In 1980, we moved from Jacksonville, FL to Houston and when looking for a house somewhere near a golf course, it did not take me long to find the Champions Golf Club with its two courses, a fine club-house and the best men’s locker-room I have ever been in. I fairly quickly, found a nice house and pool literally surrounded by golf holes of the Jack Rabbit Course and only a five minute drive to the club-house. When I applied to join, I was informed that there was a waiting list of about six months. I really believe this time was for Jack Burke, one of the two owners, to check us out. We were invited to coffee with Jack Burke and spent a good half hour talking about clubs in England and we had a good rapport. About a week later, the waiting list suddenly cleared and we were welcomed as new members. The entrance fee in 1980 was $7,000 and my company had agreed to pay half of it so we quickly signed up. Today, I believe the entrance fee is $25,000.
Champions Golf Club was formed in 1957 when two Masters Champions, John Joseph, “Jackie” Burke, born in 1923 and James Newton, “Jimmy” Demaret, born in 1910 got together to build a golf course they had both independently wanted to do. It was slow being a success as it was located “in the fields” 20 miles from Houston. Today, Houston has grown well beyond Champions and the club itself sits in the middle of a large development called Champions.
Jack Burke, not being good at names always called me “English” and I had several one-on-one talks with him. I first saw him in 1953 aged 20 in his second Ryder Cup Match at the Wentworth Club, near London. He was on a team that included Loyd Mangrum, Carey Middlecoff and Sam Snead but the draw had put Jack up against the British captain, Dai Rees, twice Jack’s age and the ,golfer who was considered as the best player that never won the Open at that time. I happened to be close to Jack’s drive on a par 5 hole, their match was tied. Jack’s ball was not lying well six inches into the rough. This curly headed kid came up, took a quick look at it, selected a 1-iron and hit an absolutely perfect shot over a brow and onto the green. He holed the 8 foot eagle putt and went one-up at which score he ended the match, getting a crucial point for the victorious American team. I started to tell this story to Jack’s brother Jimmy and he told me he must have been standing next to me as Jack’s caddy. Jimmy said it was the best iron shot Jack ever hit. Jack played in five Ryder Cups and was the playing captain in 1957. He won 16 PGA events but his big year was 1956 when he won the Masters and the PGA Championship.
The first time I saw Jimmy Demaret he was almost asleep in a bar that used to be in the shopping center at the opposite end of Champions drive where the club was located. At the bar were four men playing a noisy dice game and I found out that whoever lost the game had to drive Jimmy home. Most nights, he would leave his car and a caddy would retrieve it the next morning. Demaret won 31 PGA tournaments between 1935 and 1957 and he was the first golfer to win the Masters three times, 1940, 1947 and 1950. Jimmy won the Bing Crosby Pro-Am twice, (The Crosby Clam-bake), and was a big star in entertainment at tournaments with his very good baritone voice and streams of jokes. He was a guest-star on the “I Love Lucy” show. He was very flamboyant, wearing bright colored golf garbs that were made especially for him. A great story about Jimmy was when he was entering the austere Masters club-house accompanied by two ladies, he was told the club-house was for professionals only. Jimmy without breaking stride replied that these girls are professionals. After a brilliant career and after putting a lot of life into some of the staid clubs, Jimmy died in 1983 while dressing to play a round.
The companionship and mixture of talents made their Champions Club instantly successful. Apart from several PGA events the club hosted the Ryder Cup in 1967, the US Open in 1969, the US Amateur in 1993 and also hosted four Tour Championships. Jimmy’s acquaintance with current Holywood stars brought many of them to the club and Jacks teaching skills brought several name golfers to him when they needed a tune-up. Jack is thriving at 93, giving his ever-ready advice on golf and all other subjects. The club is evidence of the enormous contribution Jack and Jimmy made to golf and to the growth of Houston.