The Flying Golfer

Flying Golfer image

Emily Gibson with you again, celebrating Spring with the story of “The Flying Golfer”.

Sorting through the Pan Am records the other day, I came across a folder containing correspondence between Pan Am Regional Director of Public Relations, Mike Clark and “The Flying Golfer”.

It is 1982, and Mike Clark has been alerted by a junior Pan Am officer to a story about a lifetime Clipper Club member nicknamed “The Flying Golfer.” The Flying Golfer is traveling to the top 50 golf courses in the world, averaging one course every 20 days, and has written to Pan Am to request a seating chart to help plan his trip and has included with his correspondence an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer about himself and his adventure, which is how the junior officer came to find out about him.

Not one to miss an opportunity to promote Pan Am, Mike Clark made a couple of phone calls, located The Flying Golfer in Hong Kong, and voila, a photographer was snapping shots of him for the next Pan Am newsletter and “elsewhere”[1].

But there were other “Flying Golfers” at Pan Am; specifically, Pan Am’s founder, Juan Trippe, and John B. Gates.

John B Gates, Yale ‘31, Yale Law ‘34, was an executive with the largest manufacturer of nuts and bolts in the world when he met Juan Trippe in 1948 on a golf course in Greenwich, Connecticut.

In the book An American Saga: Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, author Robert Daley describes Trippe as a fun golfing partner. “Before, during and after the game he laughed a lot. He seemed entirely lighthearted.” And he was an avid golfer. According to Daley, there were times when his plane would land Gates and their wives at Bermuda or Hobe Sound at four-thirty in the afternoon, and “Trippe would hurry off the plane saying, ‘I think we can squeeze in eighteen holes before we have to meet the girls for dinner’”[2].

Trippe asked Gates to join Pan Am as Vice President of Finance, and Gates accepted. However, Gates soon discovered that, strangely enough, no such position existed. So, for a time, he just hung around the Pan Am building.

Then, according to Daley, one day around 1956, Trippe summoned Gates to his office and announced to him that: “The jets are going to shrink the world by half. We are going to see the day when an overseas flight is just like getting on a train for Washington. No advance booking. No reservations. People will just go out to the airport and get on a plane to Paris or Istanbul.” Trippe saw jet airplanes opening up new routes to cities formerly unvisited by tourists and where no decent hotels existed… and that’s where he wanted his golfing partner’s help.

In 1959, Gates became Chairman of the Board of Pan Am’s wholly owned subsidiary, Inter-Continental Hotels Corporation. Formed in 1946, it was a development-management corporation committed to providing the international traveler with “the same high standards of hotel operation and service in foreign countries that have established the reputation of U.S. hotels as the best in the world”[3]. Trippe’s vision was for accommodation with what he considered to be basic comforts: cleanliness, a comfortable bed, reliable hot water, a private bathroom, laundry and valet services, good food, telephone and wire services in the guests own language, and all at an affordable price[4].

Although Pan Am sold the Inter-Continental Hotels Corporation in 1981, the Pan American World Airways records still contain 300 folders of information about it, spanning the years 1942 to 1988, and covering over 50 countries on all six continents, from Afghanistan to Jamaica to Vietnam.

As an archivist as well as your own dispatcher, my goal is to help researchers find relevant information, and cross-references help me do that. The intimate, mundane, and unique correspondence between Pan Am and “The Flying Golfer” provides an unexpected, if esoteric, cross-reference from the internal mechanisms of Pan Am’s massive publicity machine to the subtle maneuverings of the top golfer himself. So, happy Spring, happy golfing, and happy researching!

Works Cited
[1] Records of the Regional Director Mike Clark, Pan American World Airways, Inc. records, Accession 1, Box 138, Folder 57
[2] Robert Daley, An American Saga: Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, p. 425-427
[3] “For Your Information… Intercontinental Hotels Corporation”, 1948, Pan American World Airways, Inc. records, Accession 1, Box 63, Folder 8
[4] “Pan Am and Intercontinental”, brochure, retrieved from the Pan Am Historical Foundation Website on March 26, 2014