The Proud History of Golf in Hershey
By Amy Bischof, director, The Hershey Story Museum
Chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey needed a location that was near dairy cows and would provide the fresh milk needed to manufacture his chocolate. He found the cows and farmland near his birthplace and the town of Hershey was born.
As the years went by, the town grew and Mr. Hershey provided educational and recreational opportunities for the people.
One of the recreational activities that Mr. Hershey provided was golf. Did you know that Hershey was home to the country’s first golf course built just for children? Today that course is known as Spring Creek Golf Course. This course is just a small part of the history of golf in Hershey.
The year 2015 is the 75th anniversary of the 23rd Professional Golf Association Championship (PGA), held in 1940. This significant anniversary prompted us to take a look back on the heyday of golf in Hershey.
The years between 1929 and 1940 were pivotal to the growth of the sport throughout the country and within Hershey. Golf in Hershey began with the construction of the Hershey Park Golf Club in 1929, a course that catered to the average wage earner who may not have been able to afford membership in a country club.
A year later, in 1930, Milton Hershey invited a group of 200 management employees and their wives to a dinner. Each received a membership card to the newly formed Hershey Country Club, which was to be located in his home, High Point. At that time Mr. Hershey took up residence in a two-room apartment on the second floor of the mansion.
The club featured a new course, now known as the West Course, designed by well-known course designer Maurice McCarthy. It covered nearly 300 acres between the factory and High Point. In 1931 William Ryan was hired as the first golf professional.
The Juvenile Golf Course, the country’s first course designed strictly for golfers aged 18 and younger and now known as Spring Creek Golf Course, was also established in 1930. It was open to children of Hershey Country Club members, young guests of The Hotel Hershey, and junior members of the Hershey Community Club, an organization open to all Hershey residents.
In celebration of the 30th anniversary of his town, Milton Hershey organized an invitational golf tournament called the Hershey Open. This annual tournament ran for nine years. In 1936, only one other event in the East boasted a total purse equal to the Hershey Open’s $5,000.
Henry Picard, nicknamed the Hershey Hurricane, was signed on as the new country club professional following his performance at the Hershey Open in 1934. While at Hershey, Picard racked up several impressive wins, including two Hershey Open tournaments and a PGA championship.
During Picard’s tenure as pro, the 23rd PGA Championship took place in 1940 at the club’s West Course. The championship attracted many big name players, including Picard, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and Paul Runyan. Picard lost in the third round to Gene Sarazen. In the end Byron Nelson went on to victory, and a $1,100 purse, following an exciting play-off with Sam Snead.
According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, Henry Picard was well known for offering advice to other golf professionals, including Ben Hogan. His suggestions worked, because Picard recommended Hogan to replace him as Hershey’s pro in 1941. Hogan held that position until 1951.
Since 1940 golf in Hershey has flourished. The Lady Keystone Open was held here from 1978 through 1994, and the current Hershey Golf Collection boasts three award winning courses.