Our Greatest Generation

January 24, 2010

An old Golf Digest sign gets a new look for our 60th anniversary.

You might say the inspiration for the founding of Golf Digest can be traced back to the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid aircraft carrier in the Pacific Fleet during World War II. A Naval officer named Bill Davis was in charge of a battery of six antiaircraft guns on Oct. 29, 1944, when a Japanese kamikaze fighter took out one of his gun tubs. Bill wrote a story about the crew's heroism that appeared the following May in Our Navy magazine. "It was Bill's first published article," says his brother, Bud. "And five years later he published the first edition of Golf Digest."

Davis was joined by Howard Gill and Jack Barnett, who became co-founders of Golf Digest in 1950, working out of Bill's bedroom in Evanston, Ill. The three golf pals had all gone to New Trier High School and Northwestern University and took turns alternately as editor, chief ad salesman and business manager for the pocket-size, black-and-white magazine dedicated to golf instruction and features.

Bill was always first among equals, as he had the most powerful personality and drive to succeed. Jack was the business genius, and Howie, who had an ambassador's temperament, could win over any advertiser or woo the most disobliging tour pro. Writer-at-Large Dan Jenkins remembers Howie talking him into writing articles in the 1950s in exchange for Velveeta-cheese sandwiches. (Jenkins' rate has gone up.)


One of their first hires was John P. May, who wrote millions of words and took nearly as many pictures, including the most famous swing sequence of Ben Hogan on a practice range, which starts with the club a foot away from the ball. The "airplane camera" May used was so noisy he waited for Hogan to start his swing before clicking, and immediately afterward Hogan wheeled around and glared at John, who packed up his camera and was off. When John died last year at age 89, his family found an old wooden Golf Digest sign (above) in the basement, and Design Director Ken DeLago fashioned our 60th-anniversary logo from it.

Through the years, some of the game's best players graced our masthead and contributed instruction articles on how they played the game: Cary Middlecoff and Byron Nelson, each for 44 years; Sam Snead for 24 years; this month's cover boy, Jack Nicklaus, for 21 years; Tom Watson for 32 years; Phil Mickelson for 17 years; Tiger Woods for 12 years; and Arnold Palmer, the youngster, since 2007.

Editor-at-Large Nick Seitz remembers Bill Davis saying, on the magazine's 25th anniversary: "From the beginning, we believed that golf was a fun game that becomes more enjoyable the better you play it." All the magazine's enduring franchises can be traced back to the founders' principles of service to the game: Places to Play ratings, America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses, the Hole-in-One Clearinghouse and maintaining golf's official record book.

As part of our 60th-anniversary celebration, Associate Editor Max Adler will be taking a 60-day road trip across the country finding 60 stories that celebrate our readers' passion for the game. One of his final stops will be the museum onboard the Intrepid, now docked in New York City. Our founders would have approved.