Hornell native returns historic club to Royal Troon
The Evening Tribune, Monday 7 August 2017
James LaVerde (left) and Dr. Martin Cheyne (right)
An impulse buy has turned into the story of a lifetime for Hornell native James LaVerde.
LaVerde and his wife, Maggie, were traveling the country in their motorhome about 15 years ago when the trip took them through the Adirondack Mountains. A small, red antique store in an old one-room schoolhouse caught their eye.
They decided to make the stop.
Inside, James spotted an ancient golf club, “just an old hickory shaft,” he recalled. James had just recently caught golf fever, taking to the game late in life, and something about the slim club called out to him.
He bought it for $20.
Upon closer inspection, he learned the club had earned its weathered look.
“I noticed a guy’s name on the back,” James explained. “It didn’t make any sense to me. It said ‘AG Havers Own.’ I googled it and it told me this fella, Arthur Havers, won the 1923 British Open at Royal Troon!”
James kept the club as a conversation piece for the next 15 years, until another family vacation intervened.
James and Maggie had always dreamed of visiting of Scotland and Ireland. As they planned out the long-awaited trip, James wondered if perhaps he could drop the club off at Royal Troon, the historic Scottish golf club founded in 1878.
Maggie suggested he take advantage of the modern wonder of the internet and send Royal Troon an email. James received a reply from the Royal Troon Club historian, who requested pictures of the club. The response was immediate.
“They were delighted to have it,” James said. “It turned out to be a big deal. I didn’t know what I was walking into.”
“Dropping it off” turned into a ceremony befitting the club’s historic return to Royal Troon. Havers won the first-ever British Open held at the course in 1923.
“They have a picture of Mr. Havers on a window at the club. He’s one of the only British citizens who won the Open at Scotland,” James said. “They took many pictures of the event. The man who presented the club is the gentleman who handed the Claret Jug to Henrik Stenson when he won at Royal Troon in 2016. I was rubbing elbows with the big shots in the world of golf!
“They informed me it would be displayed in the champions trophy case with my name on it as the donator. All my friends here in Timber Pines were quite thrilled about that.”
Timber Pines is the development in Spring Hill, Fla. where James and Maggie now reside in retirement. LaVerde is a 1963 graduate of Hornell and a Vietnam veteran. He’s lived in Florida since 1979, but in the way life sometimes comes full circle, James and Maggie share the Timber Pines neighborhood with 12 other Hornell ex-pats.
Only the golfing gods know about the club’s journey. How did it go from Havers’ golf bag to a small antique shop so many decades later?
“I was very fortunate to purchase it. It turned out to be a world class golf club,” James said. “When Havers won the 1923 Open, he beat a gentleman from Rochester by the name of Walter Hagen. He beat him on the 18th hole when he hit it out of the bunker into the cup.
“When I met the Royal Troon captain, historian and Club members, I said this is the club that was used to hit it out of the sand trap and
into the cup! They all laughed. The club captain actually had Mr. Havers’ autograph from the 1950s. He met him as a teenager.”
The donation of the club was a big hit at Royal Troon, providing another link to the past at a course steeped in history. James was happy to play a role in the club finding its way back home.
“When I explained to the members I found it in the Adirondack Mountains, they wanted to know where that was. How it got there, there’s no telling. It’s just one of those things, pure luck,” James said. “Deciding to go over there was the perfect thing to do. It’s one of the highlights of my life.”
The Evening Tribune, Monday 7 August 2017: Hornell native returns historic club to Royal Troon