The Great Golf Marathon of 1938
Jim Ducibella has brought alive the forgotten story of James Smith Ferebee and the greatest golfing marathon ever played out. The year is 1938 and Ferebee, widely regarded as the quickest golfer at Olympia Fields, makes a bet with his friend Fred Teurk. This is ‘The King of Clubs, The Great Golf Marathon of 1938’.
It starts with Ferebee boasting he could play all four of Olympia’s courses twice in one day, 144 holes in total, which quickly turned into a wager that takes on epic proportions.
Maybe we should all play quicker, it’s hard to dwell on mistakes when we don’t have time to think of them.
For those that knew Ferebee, quite simply: “Rule No. 1. Never bet him. Even if he says the sun isn’t coming up tomorrow”. And if anyone knows Ferebee then it should be Fred Tuerk. The underlying reason for the bet is for the ownership of a piece of Virginian land called Broad Bay Manor and jointly owned by Ferebee and Tuerk.
During the buildup to this bet we are introduced to Ferebee’s amazing talent for taking on seemingly impossible challenges, and winning. Like his boast of being able to complete 1000 lengths of the new swimming pool at Olympia. Or even swim 10 lengths with his hands and feet shackled behind his back. Which he won, both of them.
It is the brainchild of Tuerk and made for the sole ownership of that non-descript piece of Virginian farmland. It is the bet that provides the framework for the great golfing marathon of 1938.
It is a bet that takes on a life of its own when Reuben Trane, owner of the Trane Air Conditioning Company, gets involved and it grows in magnitude and scale to incorporate eight cities in just four days using the first air conditioned passenger plane as its home and mobile advertising hoarding.
The bet would incorporate 4 days and over 33 rounds of golf and required Ferebee to go through eight pairs of golf shoes. And if even this sounds preposterous, then you haven’t read the half of it, the book takes us on a ride from Los Angeles all the way across America to New York introducing us to a host of characters who all have a role to play and a stake to gain or lose.
Feats and wagers like this were the sustenance of age. The story is a set at a time when America was deep amidst the great depression and stories like this captivated audiences across America bringing hope over despair and celebrating triumph over adversity.
It is also a story that pays homage to the larger than life characters of the time during a period of American history when gamblers such such Titanic Thompson or Fast Eddie were revered. It might even be an unproven truth that the sheer scale of bets taken by Ferebee’s golf marathon gamble could have rivaled any of Thompson’s.
What sets this story apart is the depth of character Ducibella explores, providing us with a vivid image of those within this story and their unique personalities, charms and behaviour.
This is a true story of a tale once forgot. In the days before mass media and mass storage of the media, tales of extraordinary feats were lost. Ducibella manages to recapture the facts of the event and spin them into a marathon journey of golf where the characters come to life in a detailed and frenetic telling of one of golf’s great stories.
It is a story that makes the reader want to go out and play their own course twice before work.
Not wanting to spoil the ending, this book is a clear advocate of quantity of golf over quality. Though we should be careful not to underestimate the dedication Ferebee undertook in achieving what he sets out to do. (Some of Ferebee’s most impressive feats during the war whilst training to fly have nothing to do with golf but could well be worth a book in itself).
Ferebee’s scores are rarely below 80, but the ferocity in which he embraces the game, albeit at breakneck speed, is admirable, even soulful. Perhaps we should all be taking a leaf out of James Smith Ferebee’s golfing guidebook and play a bit quicker. It’s hard to dwell on mistakes if we don’t even have time to think of them, let alone take stock.