Before Instagram and texting photos, there were postcards. Billions of them.
Old-timers might roll their eyes today when golfers photograph a favorite course scene, then run the shot through an artsy filter before posting the picture on a social network. Yet it wasn't that long ago Americans sent hundreds of millions of postcards a year in their own version of social networking. As the images will show, vintage golf postcards allowed friends to slap on a 1-cent stamp and share romanticized images of favorite resorts, famous holes and private clubs of the pre-World War II era.
The postcard craze took hold early in the 20th century when the United States government lifted a bizarre prohibition disallowing writing on the back of cards. After 1907 tourists were free to pen a message on the address side of the card, and the urge to share cards via the U.S. Mail exploded. Until mid-century a penny stamp was all that was needed to send a message decades before Twitter. Postcards allowed the sharing of many scenes, from historic landmarks to sports stadiums and, thankfully for golf collectors and architecture researchers, golf scenes.
The postcard styles ranged from "real-photo" black-and-whites, followed by hand-tinted photos in the pre-World War I years, to the "white-bordered" era starting after World War I and running until the Great Depression. Often during that heyday of postcards, the photos were more aggressively romanticized into, in many cases, artistic keepsakes. The sheer diversity of course scenes represented provides a window into a golden era for golf courses and, particularly, historic resorts such as the Del Monte Lodge at Pebble Beach, Sea Island and Pinehurst.
"Some of the cards were works of art," says postcard collector John Fischer III, a lifelong Ohio golfer and son of a former U.S. Amateur champion who serves on the USGA Museum Committee. "They were meant to share with people something visual and to say, 'Look at this beautiful place.'"
Mostly though, these hand-sized historic images, now readily available through eBay, ephemera shows and through golf collectors, remind us that just as with today's sharing of life experiences via stylized digital photography, human nature demands that we communalize memories with friends and fellow golfers. Even if it is just one image at a time.