Wakonda Club’s Rich Tradition

By RICK BROWN, PCC Senior Reporter

George Duncan was the first major professional champion to tee it up at Wakonda.

The 1920 British Open winner played in an exhibition at the newly-opened club on July 22, 1922. 

Ninety-seven years later, Duncan has had plenty of company. With 2011 British Open champion Darren Clarke and 2001 and 2004 U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen in the Principal Charity Classic field for the first time this week, the number of men’s major champions to play Wakonda has grown to 60.

 “That surprises me a lot,” said defending Principal champion and 1996 British Open king Tom Lehman. “Maybe it shouldn’t, because a lot of guys on this tour have won majors.”

The major championship list of players to tee it up at Wakonda reads like a Who’s Who of golf. The list includes Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson.

Lehman is one of 11 former men’s major champions in the Principal Charity Classic field this week

Nineteen women’s major champions have also graced Wakonda. That includes players like Patty Berg, Nancy Lopez, Betsy Rawls, Jan Stephenson, Louise Suggs, Mickey Wright and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

Those collective 79 major champions have won a combined 249 major titles.  

Wakonda has hosted a number of significant events, including two majors – the 1963 men’s U.S. Amateur and the 1956 women’s Western Open.  

Wakonda has been the site of numerous big men’s events, including the 1939 NCAA Championship, four Trans-Mississippi Amateurs, a Western Amateur and a Western Junior. On the women’s side, there have been two Western Opens and a Trans-Mississippi.

The Ruan/MS Charity Golf Exhibition brought a number of elite players to town on an annual basis from 1975 to 1996. And there have also been many exhibitions, including Duncan’s appearance in 1922, Hagen in 1922 and 1925, Sarazen in 1933, Trevino in 1933 and Hogan in 1946.

“I knew the history of the course,” said Brandel Chamblee, the lead analyst for the Golf Channel who is playing in the Principal Charity Classic this week on a sponsor’s exemption. “I knew Deane Beman won the U.S. Amateur in 1963. I knew the course was well respected.”

But Chamblee was surprised to learn that Duncan had played at Wakonda.

“George Duncan played here?” Chamblee said. “No kidding.”

The Scottish pro had won the 1920 British Open in dubious style. He opened with rounds of 80-80 and trailed Abe Mitchell by 13 shots. Duncan closed with rounds of 71-72 and won by two shots. Duncan remains the last player to win a major and shoot in the 80s.

Two years later, Mitchell was in Duncan’s foursome at Wakonda.  Joining them was James Hubbell of Des Moines, who had won the 1916 NCAA Championship at Oakmont.

Duncan shot a 75 that established a new course record.  Hagen matched it when he played Wakonda in an exhibition on Sept. 17, 1922.  Hagen had won the British Open that June, beating Duncan by a shot.

Hagen is one of 36 World Golf Hall of Famers who have played Wakonda. Three of those – Goosen, Stephenson and Peggy Kirk Bell, are in the Class of 2019. Hagen is also one of 43 Ryder Cup players that are part of Wakonda’s history, and one of 21 Ryder Cup captains. 

The Principal Charity Classic continues to enrich Wakonda’s legacy. . A total of 26 major champions have played Wakonda since the club started hosting the PGA Tour Champions event in 2013.