One Historic Golf Game
01/08/2016 12:15PM ● Published by Aubray Onderik
By: Marshall Waren
Once upon a time, nearly 66 years ago, there was a famous golf match in Fayetteville. And it involved Arnold Palmer. You may have heard of him. He was a senior at Wake Forest College which, at the time, was outside of Raleigh. His playing partner was the great amateur star Harvie Ward from Tarboro. Most everyone that knows golf knows what Arnold Palmer accomplished during his career (and what he did for lemonade and iced tea). However, very few people know of Harvie Ward. The match that day, May 21, 1950, was between the two best amateurs at the time and two local pros, brothers Fairley and Archie Clark. It was then that the largest crowd of spectators on record gathered that Highland Country Club and Fayetteville has ever seen for a golf game.
Before the Fayetteville match with Palmer as his partner, Ward had won the North-South Amateur in Pinehurst in 1948 and the NCAA national championship in 1949. He later won back to back US Amateur championships in 1955 and 1956. That record stood until 1982 when Jay Sigel won two straight national amateurs. Ward also won the British Amateur and many other events. And if you can believe it, his undefeated record in Walker Cup matches still stands today. He finished fourth at the Masters in 1957 and seventh in the 1955 US Open. Ken Venturi, in the book, The Match said: “When Jack Nicklaus was in his prime and Harvie was in his prime, I’ll take Harvie.”
Ward was great friends with longtime Fayetteville resident Harvey Oliver. Oliver played on the UNC-Chapel Hill golf team with Ward for four years as the number two player behind Ward. Also, in December of 1949, Oliver and Ward played a similar match against the Clark brothers. They lost that match one down.
Arnold Palmer and Harvie Ward had a golfing relationship for many years. They played against each other dozens of times before Palmer turned professional in 1954, surpassing Ward in fame when he won the 1958 Masters. And the great North Carolina golfer remained amateur until 1974, though he lost that amateur status for a year in 1957 due to circumstances surrounding his employer, a then famous car dealer on the west coast. His life would take a turn for the worse as a results of those events and he never fully recovered. To learn more on Harvie Ward, do yourself a favor and read that great golf book I mentioned earlier, The Match. It is about a famous game pitting the two best amateurs in the world in 1956, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward against the two all-time famous professionals Ben Hogan and Bryon Nelson. It was played at the revered Cypress Point Golf Course in Pebble Beach, California.
One irony of the Palmer-Ward match in Fayetteville was Oliver followed golf closely, yet years later had no memory of the event. He was at a social function a few years ago when he was discussing this match with now deceased local attorney D. P. Russ. Oliver said he didn’t believe the match occurred and Russ claimed he was there. They made a friendly wager on a bottle of whiskey and Russ proved he was right by providing the story in The Fayetteville Observer from May 22, 1950 (see sidebar). Later, Oliver took a mini-bottle to Russ’s office. They shared a great laugh because they had never established the size of the bottle for the bet.
Oliver’s friendship with Harvie Ward was lifelong. It took on a different dimension when Ward was emotionally and financially bankrupt in the early 1970s. He was working in a shipyard in San Francisco and was also giving lessons to people hitting golf balls into a net in a downtown sporting goods store. He knew he needed to go home, but had no money to do so. He reached out to the editor of the Daily Tarheel in Chapel Hill that he knew from his days at UNC. The editor suggested he contact his old friend Harvey Oliver, which he did. Oliver was a successful insurance executive in Fayetteville at the time and he contacted local entrepreneur Dan Thomason who was a friend and client. Thomason had a major financial interest in the golf resort Foxfire in Pinehurst. Oliver was persistent with Thomason and spent many hours convincing him that Harvie Ward would be great for golf development at Foxfire. Thomason finally relented and hired Ward in 1974 to be director of golf. He remained at Foxfire for ten years. I took a series of golf lessons after meeting Ward though my relationship with Harvey Oliver. His teaching had a dramatic impact on my golf game. I went on to win six men’s club championships at Highland County Club and attribute those lessons to my success. Ward was a great teacher of the golf swing.
Due to his success at Foxfire, his longtime friend Jack Nicklaus hired him to be director of golf at his new development Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida in 1984. Ward’s rebound in life can mainly be traced back to his lifelong friendship with Harvey Oliver.
The Fayetteville match in May of 1950 was due to Harvey Oliver’s friendship with Harvie Ward, even though he forgot about the match years later. Oliver is now 89 and lives in an assisted living home here in Fayetteville. Arnold Palmer is 86 lives between Florida and Pennsylvania. Harvie Ward died in Pinehurst in 2004. The Clark brothers had a long golf legacy in Fayetteville. Archie was the pro at Highland Country Club for years and he died in the 1965. Fairley was the head pro at Fort Bragg Officer’s Club for 28 years. He played in the inaugural Masters Golf tournament, several U.S. Opens and was inducted to the Carolina’s PGA Hall of Fame in 1985. He died in 1987. At the time of the match the Clark brothers were two of the best golfers in North Carolina. Their nephew, local resident Alph Clark provided me with all the newspaper stories about this event. It was quite a feat for Ward and Palmer to beat these great professionals one up on May 21, 1950.