Fred Corcoran: Golf’s Most Successful Impresario

“Mr. Golf” was responsible for much of how we enjoy the game today

A popular story from the early days of the PGA Tour has it that Sam Snead, shortly after winning his first event, was shown a photograph of himself in The New York Times. “How come they got my picture in New York?” he asked. “I ain’t never been there.”

Whether or not Snead really said that isn’t as important as who claimed he did—Fred Corcoran, the nascent circuit’s tournament director in 1937. Over the next four decades, Corcoran would earn many other titles, among them the first agent, sport’s most successful impresario, and “Mr. Golf.” He also probably did more than anyone who didn’t swing a club to bring professional golf out of its cash-strapped infancy and toward the international mega-business it is today.

Born outside Boston in 1905, Corcoran’s first brush with golf was as a nine-year-old caddie at nearby Belmont Country Club. He got the job at the suggestion of his mother, who, like other area moms, was inspired by the success of local boy Francis Ouimet in the previous year’s U.S. Open. By 12, Corcoran was the club’s caddie master (aided by the absence of older men off fighting in Europe), and in 1919, at 14, he served as scorekeeper for the U.S. Open at Brae Burn in West Newton, Mass., where he made what he deemed a “small contribution to the game,” using crayons to record birdies, pars, and bogeys in different colors—a system still employed today.

Fred Corcoran
Bobby Jones, Fred Corcoran, and Jimmy Demaret (photo by Getty Images)

By the mid-’20s, he held two jobs: In summer, he worked for the Massachusetts Golf Association; in winter, he moved to Pinehurst, N.C., to assist Donald Ross. But Corcoran’s lifetime calling was meeting and befriending the right people. Players, business leaders, and celebrities came to know and confide in the affable raconteur: Walter Hagen to Bing Crosby, Ty Cobb to the Duke of Windsor, he walked, talked, dined (and drank), and did deals with—and favors for—them all.

In 1936, he joined the tour—then a loose association of winter events that earned club pros extra money—finding sponsors and sites, handling arrangements, and generating publicity. He also began managing business affairs for Snead, whose entry on the scene in ’37 provided a much-needed boost to fan interest during the still Great Depression.

During his tenure, Corcoran also arranged exhibition matches—pairing golf pros with fan favorites like Babe Ruth and boxer Gene Tunney—and organized USO shows with avid golfers Crosby and Bob Hope. When he left the tour in ’47, it had more than doubled its number of events and quadrupled its prize money, and was well positioned for the post-war boom.

As an agent, he took on other athletes, including Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Babe Zaharias, and in 1948, Corcoran was asked by the president of Wilson Sporting Goods to start a professional golf tour for women. Despite facing what he termed “a national storm of indifference,” he lined up a sponsor as well as promotional events such as pitting six British Walker Cuppers against six LPGA players, who skunked the men, 6–0.

In 1955, Corcoran took over running the Canada Cup, which became the World Cup and was instrumental in taking golf worldwide. In 1940, he’d had the idea of creating a golf hall of fame: Thirty-five years later, he was the first non-player inducted into it. When he died in 1977, he was buried in a New York cemetery near two friends, Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

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