This sturdy smooth face mashie niblick is from the former collection of Ralph Livingston and likely dates to 1910 or so. I purchased it at a tournament in Arizona along with the D&W Auchterlonie smooth faced irons featured on this site. The set of four clubs was auctioned with Mr. Livingston’s estate at Mid Pines in 2013. The stampings are particularly attractive and bold, and – of course – the affiliation of Alex Campbell is well known; he was the head pro at the Country Club of Brookline when Francis Ouimet set the world on fire by winning the U.S. Open there in 1913.
This club is part of my smooth face set, although not truly a gutty golf club, per se. Like so many Tom Stewart irons, it has a lovely heft to it and I am grateful to Ken Holtz for most generously affixing a nice vintage shaft to the head, as it had clearly been obtained originally as a collector’s piece when purchased by Ralph. I estimate the loft on this club to be around 47 degrees. It very well may make it into my regular hickory set as a sturdy, reliable and estimable vintage iron that makes its steward feel a kinship for a peak era in the ‘modern’ game of golf.
– Rob Birman
Alex “Nipper” Campbell
The mere mention of the famed Brookline Country Club in suburban Boston brings to mind that Alex Campbell, a native of Scotland, had served as head pro there before he settled in Dayton and designed the golf courses at Moraine Country Club, Meadowbrook Country Club, Madden Park, Miamisburg and Eaton.
Campbell was 19 years old in November of 1898 when he came to the United States to become head pro at Brookline.
Only minutes after their boat arrived in Boston Harbor, the five foot five Campbell and his brother, Matt, walked into a saloon. “Two beers!” Nipper said to the bartender. “We don’t serve minors,” the bartender replied.
“Damn it, mon,” Nipper countered in his heavy brogue, “I’m no miner, I’m a golf professional.”
Campbell was head pro at The Country Club for 16 years. He is credited with urging one of his students, 20-year-old caddy Francis Ouimet, to enter the 1913 U.S. Open held at The Country Club. Ouimet won the tournament in an 18-hole playoff with famed English golfers Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Ouimet’s stunning victory is said to have been responsible for moving golf from the society pages to the sports sections of U.S. newspapers.
Campbell, who was an excellent player, finished only nine strokes behind the leaders in 1913. He missed qualifying for the Open only four times over a span of 34 years.
Campbell had an excellent chance to win it in 1907 when it was played at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. He was being paid to use a “silk pneumatic” golf ball that had just been introduced by the Goodrich company. It was filled with compressed air.
Campbell was six shots off the lead going into the final round, but he moved quickly to the front when the third round leader faded. According to an article written in 1933 by James Reston, Campbell knocked the air out of his ball when he hit his drive on the fourth hole. The ball fluttered into a trap, and the rules at the time only allowed golfers to change balls between holes.
It took Campbell seven strokes to complete the relatively easy par 4 hole. Shaken by his misfortune leery of the stability of the other balls in his bag, he bogeyed the next two holes before settling down to shoot 74. He finished third, three strokes behind winner Alex Ross, brother of golf course designer Donald Ross.
Campbell moved from Brookline to Baltimore Country Club in 1915 and moved to Losantiville Country Club in Cincinnati four years later. In 1925 he went to Dayton to work at Miami Valley Golf Club, which had a course designed in 1919 by Mr. Ross. Campbell’s first move was to rebuild all of the greens.
He supervised the construction of nine holes at Meadowbrook in 1927 and worked on the city-owned Fairmount (Madden) course at the same time. In 1929 he was hired to design the Moraine Country Club course, which has holes patterned after holes at Troon, Prestwick and the The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.
An old edition of The American Golfer recounts some funny anecdotes about Campbell. It stated that:
“He recently distinguished himself by affording President Taft great amusement and then by making a round of the Myopia course, in a wind which was not favorable to low scoring, in 77. For a partner he had Mr. George F. Willett and they played a four-ball match with Mr. Wolcott Tuckerman of Washington and John Jones, the Myopia professional. Before they started John Jones called to Alex Campbell that somebody wanted to speak to him and it proved to be the President, who was about to play a round with his son, Charley Taft.”
“Good morning, Alex,” said the President.
“Good morning, Mr. President,” said the Nipper.
“How do you feel this morning?” asked the President.
“Oh, pretty good,” said Alex. “You see, Mr. President, they can’t kill a Scotsman in this country, with all the bad whiskey they make.”
“Ah!” returned the President, “You had better keep away from that tanglefoot,” and the President seemed much entertained.
“I wish you’d drive the ball for me,” said the President.
“If I were as big as you, Mr. President, I’d wallop it over the green,” (240 yards away up hill) declared the Nipper.
Then Alex proved of real service to President Taft, for the latter’s grip was slippery and Campbell had some chalk ready for him. The President started with a fine drive.
Alex Campbell was so pleased at the friendly way the President had treated him that he stepped up to his ball and drove it over the first green. He holed in 3. He was very good all way around, but John Jones was after him and Campbell and Mr. Willcott only won 3 and 1. Alex shot a 77 that day.
President Taft has taken delight (the article concludes) in playing Myopia links, where he has been able to play his game in peace. Rumors constantly have come from the links that the President broke 100, but usually they have been traced to Captain Archibald Butt, whom the President once termed, “the loyal liar of the links.”
Campbell’s obituary reads:
Alex (Nipper) Campbell, who came to this country from Troon, Scotland, in 1896 to become pro at the Country Club of Brookline, Mass., was found dead in his room at Dayton, Ohio,early in the morning of Dec. 16. He was 65.
He was one of six pro golfer brothers—Jack and Jimmy in Philadelphia, Andy at Wilmington, Dela., Matthew in Boston, and Dave, formerly a pro in Scotland but now in the British army, where he served during World War I. He is survived also by his wife, two sons and three daughters.
At the time of his death The Nipper was engaged in war work at a Dayton plant. After spending almost 20 years at Brookline, where he developed among others Francis Ouimet, Campbell went to Losantiville at Cincinnati; then, in 1935, to Dayton as pro at Miami Valley. In recent years he had been with the Moraine club at Dayton, then with Meadowbrook, Northmoor, Madden Park and Miamisburg.
The Nipper was an uncanny judge of potential golfing talent. He was one of the game’s most colorful characters and, during his earlier years, one of its great players. When he was 15 he won the Scottish national title. In the 1907 U. S. National Open he was giving the winner, Alex Smith, a close race until Campbell’s ball exploded on the next to last hole, causing him to finish in third pace. As an architect, The Nipper has been responsible for many excellent courses.
There never was a dull moment when the 5 ft. 5 in. Nipper was around. His recitations of Burns’ poetry enlivened many a session and he was the source of many of the merriest anecdotes about the early days of American golf. His passing takes one of the liveliest historic figures from American golf, but The Nipper’s memory will be kept green by the many hearty laughs he contributed to his thousands of friends and the game in general.
Courses Alex Campbell designed include:
Basin Harbor Club – resort in Vergennes on Lake Champlain in Vermont
Dales at Community Golf Course – in Dayton
Forest Park Golf Course – in Baltimore, Maryland
Hills at Community Golf Course – in Dayton, Ohio
Meadowbrook Country Club – in Clayton, Ohio
Moraine Country Club, The – in Kettering, Ohio
Editor’s Note: February 23, 2017
I was contacted by Alex Campbell’s granddaughter who discovered this page today. She shared the following images with NWHP. The last is Campbell’s twin sons.