By Stan Awtrey
When visitors attend the Masters, they think of names like founders Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts and great players like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
But the mention of Ed Dudley will more than likely draw a blank to the thousands that pour into Augusta National each year, even though he was a big part of the club’s landscape for many years as the head professional and competitor in the tournament.
In another day, Dudley might have become a household word for golfers around the country.
He had the ability to play the game at the highest level, the communication skills that made him a highly sought instructor and the leadership skills that allowed him to stand apart from the others. He rubbed shoulders with and counselled with political leaders, the business elite and the giants of golf. Plus, he had the rugged looks that would have played very well in today’s world, where image is so important.
But today, 52 years after his untimely death at age 62, Dudley remains relatively unknown apart from those with a deep, abiding love of the history of the game. That is a shame, given that Dudley:
- Was a 15-time winner on the PGA TOUR, including the Western Open and Los Angeles Open in 1031
- Finished among the top 10 of a major championship on 24 occasions, a record among players who never won a major
- Finished among the top 10 in all four majors in 1937, a feat that didn’t occur again until Arnold Palmer did it in in 1960
- Played in three Ryder Cup matches
- Was the first golf professional at the Augusta National Golf Club
- Served seven years as the president of the PGA of America
Born in Brunswick, it didn’t take long for him to be taken seriously as a competitor. He won the city championship when he was only 17 and turned professional when he was 19. After spending two years at Belmont (N.C.) College, Dudley headed west and worked as an assistant professional at Rockdale Country Club in Miami, Okla., and as head professional at Oak Hill Country Club in Joplin, Mo., and Oklahoma City Country Club.
He game was never better. He won the Oklahoma Open in 1925 and 1926. He kept heading toward the Pacific Ocean and became the professional at a club in Los Angeles and won the 1928 Southern California PGA Championship.
Dudley moved back to the East Coast in 1929 when he took a job as head professional at Concord Country Club in Philadelphia. Dudley made the Ryder Cup for the first time that year and returned home in time to take the Pennsylvania Open and Philadelphia Open.
In 1931 he won the Western Open, which was considered a major championship at the time, where he beat Walter Hagen by four shots. He also won the Los Angeles Open.
Dudley went on to win 15 times on the PGA TOUR and was runner-up 11 times. To get an idea of the significance of that victory total, which is tied for 57th on the all-time list, others with 15 career wins include Tommy Bolt, Fred Couples and Bobby Locke (all three in the World Golf Hall of Fame), as well as Corey Pavin and Mike Souchak.
Dudley was competitive in national competition, but never won the big one. He had 24 to-10 finishes in a major championship, a record for players who did not win at lest one major.
“But look who his competition was?” said golf historian and author Sid Matthew.. “They were all U.S. Open champions.”
In 1932, when Jones was looking for his first head professional at Augusta National, he sought a “gentleman” who could play and teach. He believed a professional could teach effectively only if he was a good ball striker. Many thought Jones would turn to former U.S. Open winner Willie Macfarlane, but he ended up choosing Dudley.
“Dudley played golf throughout the ‘20s and that’s where he caught Bob’s eye,” Matthew said.
Dudley was still one of the best players in the world at the time, probably still among the top 20, and was known to have the “smoothest swing in the game.” He agreed to curtail his tournaments and stick close to Augusta National, where he would serve as the unofficial professional host.
He played in the first eight Masters and has seven top-10 finishes. He established the course record at Augusta National, a mark of 69 shot in 1934 that is displayed on the Record Fountain that can be found to the left of the 17th green.
Dudley continued to compete in national events and in 1937 contended in all four majors. He became the first man to finish in the top 10 at each major championship in the same year, a feat not repeated until Arnold Palmer did it in 1960.
- He was third in the Masters, finishing three shots behind Byron Nelson.
- He was fifth in the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Mich., after starting the final round only one shot behind eventual winner Ralph Guldahl.
- He had the first-round lead and tied for sixth at the Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland that was won by Henry Cotton, who overcame the cold, persistent rains that punished players the final two days.
- He reached the round of 16 at the PGA Championship at the Pittsburgh Field Club, losing 3 and 2 to eventual winner Denny Shute in a 36-hole match.
In addition to being the club professional at Augusta National, Dudley was able to be he head professional in the summer at the Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs, when Augusta was closed. He stayed at Augusta through 1957 and was at the Broadmoor from 1941-63.
“When I went to the first Masters in 1934, I was a 15-year-old kid, and I was in awe of the great players and Ed Dudley was one of them,” said Georgia Golf Hall of Fame member Dan Yates. “He was a good fellow, treated us kids gentlemanly, which some folks didn’t. When you’re 15 years old you get impressed and he impressed me.”
He was extremely popular with the members and their guests, among them Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Dudley gave his first lesson to Ike in 1948 and they retained a teacher-pupil relationship for the next 12 years. It is said that each spring Eisenhower would relish the chance to escape to Augusta and work on his game under Dudley’s watchful eye.
Dudley also gave lessons to singer Bing Crosby and comedian Bob Hope. Dudley joined the two entertainers for a variety of fund raisers during the war.
In 1958 Dudley took a winter job at the new Dorado Beach Resort in Puerto Rico, a property conceived and developed by Laurence Rockefeller. Dudley hired Chi Chi Rodriguez as his caddie master, an important position. In addition to being a hit with the guests, the popular Rodriguez honed his playing skills and went on to win 38 professional events.
“(Dudley) got me the down payment on a new house,” Rodriguez said. “Then he helped me get a car. I was just out of the Army and he gave me a job at $300 a month.”
Dudley also had an affinity for the PGA of America and served as president from 1942-48. He left a lasting impression on the sport and helped the professional tour survive during World War II. He helped professionals organize programs to promote the sale of war bonds and emphasized the return of old golf balls for reconditioning.
“We feel that golf has a place in the war effort from the standpoint of morale and as an aid to health,” Dudley wrote in a nationally published letter. “
Dudley’s leadership helped convince the War Manpower Commission that wartime golf was OK, as long as it did not interfere with the war effort. He persuaded them to exempt golf professionals from gas rationing in order to continue tournament golf to continue for their livelihood and raise money for the war. This gave the approval or tournament golf to continue and allowed the PGA Championship to miss only one year during the war.
“I think he was the greatest president we’ve ever had,” said Pete Trenham, a longtime member of the PGA of America and historian of the Philadelphia Section. “I believe he saved golf during the war.”
Dudley was also among those who helped establish the Tournament Bureau within the PGA of America, which separated club professionals from playing professionals. This later became the PGA TOUR.
Dudley was named honorary captain of the 1949 Ryder Cup and accompanied the team to England for the event.
Dudley died unexpectedly in Colorado Springs in 1963. He has been hospitalized to remove blood clots in his leg and suffered a fatal heart attack a week later.
He was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 1964. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 1976, the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 1990 and was an original member of the Philadelphia PGA Section Hall of Fame in 1992.
(This article originally appeared in Golf Georgia magazine.)