Golfer Jesse Guilford: Amateur Star of the 1920s

Golfer Jesse Guilford circa 1921

Jesse Guilford was a star of American amateur golf in the 1910s and 1920s. He won a U.S. Amateur championship, played in several of the earliest Walker Cups, and was known as one of the longest hitters in the amateur game.

Full name: Jesse Poore Guilford (He was often referred to in print as "Jesse P. Guilford.")

Date of birth: March 2, 1895

Place of birth: Manchester, New Hampshire

Date and place of death: December 1, 1962 in Newton, Massachusetts

Nicknames: Siege Gun, the Boston Siege Gun, the Great Excavator

His Biggest Tournament Wins

With the exceptions noted below, these are amateur tournament wins for Jesse Guilford:
  • 1913 New Hampshire Amateur
  • 1916 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1916 New Hampshire Amateur
  • 1917 New Hampshire Amateur
  • 1919 Massachusetts Open
  • 1921 Miami Invitational
  • 1921 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1921 U.S. Amateur
  • 1923 Gold Mashie Tournament
  • 1924 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1926 Gold Mashie Tournament
  • 1929 Massachusetts Open
  • 1933 Massachusetts Mixed Four-Ball Championship (partnered by Jean Scribner)
The Massachusetts Open is a professional tournament, and from 1916 through 1937 is retroactively counted as a PGA Tour event. That means that Guilford is credited with two PGA Tour wins.

Guilford's U.S. Amateur Championship

Jesse Guilford won the 1921 U.S. Amateur Championship played in St. Louis, Missouri (the first U.S. Amateur west of the Mississippi River) by defeating a murderer's row of opponents. In succession, Guilford beat George Von Elm, Dewey Weber, Jimmy Johnston, Chick Evans and Robert Gardner. Two of those opponents were already U.S. Amateur winners, two more later became so. Only Weber failed to win the U.S. Amateur.

Guilford eked out 1-up wins in the quarterfinals over Johnston and semifinals over Evans (also a U.S. Open winner). That set up a championship match against Robert Gardner, the 1909 and 1915 champ. Guildford vs. Gardner was also a match-up of two of the longest hitters of their era.

The 36-hole championship was put away by Guilford when he ran off a string of five consecutive birdies midway through the afternoon 18. The match ended on the 30th hole when Gardner missed a 4-foot par putt, giving Guilford the 7-and-6 victory.

Known for his shyness, Guilford said upon accepting the trophy, "If I am expected to give a speech, I am sorry I won the title."

More About Jesse Guilford

He got his "Siege Gun" nickname due to the distances he hit the ball: Guilford was "the first American golfer known to hit the ball as hard as he could," according to The Encyclopedia of Golf (published 1975). A 1922 issue of Golfers Magazine called Guilford "unquestionably the longest driver among our amateurs."

His other nickname, "the Great Excavator," also related to his power: Guilford could dig the ball out of spots others had trouble advancing from, such as thick, deep rough.

Guilford grew up on a farm next to Intervale Country Club near Manchester, N.H. He started golfing at age 10, collecting golf balls he found and hitting them with the single, old club he had.

By the age of 19, he played in his first U.S. Amateur. That was in 1914, and it was also when the "Siege Gun" nickname stuck. (He was later, after moving to Boston across the state border, sometimes called "the Boston Siege Gun.")

Guilford reached the U.S. Amateur semifinals in 1916 before losing to Robert Gardner, the man he beat in the finals five years later. In the 1922 U.S. Am, he earned medalist honors in the qualifying rounds.

The year 1921 was a huge one for Guilford, and not just because that was the year of his U.S. Amateur victory. In the Massachusetts Amateur that year, he broke the course record by shooting 68 in the qualifying round, beat Francis Ouimet in the semifinals, and won the championship match 10-and-8.

He also traveled to England as part of an American team for an informal match against British golfers at Royal Liverpool. Team USA won that match, often called the unofficial start of the Walker Cup or the precursor to the Walker Cup, 9-3.

Guilford was well-enough known by 1921 that in 1921-22 wrote a series of instructional golf articles for newspapers titled "How to Play Golf." (You can read some of them here.)

The Walker Cup officially began in 1922, and Guilford was on three of the first four Team USAs. He played in the 1922 Walker Cup, 1924 Walker Cup and 1926 Walker Cup. He partnered Francis Ouimet in foursomes all three appearances, winning two of those matches. In singles, Guilford beat Cyril Tolley in 1922 and Tony Torrance in 1924, but lost in 1926. His overall Walker Cup record was 4-2-0.

Guilford didn't win any individual titles beyond 1929, but did win a mixed foursomes event in 1933. He stopped playing the U.S. Amateur after 1936, but, 21 years later, did enter one last time in 1957.

Today, there is a monument to Guilford on the Intervale Country Club golf course, dedicated in 1993. He was elected to the New Hampshire Golf Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 2018.

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