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To Tee or Not to Tee
Maplewood's own Dr. William Lowell changed the game of golf forever
by Raymond Leone

Thank you, Tiger Woods. Because of you, we can now watch big-time golf on TV virtually any weekend throughout the year. Thank you, Darrin. For showing me three years ago that there is civilized life west of the Hudson with golf courses that make Van Cortland Park look like a patch of fabricated green in the middle of a disposal plant (no offense, Mayor Giuliani). And thank you, Dr. William Lowell. For making Maplewood a part of golf history.

That's right. Maplewood is in the golf history books. As any member of Maplewood Country Club will attest to, the basic design for the golf tee, the very same one that's used today, was invented in our own back yard by dentist and amateur golfer Dr. William Lowell. We're famous! And it has to do with golf! Cool.

The year was 1921 when Dr. Lowell, at age 59, sauntered onto Maplewood Country Club's golf course for the first time. As legend has it, Lowell, decked out in all white from his tennis days, stepped up to the first tee and was immediately confronted with a most disgusting ritual that golfers had endured since the game began more than 400 years ago.

To tee the ball, golfers would have to plunge their hands into a bucket of grimy water. Then, they'd scrape up a bit of dry sand to combine with the water on their hands. And finall;i. on the ground, they would form a messy pyramid of gunk (not an official term) on which to tee the ball. All this was done before they even picked up the predecessor to the Big Bertha (a driver for you laymen). Lucky for us, Dr. Lowell was a tidy fellow and decided that if he were to partake in this "gentleman's" game, something had to be done.

Upon arriving home that day, Dr. Lowell rushed to his workshop. After digging through some tools, he whittled several small pegs with concave heads from a flagpole. The next time he headed out for a round, he used his little invention for teeing purposes. Problem solved. But to Dr. Lowell's surprise, his resourcefulness brought laughter and ridicule from his golfing buddies. His sons, however, encouraged him to take out a patent on his design, just in case anything came of it in the future. The little tee was manufactured and painted red (so Dr. Lowell could easily find them in the grass) and became known as the Reddy tee, which also suggested that it was always at hand.

The Reddy tee was eventually advertised and put on the market. Needless to say, it was a very hard sell until professional golfers Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood inadvertently came to the rescue. In the summer of 1922, Hagen and Kirkwood were on their famous tour of country clubs just after Waiter won his first British Open golf tournament. They were a tremendous attraction. Someone had given Hagen a few Reddy tees and he thought them a novelty, so he began using them on the tour. He would tee off and then place the tee behind his ear as he walked down the fairway. Suddenly, the orders started pouring in and the process of teeing up was changed forever.

So there you have it. Maplewood's own Dr. William Lowell brought us the golf tee and changed the game forever. But did he?

When asking for information about the first tee during a recent visit to the USGA golf museum in Far Hills, I was given some literature on Dr. George Franklin Grant of Boston. Grant? Boston? I was completely perplexed. Everyone in Maplewood, especially members from Maplewood Country Club, knows Dr. William Lowell as the inventor of the golf tee. It even says so in Harry Armstrong's and Tom Wilk's book New Jersey Firsts. What was going on?

I finally summoned the expertise of Mr. Andrew Mutch, USGA museum curator. This is what I learned: In a December 1, 1963 issue of the NaY York Times, Dr. George F. Grant, the first black graduate of Harvard College and, coincidentally, a dentist as well, was accorded recognition as the inventor of the golf tee. Apparently, Dr. Grant didn't like getting dirty either, and for the same purpose of avoiding the water and sand ritual, he made a small peg to be used for teeing up a golf ball (though there was no concave head). He received a patent in 1899 but never mass-marketed his invention. It was strictly for his personal use and for his circle ofgolfmates. According to Mr. Mutch, Dr. Grant was the inventor of the golf tee.

Dr. Lowell had no idea that Dr. Grant created a golf tee and furthermore, the one we use today is modeled after Dr. Lowell's prototype, so some credit is due him. If it weren't for Dr. Lowell, we probably would be down on our knees digging up wet sand. And if so, would we still have to wear expensive Dockers on the golf course? Dr. Grant and Dr. Lowell had a purpose that enhanced one of our favorite pastimes and the golf world is a better place because of them.

I did involuntarily learn something from all of this extensive and exhaustive research. I now know why I can't get a dentist appointment on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays.

Raymond Leone's handicap is close to his bowling average, but he has a brand-new pair of Dockers for this summer.

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