Original Olympic golf medal found at bottom of bookcase in Ohio

May 3, 2016

Thanks to a remarkable discovery in a farmhouse in northeast Ohio, golf suddenly has obtained a more tangible link to its Olympic past just in time for its return to the Summer Games after a 112-year hiatus.

Until a year ago historians believed that none of the individual medals from the golf competition in the 1904 Olympics at Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis still existed. That changed when the silver medal of H. Chandler Egan, former U.S. Amateur champion, was discovered (along with his team gold medal) in the bottom of a bookcase in the former home of Egan’s daughter in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, about 25 miles southeast of Cleveland.

“The fact of the matter is that there just aren’t a lot of Olympic golf artifacts out there,” said Brodie Waters, Senior Director, Institutional Advancement, at the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Augustine, Fla. “Uncovering these medals is incredibly special and important. These are showpiece items that far and away exceed anything we’ve seen before.”

‘ It boggles the mind just thinking about all that history just sitting there.’

The timing of the discovery is auspicious. Golf returns to the Olympics this August with men’s and women’s stroke-play competitions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

To commemorate the occasion, the United States Golf Association and the World Golf Hall of Fame have been constructing their own Olympic golf exhibits. Suddenly, they will have the chance to feature the Egan medals as their centerpieces. On loan from Egan’s family, the medals first will be displayed beginning next week at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J., and then at the U.S. Open at Oakmont C.C. outside Pittsburgh. The World Golf Hall of Fame, in St. Augustine, Fla., will take the handoff at Oakmont and display them starting in late June.

After the Olympic tournaments, the WGHOF display will be refreshed to include items from Rio de Janeiro.

Morris Everett Jr., one of Egan’s two grandsons, discovered the medals last fall while cleaning out his late mother’s home situated on a 24-acre farm where he and his brother Chandler grew up. Eleanor, who was Egan’s only child, died in 2012 at the age of 101. Credit for their preservation starts with Alice Barrett Scudder, Egan’s second wife. Upon Egan’s death in Everett, Wash., in 1936 from lobar pneumonia, Scudder shipped all of her husband’s golf medals and trophies, as well as other personal effects, to Eleanor. These included photos, scrapbooks, scorecards, and hundreds of letters that were stored in the home’s attic. One 1932 letter to Egan was from Bobby Jones. Writing on his personal stationary, Jones asks “Chan” for his signature on behalf of a friend collecting autographs of famous golfers.

Egan’s Olympic medals were packed in separate cases in a metal box, and there they have sat among dozens of other tournament medals for more than 70 years, undisturbed, which accounts for their pristine condition. But the silver is the more significant find because at least one other team medal from 1904 is known to exist, the gold belonging to Warren Wood, who was a member of the same 10-man Western Golf Association squad on which Egan, the captain, belonged.

“My mother simply forgot that she had these items,” said Everett, who tells the story of buying a copy of a photograph of his grandfather online for $200 about five years ago. Later they discovered the original was already in the family’s possession. “Susan Wasser from the USGA [who picked up the medals and drove them back to Far Hills, N.J., last week] told me, ‘I have never seen a collection as comprehensive as this one covering one famous golfer.’ It boggles the mind just thinking about all that history just sitting there.”

“There are U.S. Open artifacts, there are other major championship artifacts, but those championships occur every year,” said Mike Trostel, senior curator and historian for the USGA Museum. “When you look at something this rare, the chance to look at silver and gold medals that have only been a part of the Olympics twice, it is a very unique opportunity for golf.”

A Chicago native Egan, 19, was the favorite in what was the second Olympic golf competition after the 1900 Games in Paris. The Chicago native had won the NCAA Individual golf title in 1902 while attending Harvard and was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion when he met Toronto’s George S. Lyon in the final at Glen Echo. Though he had won a Canadian Amateur title, Lyon had been playing golf only for eight years and was 26 years Egan’s senior. But by outdriving Egan consistently, Lyon pulled off the upset, 3 and 2. Egan went on to successfully defend his U.S. Amateur title in 1905, and just two years before his death, well after he became a successful course architect, he was a member of the winning U.S. Walker Cup team in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Lyon, a fire insurance salesman, went home to Canada a national hero, but no one knows how or when his gold medal disappeared – though the Royal Canadian Golf Association still has his first-place trophy. Likewise the bronze medals awarded to Americans Burt McKinnie and Frank Newton have been lost.

As for the eventual permanent home of the Egan medals, the Everetts have a decision to make. Both museums are keen to acquire them, but almost assuredly they could fetch a higher bid from a private collector. Morris Everett said he insured the medals for $350,000, “but I don’t know what they’re worth because no one else has anything like this. And this is the highest known existing individual golf medal.”

Regardless, their intrinsic value to golf’s history is incalculable. The fact that they still exist at all is extraordinary.

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