June 5, 2020
By Jim Davis
Gordon Beggs Jr. is a retired law professor (Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University) who makes his home in Tuscon, Ariz. A member of both the GHS and the Society of Hickory Golfers, he has been a long-time player and supporter of the National Hickory Championship (since 2008, seven tournaments). Though slowed in recent years by health woes, Beggs, undaunted, often plays a hole or two with his favorite pre-1900 hickories on the Dorado Golf Club, a course that borders his back yard.
When NHC organizer Pete Georgiady announced that the 2020 tournament would have a twist that would allow players to participate from afar, playing on their own courses from distances that suit the gutty clubs of the tournament, Beggs was in, but was not aware of any other gutty players in Arizona (you had to play in a pair), so he was inspired to add his own wrinkle – a “memorial” round in which he paired his scores with those of revered and now gone former NHC players.
“When Pete indicated he was decentralizing the NHC, I recognized I am the only gutty era player in Arizona,” he said. “I was looking forward to playing with Marsalis (Davis) and Joe (Trefilek) and all my other friends in Dayton this month.”
But the coronavirus put all that on hold. With many tournament directors postponing or canceling their events, Georgiady decided to proceed with a “quo na vadis” event. The latin translates to “where are you marching?” or “whither goest thou?” Participants were invited to participate on a course of their choosing, with yardages commensurate with those normally played at the NHC, and scorecards submitted for comparison and evaluation to determine winners. An extreme social distancing, but one that many players felt was no problem. Some 85 players entered the 2020 Quo Na Vadis NHC.
“As I substitute [for not seeing his friends], I resolved to play some rounds in memory of some of those associated with the NHC who have gone on to their reward,” Beggs said. “It was not an official round. Pete specified that players go out in pairs, and there have been no other players players in gutty events from Arizona.”
Subsequent to his memorial round, Beggs learned of an entry to the Quo Na Vadis NHC from two players in Northern Arizona, Matt Stovall and his daughter, Rylee. The two participate in a variety of hickory golf events, including the annual Arizona Desert Hickory Classic. Rylee, 14, is a top player who often finishes at or near the top of her ladies division.
Though a round with the Stovalls did not occur, Beggs said he was thrilled to see new gutty players emerging.
NHC organizer Pete Georgiady explained that while Beggs’ health kept him from being a competitor the last few years, he played in exhibition mode, hitting from the 100 or 150 mark in the fairway. It was perfect, kept the pressure off and allowed Beggs to simply enjoy the golf and the camaraderie. “He just enjoyed being part of the gang, wearing his kilt and clan tie,” Georgiady said. “I get notes regularly from ‘Gordo,’ which is what I call him, reporting how he played at 6 a.m., in the cool of the Tucson morning. He’s very intelligent, a funny guy at times, but always friendly and his heart is as big as Texas.”
As for Beggs’ memorial round, what follows is an account of each hole, named by him for a revered and now departed NHC player, along with a description of his NHC playset.
Dorado Golf Club
May 25, 27 and June 1, 3, 2020
Exhibitor Practice Rounds
Holes played at 100 yards or so
Start at #12, end at #11
Round 1 2 3 4
1 Arlie Morris 8 6 5 8
2 Eric Wolke 6 5 5 7
3 Richie Harris 6 7 6 8
4 Steve Kameika 6 5 4 7
5. Charlie Cole 5 6 5 6
6. John Roth 5 4 4 4
7. Mike Just 6 5 6 6
8. Louis Keller 6 7 6 7
9. Rosalie Keller 8 7 6 6
Total 56 52 47 57
Gordon conducted his memorial round with balls made years ago for the NHC and stamped with “Oakhurst.” His pre-1900 play set included the following:
Louisville Golf Baffing Spoon – Mike Just prototype
Stewart Driving Mashie – Ralph Livingston collection
Stewart Mid Iron – Randy Jensen
Stewart Mashie – Ralph Livingston collection
W Wilson Gunmetal Putter
Georgiady’s brief description of the former players honored by Beggs:
- Arlie Morris never played in the NHC but sold clubs to Gordo and probably encouraged him to play hickory golf.
- Eric Wolke needs no further introduction, was a good friend to all NHC players and played with Gordo at least once or twice.
- Richie Harris never played in an NHC (played in Foursomes once) but was always in attendance and helped keep the scoreboard. He was everybody’s friend.
- Steve Kameika passed from cancer far, far too early in life. He played in the first 10 NHCs; the Open Division winner’s traveling trophy has been named the Kameika Cup.
- Chuck Cole is another guy everybody liked. He also died too soon, five or six years ago.
- John Roth was one of the original 1998-ers (the year of the first NHC), a regular fixture, gruff but endearing.
- Mike Just – Do I need to say anything else?
- Lewis Keller was Oakhurst’s proprietor and loved by everyone who came to the NHC.
- Rosalie Keller, Lewis’s wife, was the grand hostess at Oakhurst. The Kellers were a lovely couple.
At a time when sporting events, including golf, have been severely impacted by a nasty pandemic, it is a wonderful thing to see such inspiring rounds and creativity from tournament directors and players who do their best to keep their friends in mind and yet promote enjoyment of the sport that means so much to us all.
Well done, Gordo.