The two comments I heard most often in the six years it took to research, write, and get “King of Clubs: The Great Golf Marathon of 1938” published are A) That never happened and B) I can see that being made into a movie.
Well, it did happen. A Chicago stockbroker named James Smith Ferebee did make a bet that he could play 600 holes of golf – walking and running all the way – over four consecutive days, in eight different cities, starting inLos Angeles and ending inNew York. The bet did get up to an estimated $100,000 in 1938 money – more than $1 million today!
Who knows whether or not it’ll be made into a movie, but I can say that there are already people in Hollywood who are expressing an interest, and the book doesn’t hit the stores (brick and mortar and internet) until next week.
I don’t believe in luck and I don’t believe in fate.
Maybe I should.
That I was able to write “King of Clubs” is equal parts of both.
The golf-writing community in Virginia is small and close-knit. In 2000, when word got out that I was writing a history of golf in Virginia, someone – I don’t remember who – mailed me a clipping of Ferebee’s attempt at a 600-hole golf marathon in 1938.
Ultimately, that led me to Virginia Military Institute, Ferebee’s alma mater, and the basement of the university library. There, among five or six cartons of documents detailing Ferebee’s life, was material devoted to the marathon. I was lucky to have received the clipping; lucky to have had just enough time to include it briefly in my first book, which kept it on my radar; lucky that another project had fallen apart late in the research stage, leaving me with opportunity and motivation to work on something else; lucky to have thought about just trying some basic research on Ferebee and the marathon; lucky that that basic search had turned up enough to send me to Lexington, Virginia; and lucky to have found what I found, and that no one else had found it first.
At that point, of course, “luck” turned to “fate.” I literally came to believe that I was fated to write this story, and I carried that belief through the often humbling process of finding an agent and finding a publisher.
Until I started combing through those papers at VMI, I had no idea how intricate the planning was, or the number of people involved with Ferebee. I also never saw so many slightly contradictory newspaper stories in my life.
I knew that Ferebee had died in 1988 in Richmond, Virginia. I didn’t know the status of any of the other major participants: air-conditioning pioneer Reuben Trane, a Ferebee friend and client who used the marathon as a vehicle to gain publicity for a new commercial product his company had just invented; fellow stockbroker Fred Tuerk, whose challenge to Ferebee on a different bet triggered the whole escapade; caddie Art Caschetta, an 18-year-old kid who had never been on a plane and had never ventured outside of metropolitan Chicago; Ferebee physician and friend Dr. Charles Alexander, whose relationship with a Hollywood superstar of the day added another element to the story; and the crew aboard the American Airlines DC-3 Skysleeper that carried Ferebee from city to city, coast to coast.
That these were special people – people I wanted to write more about in “King of Clubs” than I’d anticipated at the start — became evident not from their actions during the marathon, but from what they told their descendants about the affair, which was little to nothing. Tuerk and Ferebee remained friends for years after the bet, so Tuerk’s son, George, was familiar with the basics of the story.
The marathon represented a seminal moment in Caschetta’s life. The only person still alive who participated in the marathon, he and his wife had proudly hung several photos from the event on a wall of their bedroom.
But the rest of the descendants knew virtually nothing. Some claimed that I had their father confused with someone else. As a courtesy, I mailed them packets of newspaper clippings that either mentioned their father’s name and profession or contained photographs of them. They, like I, were amazed that they’d never been told about the golf marathon.
Maybe, in hindsight, it’s not so amazing. In 1938, we were on the cusp of another world war. Ferebee would enlist the day after Pearl Harbor. The other members of the marathon entourage all played active roles in the war effort. At that point in their lives, a crazy stunt born out of a disagreement over whether or not to dispose of 300 acres of Virginia waterfront property must have seemed, well, shallow and frivolous.
There were more important matters to discuss with their children than one man’s cross-country attempt at a golf marathon. Lucky for us, however, we can sit back today and enjoy the ride.
After twenty-nine years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Jim Ducibella was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in April 2010. During his career, Ducibella was seven times named sportswriter of the year in Virginia by his peers and covered more than two hundred professional and amateur golf tournaments. Now a Web writer for the College of William & Mary, he provides columns for The Virginia Golfer magazine and is regularly featured in Boomer magazine. A contributor to Sports Illustrated, GolfWorld, Pro Football Weekly, and The Met Golfer, among others, he is the author of Par Excellence: A Celebration of Virginia Golf (2000). He lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Jim’s new book, King of Clubs: The Great Golf Marathon of 1938 is available for pre-order HERE. It will be released on March 31, 2012.