was one of the top names on the national amateur circuit then. He came to the Rogue Valley with the wave of money men from the east and mid-west in the decade before world war one, and left his mark as a class act seldom seen since.

At the turn of the century, as a member of the Harvard Golf Team, along with his cousin Walter, they became Harvard Golf Hall of Famers. In 1904 and 1905 chandler won the U.S. amateur titles, just two of the many titles he won in his lifetime, but soon after he arrived in the rogue valley, he was drafted to help design the Medford golf and country club course.

At first it started with a nine-hole course on Hillcrest road. Then it moved to a site near Egan’s orchard off delta waters, but then in 1923, the Rogue Valley Golf Association was formed and chandler went to work laying out a bigger and better course back at the Hillcrest site. Egan was the driving force in making it happen.

Through it all, he was the consummate amateur and golf purist. Local historian Bill Miller likes to tell the story of the 1921 U.S. amateur, when Egan had a chance to win.

He writes: “on the 16th green, with pipe clenched in his teeth and perspiration dripping from every pore, Chan reached down to his golf ball. He lifted the dimpled sphere, removing the obstacle from his opponents putting line. His rival’s putt plopped into the cup as Chan examined a large blob of mud stuck to his ball–large enough to be seen by nearly every spectator around the green. There was an audible gasp from the crowd as Chan placed the ball on the green exactly as he had found it, with the mud blob facing the blade of his putter. Didn’t he know the rules?

“He had the right to clean the ball…but Chandler Egan was a golfing traditionalist and played to a higher set of laws. The ancient rule of golf he followed was, “play the ball as it lies.” His stroke was firm and the ball wobbled toward the hole, but it stopped short. Henry Chandler Egan, or Chan, as friends and the newspapers called him, was eliminated from the championship rounds by one stroke. Had he cleaned the ball and made the putt, perhaps he would have been U.S. amateur champion for the third time.”

Throughout his life, he shied away from matches with prize money, preferring to remain an “amateur”. There were few real professionals in those days. In fact the prize money was hardly worth the trouble. They were worth usually, just a couple hundred dollars. Although he designed the first Medford course, his course designing really took off with the east Moreland course in Portland in 1917.

His most famous project was the redesign of the pebble beach course near Monterey in 1928. That may be where he became friends with the legendary Bobby Jones. In 1936, Egan was working on a course in Everett, Washington, where he contracted pneumonia and soon died.

A year later, Jones and other golfing greats came to Medford to dedicate this fountain and bronze plaque in Egan’s honor at the country club. That same year, the U.S. Amateur Tournament came to Portland. Today, Egan’s golf bag and clubs are on permanent display at the Rogue Valley Country Club, along with trophies, and the plaque naming him to the Golf Hall of Fame is also there.

At the time Chandler Egan was playing and designing golf courses, he may have considered himself an amateur, but everything he did was professional quality and his legacy lives on today at the Rogue Valley Country Club. One of the great golfers of all time, and his name is attached to the Rogue Valley.

Bill Miller notes that in April 1936, shortly after Chandler Egan died, the Portland Oregonian said, “it is not hero worship to admire him, nor flattery to praise and when to these attributes is added that of an instinctive gentility, you may well say, ‘yonder goes a gentleman,’ such was Chandler Egan.”