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MailTribune.com
  • The Starter

  • When he learned of Southern Oregon's vast orchards and rich soil, young Henry Chandler Egan decided to go west. He packed his belongings, closed the book on a swanky Midwestern lifestyle and set out on an adventure that befuddled his aristocratic Chicagoan friends.
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  • When he learned of Southern Oregon's vast orchards and rich soil, young Henry Chandler Egan decided to go west. He packed his belongings, closed the book on a swanky Midwestern lifestyle and set out on an adventure that befuddled his aristocratic Chicagoan friends.
    Egan wanted to grow things.
    First, it was pears and apples. Then it was golf courses. He became much more renowned for the latter.
    An intriguing character from Medford's past, Egan — who went by Chandler — was a champion golfer who "retired" from the game before his 30th birthday to become said farmer and raise a family, only to return to golf as a still-brilliant player destined to become a respected course designer.
    He arrived in Medford for good in 1911, part of a migration prompted by advertisements of bountiful crops and moneymaking opportunity. He mapped out the first nine holes at Rogue Valley Country Club in 1923 and stayed busy playing and designing until his too-soon death from pneumonia in 1936 at age 51.
    Links to him remain. There's the large house with a panoramic view he built in 1911 above Foothills Drive that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997; the street near the country club named for him and a memorial granite water fountain at RVCC featuring his bronze portrait, complete with his ever-present pipe.
    Oh, and the country club course itself.
    "It hasn't changed a whole lot," said head professional Tracy Snyder, referring to the 18-hole layout Egan oversaw. Since then, another nine was built.
    Egan's designs, almost entirely on the West Coast, have stood the test of time. The first one he did for pay was Eastmoreland in Portland in 1917. Notable works to follow were Waverly in Portland, Eugene Country Club and Reames in Klamath Falls. He also designed a number of courses in Washington, including West Seattle, and was working on Legion Memorial in Everett when he died.
    His crowning achievement was renovation of Pebble Beach in 1928, only nine years after it opened.
    It, too, has gone largely untouched since.
    A reason RVCC has stood the test of time, said Snyder, is its playability.
    "You always have a chance to score," he said. "The course is never too long. All skill levels can play it. It gives you enough variations on each hole that it almost seems like you never have the same shot."
    Indeed, present-day architect John Fought — who grew up on and later remodeled Tualatin Country Club, an Egan course — once told writer Tony Dear, "Egan's holes were squeezed into such a small piece of land, but he routed them so well. He really was an excellent router of courses and doesn't get nearly the recognition his work deserves."
    That is a recurring theme for Egan. He was a quiet, polite gentleman who treasured his privacy. He would often play RVCC by himself, hitting several balls at a time and dutifully working on his short game.
    For all his accomplishments, he managed to escape grand-scale notice.
    George Harrington, a former RVCC manager who, as a teenager, caddied for Egan, said in a 2003 Mail Tribune article that the most remarkable thing about the golf icon was that "nobody knows him."
    "I had no idea who he was when I was caddying for him," said Harrington. "I had no idea he was great."
    As private as Egan was, he had some very famous friends, among them revered golf architect Alister MacKenzie, who designed Augusta National and with whom Egan partnered for a time following the Pebble Beach project; champion golfer Bobby Jones and gifted sports writer Grantland Rice.
    Jones and Rice were among the dignitaries to visit Medford when the fountain was dedicated in 1937.
    Jones, who founded the Masters and invited Egan to play in the inaugural tournament, is considered to be the best amateur player of all time. In many respects, Jones modeled himself after Egan, whom he considered a mentor as well as a friend.
    Egan was born into a socially prominent Chicago family on Aug. 21, 1884. He took up golf at age 12 when the family summered in Lake Geneva, Wis.
    Three years later, Egan's father joined Exmoor Country Club in Chicago. Chandler became the best player around.
    He attended Harvard, winning the national title as a sophomore and leading the Crimson to three team crowns.
    His notable playing exploits were many.
    Egan twice won the U.S. Amateur, taking the title in 1904 and '05. Only four golfers have won it more times, two of them being Jones and Tiger Woods. Years later, in his mid-40s, Egan was the toast of the '29 Amateur when he reached the semifinals at Pebble Beach.
    Egan earned the silver medal in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, the last time golf was in the Games.
    He won the prestigious Western Amateur four times, the Pacific Northwest Amateur five times and was the first non-Californian to claim the California Amateur, after which the trophy was named for him.
    Egan continued to farm and was one of the co-founders in 1926 of Southern Oregon Sales, a fruit cooperative that continues to operate.
    Egan passed essentially doing what he loved. He had just finished clay renderings of the West Seattle greens and had checked himself into a hospital after a dreary, damp day on the Everett course. Six days later, he died.
    At Egan's memorial at RVCC, Jones said no one could be of greater credit to any game than Egan was to golf.
    Rice, known roundly for penning the "Four Horsemen of Notre Dame" passage, knew Egan for more than 30 years. After the 1934 Walker Cup, in which Egan represented the U.S., Rice described him as "a fine swinger and a cool, stout-hearted competitor."
    At the memorial, he said Egan "was one of the finest gentleman I have ever known."
    Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com
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