Sam Snead's son keeps his father's memory alive by telling stories
Jack Snead is continuing -- and protecting -- a legacy. And what a legacy it is.
The 71-year-old's father was Sam Snead, one of golf's biggest names, and the namesake of the Oak Grill & Tavern located at Lely Resort in Naples.
That is one of several locations around the country, with the first opening in Hot Springs, Virginia. The Lely location opened in March 2012 after the original Naples restaurant -- just south of Tiburon Golf Club on Vanderbilt Beach Road -- had operated since December 1999.
"It was just an available, affordable area at the time," Jack Snead said last fall, while visiting the new location to look at refreshing some of his father's memorabilia on the walls. "It was really popular for many years.
"I like putting these restaurants together. It doesn't seem like Dad's gone."
Sam Snead died on May 23, 2002, four days before his 90th birthday. Snead did just about everything -- both on and off the golf course.
He won 82 tournaments officially (his son will address that number), played pool with Willie Mosconi, was friends with King Edward VIII of England and Dwight Eisenhower before the latter became President, played the trumpet with Louis Armstrong, was on the set of "The Honeymooners" with Jackie Gleason, fought boxing exhibitions with Joe Louis, and was part of "American Sportsman" on TV with Curt Gowdy.
The relationship between Jack and his father was a very tight one. To the point that he was his father's caddie at Augusta National for the Masters, and was his agent and business manager for the last 25 years or so of his life.
"Dad and I were really, really close, as about as close as a father and son could be," Jack said. "I know everything about him. ... Dad had a heart of gold. He came up poor and he knew what it was to make a dollar."
Snead was known for his smooth swing and being a fierce competitor on the course, and Jack shares that determination when it comes to protecting his father's legacy.
"I hear people talking, say something about him that's not correct," he said. "I'll just break in (to the conversation). I just can't help it."
Snead won three Masters, three PGA Championships and the 1946 British Open at St. Andrews. He narrowly missed achieving a Grand Slam, finishing second in the U.S. Open four times. Just how close was he to the Slam? He triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole when he thought he needed a birdie to win in 1939, and in 1947 he missed a 30-inch putt to lose in a playoff to Lew Worsham.
Snead's final major win was the 1954 Masters, where he beat Ben Hogan by a stroke in an 18-hole playoff.
Snead played on seven U.S. Ryder Cup teams (he was a playing captain on two of those), and he captained the 1969 squad. He also was on the 1939 team that was supposed to host the European team, but the matches weren't played because of World War II.
"Bobby Jones put together a team, and they went around and played matches and exhibition matches throughout the United States," Jack Snead said.
Snead still was winning later in his career, becoming the PGA Tour's oldest champion when he took home his eighth Greater Greensboro Open at the age of 52 in 1965. He also was fourth in the 1972 PGA Championship at the age of 60, and was third in 1974 when he was 62.
"I remember we were sitting watching the Masters once," Jack Snead said. "He looked over at me and said, 'You know what? There was a time in my life I'd go up on the first tee, and I knew there wasn't a soul that could beat me. You know, that's a hell of a feeling.'"
According to the official record book, Sam Snead has 82 PGA Tour victories, a record threatened only by Tiger Woods, who has 79. Jack Snead cringes at that 82 number.
In the late 1980s, the PGA Tour decided to come up with a set of rules for tournaments to qualify as official PGA Tour events, and for winning those tournaments to be recognized as tour victories. The size of the purse and strength of the field were among the criteria.
Sam Snead had 94 victories, but after the change, it went down to 81. Among those removed was the 1946 British Open because its purse was only 2,700 pounds.
"Two years before Dad died -- out of sheer embarrassment and a lot of negative flack -- they gave him the British Open back," Jack Snead said. "When you win the British Open at St. Andrews, who in the hell has the right to take it away because of the amount of money?"
Still, according to Jack Snead, there were 12 other victories that were no longer considered official.
"I have a silver chest at home," he said. "When you win a sanctioned tournament, about six or seven weeks later in the mail you get this 18-karat gold medallion. It's got the PGA logo on one side and the other side it's got the tournament's logo, your name as the winner and your rounds. It's a token from the PGA that you've won their sanctioned event. We have a chest of 94. How can anybody take some of those 94 out of that chest?
"That hurt Dad worse than anything. He was so proud."
Snead was the first Masters winner to take home a green jacket in 1949. He also won the first Par 3 Contest in 1960 and was one of the honorary starters beginning in 1984, three years after tournament chairman Hord Hardin resurrected the ceremony with Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen.
Now, the modern day Big Three of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are the honorary starters. But back then, Snead, Nelson and Sarazen frequently hit more than the ceremonial ball.
"Dad and Sarazen used to play nine holes," said Jack Snead, who caddied for his father. "I remember one year, Dad was 79, and he shot 2 under on the front nine."
Snead said his father enjoyed spending time with Sarazen, who lived on Marco Island for 34 years until his death at the age of 97 in 1999. Snead said the 5-foot-5 Sarazen had a little trick in his grip to help him keep up with the big hitters.
"If you keep your left thumb off your grip, it frees your wrist," Jack Snead said. "You can cock your wrists like crazy. He could get one hell of a wrist cock."
Jack Snead also recounted a story on how the traditional green jacket came to be. At the Champions Dinner, tournament officials frequently asked the previous winners what they thought of the tournament and if they would make any changes. Snead said Ben Hogan was the first to speak up with the idea of giving the champion an Augusta National Golf Club member jacket.
Jack Snead said he's been told his father's green jacket is one of golf's most valuable pieces of memorabilia. But it's not the original one.
"That jacket was stolen out of the locker room about four years after Dad won it," he said. "They didn't replace it for years. Dad ended up wearing Bobby Jones' jacket. After Bob Jones passed, finally they made him one of his own, which is the one hanging in there now."
The green jacket of the champion gets returned to the club the following year. Snead was an honorary starter through the 2002 Masters. He died the following month.
Snead won his first-ever professional event at The Greenbrier, a resort course near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, back in 1936 and had a strong relationship with the club ever since. He also was the club's golf pro emeritus from 1993 until his death in 2002.
King Edward VIII was an annual visitor to The Greenbrier. Edward was the king for just one year, 1936, abdicating the throne after choosing to continue his relationship with Wallis Simpson, an American woman he had proposed to, but who had been divorced.
Later in his life, Edward visited The Greenbrier for two or three weeks a year.
"He became really good friends with my mom and dad," said Snead, who has a picture of him sitting on Edward's lap. "He would always bring Dad a gift. It was always something to do with golf. I remember one year he brought Dad two feather balls. They were made back in the 1700s. One year, he gave Dad one of Tom Morris' playing clubs that he had won the first British Open with that he had. He was a collector, too.
"He always signed his name with 'Edward.' That was it. Just Edward. He always wore an ascot -- a big ascot. He was a snappy dresser."
The Greenbrier also was where Snead and Eisenhower became friends. Eisenhower had a bunker built underneath The Greenbrier that was completed in 1961, and it was an active government facility until The Washington Post published a story revealing it in 1992. Now the bunker is open for tours.
"It's built on shock absorbers," Snead said. "It can take a nuclear hit from a relatively close distance. There's a crematorium in there. ... They had your prescription ready on any given day in that bunker."
Jack Snead has plenty of memories of his father, and many of them are in the Snead Taverns for everyone to see. And he has quite a collection to keep those fresh. He estimated he has 1,400 photos of his father that he can make any size. He also has an extensive collection of hickory-shafted clubs.
"We refresh it," Snead said. "I come up with newer things all of the time of my father."
The tavern (which is open to the public) at Lely Resort is one of Snead's favorites. Scott Casselberry, the general manager of the original location in Naples, came back to the area to run the Lely one.
"This one's taking off like a rocket now," Snead said. "I think this one here, it's just in a perfect spot with all of these golfers down here."