Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The First Man to Play the World's Top 100 Golf Courses

This is the tale of the first man to play the World's Top 100 Golf Courses in the world. A trial lawyer from New Orleans, Louisiana, he completed the task in a mere seven years. The editors of Golf Magazine played with him on his final round and presented him with a hand-lettered, framed list of his accomplishment.

His name is Jim Wysocki and he completed the task in 1986, two years before the next person to do so. Prior to golf magazines' publishing top 100 lists, Golf Magazine published the "50 Greatest Golf courses in the World." Wysocki also holds the distinction of being the first  to complete this initial list. He did so in 1982.

Jim Wysocki pictured in a Times-Picayune article from October 20, 1982

It took some time to find Jim's story, as he did it in the pre-Google/Internet era. I had to research the old fashioned way, looking at old newspapers in his home town. Some interesting things struck me: The article says that he somehow played three top 100 courses on three continents on one day in London, New York and Tokyo. Last time I checked flying to Japan crosses the date line in the wrong direction so I don't think he actually did it in one calendar day. It helps that Sunningdale, Garden City and Tokyo are close to the big city airports, and even if it wasn't in the same day, playing these three back-to-back-to back is still quite a feat! As a frequent traveler, I would love to be able to get one of the "good-conduct passes" he mentions to get through customs.

It was as hard to get onto Augusta for him as it is for everyone else. He also accomplished the task in the era before MapQuest and GPS technology. He planned the trips using paper maps!

Jim was also an amateur pilot and tragically he died in a Cessna plane crash in Louisiana in 1989, three short years after his accomplishment and in his early 50s. In his honor The James Wysocki Award is granted each year to students at Tulane who excel in Trial Advocacy.

As the unofficial keeper of the list of golfers who have completed playing the World's Top 100 Golf Courses we proudly add James Wysocki to the #1 position and pay tribute to his trailblazing. He accomplished quite a feat. Even today more men have been to the moon than have played the top 100 courses in the world. Many thanks to Top 100 golfers Randy Pace and Robert McCoy for cluing me into Jim's story.

James A. Wysocki - Golf Enthusiast and Pioneer

His story as told by by Ronnie Virgets of the Times Picayune on July 30, 1986:

New Orleans – Jim Wysocki is the first and only man to play every one of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Golf Courses in the World, and it has taken him seven years, about 9,000 strokes and a score of 1,800 over par to brag about it.

Tough audiences can consider some of the nuances of Wysocki’s feat. Since 1979, the 47 year old New Orleans lawyer has spent almost every weekend and vacation getting to golf courses like Royal dar-Es-Salam in Rabat, Morocco to Bali Handara in Bali, Indonesia. He’s shanked drives in Sardinia, buried six-irons in Sweden and rimmed putts in the Dominican Republic.

But it was the tricky seven-footer slightly up-hill on the 18th hole of the Yale University Golf Course that made Wysocki proudest.

A group from Golf Magazine, the guys who had started it all, showed up play with Wysocki in his final round. Publisher Pete Bonanni was there, with editor George Peper and writer Robin McMillan.

After Wysocki and teammate Bonanni won $2 on the round from Peper and McMillan, Peper gave the now-famous weekend golfer a framed list of all 100 courses with the dates he had played them, all hand lettered.

A picture of the list presented to Wysocki in 1986. From Times-Picayune July 30, 1986

On top was the legend, “To the only man to play each and every one of Golf Magazine’s top 100 Greatest Courses – presented July 3, 1986, with incredulity, by the editors.” “I looked up the dictionary definition of ‘incredulity’ when I got home,” Jim Wysocki said. “It says something about ‘an unwillingness to believe.’”

When he finished his seven-year task, “I had two completely opposing emotions,” Wysocki said. “The first was almost total depression; The biggest challenge of my life was now gone. The second was almost total exhilaration; As soon as that put dropped, I would be the only man in the world that had done it.”

He says he remembers having his putting concentration broken by the appearance of elephants from the game preserve adjacent to the Sun City course in Bophuthatswana, South Africa. And once he was chased from a water hazard at Shinnecock Hills by the biggest and fiercest swan in Southampton, NY.

Still not impressed? How about 299,000 miles logged in the completion. 12,000 of them by private plane and 3,000 more on the QE2? How about playing three different courses on three different continents on one day?

“My wife Christine says in so many words that I’ve got my priorities all screwed up,” Wysocki says. Mrs. Wysocki shouldn’t have been surprised, though. After all, it was her father, Gus Longoria, that gave Wysocki a taste for golf.

“I only played golf about a half-dozen times a year.” Gus was the one who pushed me into joining Metairie Country Club and starting to play regularly,” Wysocki says. “He wanted someone to play golf with.”

In 1979, Golf Magazine first published a blue-ribbon committee’s ranking of the world’s best golf courses. “It was only a top 50 list then, and we had already played about 10 of them,” said Wysocki. “And I figured, what the heck.”

Jim Sysocki moves with the self-assurance of one who feels firm in the king’s gratitude. He began collecting books about golf courses, about 400 of them. He soaked up golf history and architecture the way a well-kept green soaks up an afternoon shower. And he began ordering street maps of every city that housed a course on Golf Magazine’s list. “Part of my nature is to get into things with both feet,” Wysocki says with a straight face.

His favorite tale of compressed golf came on July 24th, 1984. On that day, he teed off on the first tee at Sunningdale, England at 5:08 a.m. By day’s end he had added rounds at Garden City, NY and Tokyo. “The Japan Air-Line people were great,” he recalled. “They arranged me good-conduct passes through immigration and customs, or else I wouldn’t have made it.”

The most memorable hole of them all? “That would be the 18th at St. Andrews,” Wysocki said without hesitation. “It ends just in front of the stone clubhouse that sits there imposing, majestic, site of all those British Opens. And there are always townspeople who come out and sit around the 18th green and watch the golfers come in.”

How to get onto Augusta National

The story of how he got onto Augusta from a Times-Picayune story on October 20, 1982:

“You can’t imagine how many avenues I took and I was turned down,” he says. He tried a former United States Attorney General and failed. A U.S. district judge and failed. A vice president of Lykes Brothers whose brother is a member and failed; a sportswriter and failed.
He finally accomplished the impossible in a round-about way. His wife Chistina’s sister introduced him to a couple who introduced him to their daughter whose husband is a doctor in Meridian, MS. The doctor has a sister in Augusta who is married to someone in the trucking business. His trucks are insured by a company whose vice president is Phil Harison. Phil Harison’s father is Montgomery Harison who helped found the club.
It was that easy. Got the picture?