Olympic GolfMay 3, 2016

Original Olympic golf medal found at bottom of bookcase in Ohio

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Thanks to a remarkable discovery in a farmhouse in northeast Ohio, golf suddenly has obtained a more tangible link to its Olympic past just in time for its return to the Summer Games after a 112-year hiatus.

Until a year ago historians believed that none of the individual medals from the golf competition in the 1904 Olympics at Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis still existed. That changed when the silver medal of H. Chandler Egan, former U.S. Amateur champion, was discovered (along with his team gold medal) in the bottom of a bookcase in the former home of Egan’s daughter in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, about 25 miles southeast of Cleveland.

“The fact of the matter is that there just aren’t a lot of Olympic golf artifacts out there,” said Brodie Waters, Senior Director, Institutional Advancement, at the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Augustine, Fla. “Uncovering these medals is incredibly special and important. These are showpiece items that far and away exceed anything we’ve seen before.”

' It boggles the mind just thinking about all that history just sitting there.'

The timing of the discovery is auspicious. Golf returns to the Olympics this August with men’s and women’s stroke-play competitions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

To commemorate the occasion, the United States Golf Association and the World Golf Hall of Fame have been constructing their own Olympic golf exhibits. Suddenly, they will have the chance to feature the Egan medals as their centerpieces. On loan from Egan’s family, the medals first will be displayed beginning next week at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J., and then at the U.S. Open at Oakmont C.C. outside Pittsburgh. The World Golf Hall of Fame, in St. Augustine, Fla., will take the handoff at Oakmont and display them starting in late June.

A Chicago native Egan, 19, was the favorite in what was the second Olympic golf competition after the 1900 Games in Paris. The Chicago native had won the NCAA Individual golf title in 1902 while attending Harvard and was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion when he met Toronto’s George S. Lyon in the final at Glen Echo. Though he had won a Canadian Amateur title, Lyon had been playing golf only for eight years and was 26 years Egan’s senior. But by outdriving Egan consistently, Lyon pulled off the upset, 3 and 2. Egan went on to successfully defend his U.S. Amateur title in 1905, and just two years before his death, well after he became a successful course architect, he was a member of the winning U.S. Walker Cup team in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Lyon, a fire insurance salesman, went home to Canada a national hero, but no one knows how or when his gold medal disappeared – though the Royal Canadian Golf Association still has his first-place trophy. Likewise the bronze medals awarded to Americans Burt McKinnie and Frank Newton have been lost.

As for the eventual permanent home of the Egan medals, the Everetts have a decision to make. Both museums are keen to acquire them, but almost assuredly they could fetch a higher bid from a private collector. Morris Everett said he insured the medals for $350,000, “but I don’t know what they’re worth because no one else has anything like this. And this is the highest known existing individual golf medal.”

Regardless, their intrinsic value to golf’s history is incalculable. The fact that they still exist at all is extraordinary.

“These medals appeal to such a broad audience. You have sports fans, golf fans, and then you have Olympic fans, so it touches a broad cross section of people,” Trostel said. “It’s not just something in the golf world. It’s bigger than that. It transcends that. It’s really a part of world history that’s been lost, really, for more than a century.”