Worst Weather Ever at Pro Golf Tournament? It Might Have Happened Here

We've seen lots of golf tournaments over the years played in poor weather. But what's the worst weather ever at a pro tour event? Terrible weather that raked the golf course, yet the tour pros kept playing in it?

Ask 100 pro golfers, you might get 100 answers. Unless you ask the golfers who played in the 1973 John Player Classic on the European Tour. Most of the golfers who played at Turnberry in Scotland that week would probably nominate the 1973 John Player Classic for worst weather they've played in.

The issues the players dealt with were many, including extreme winds (that nearly blew one golfer into the sea), frigid temperatures and bone-chilling rain, and even hail.

'Hurricane' Winds

Just start by considering what some who were there, including news reporters, have said about the how strong the winds were at Turnberry that week of September 26-29, 1973.

Peter Alliss, in his 1980 book The Who's Who of Golf (affiliate link), wrote this:

"The wind was a steady 70 mph, gusting up to 120 mph. The tented village was blown to pieces ..."
Seventy miles per hour, gusting to 120 mph? And they kept playing? That sounds crazy. Surely Alliss is exaggerating, right?

Here's what was written in a Golf Magazine piece about Turnberry in 2005:

"... conditions were less placid in the 1973 John Player Classic, when 100 mph wind gusts blew a marquee out to sea and almost tossed Australian Jack Newton off the cliffs by the ninth tee."
This article, written much later than Alliss' book (exaggerations usually get bigger, not smaller, over time), claims "100 mph gusts" in that telling of the tale. Which reveals what we have: The legend of the 1973 John Player Classic. Legends are typically full of exaggerations, but they also contain kernels of truth.

In his book Duel in the Sun about the 1977 British Open at Turnberry, author Michael Corcoran described the fury that Turnberry weather can unleash:

"It was during the 1973 John Player Classic that hurricane force winds flattened and blew away all the courtesy tents on the golf course. ... The devastating wind of that year became an instant legend in golf."

First Round: Calm Before the Storm

To get to the root of the legend, to determine just how bad things really were at Turnberry during the 1973 John Player Classic, we need to go back to the accounts of the event written in real-time.

The first round was played on Sept. 26, 1973, and the weather was fine for those golfers in the field who had the morning tee times. Two of those, Johnny Miller and Neil Coles, were co-leaders with 66s.

Miller and Coles "played early in the day before the winds off the Irish Sea increased and the cold deepened, sending the afternoon scores skyrocketing," the Associated Press account says.

Second Round: 'Worst Weather I've Ever Seen'

It's the second round when the "fun" began. Tony Jacklin shot a 74 in the second round and called it "possibly the best round I've ever played."

"I've seen it worse once before," Jacklin said of the second-round conditions, "but we didn't play that day." They did play on this day, through the weather, at least until a driving rain halted play with 12 golfers still on the course.

How bad was it in Round 2? "The worst I've ever played in," said Coles, who, a Brit who played almost exclusively in Europe, played in some mighty bad weather during his career.

The King, Arnold Palmer, was not amused:

"This is it, this is the number one bad day, the worst weather I've ever played in anywhere, anytime." — Arnold Palmer
The Associated Press accounts of the time describe a "driving rain, gale-force winds and bitter cold." The AP wrote: "The temperature was in the 40s, the wind was at 40 mph with higher gusts and steady rain lashed the players." And that was the weather they played through!

"It was just stupid out there," Jacklin said.

Charles Coody shot a 74 in those conditions, then spoke afterward of hitting driver on a par-3 and coming up short of the green.

Day 2 is when much of the physical damage to the tournament set-up occurred, large sponsor and spectator tents getting flattened, signage and other objects not tied down getting blown out to sea.

And Then All Hail Broke Loose

When the second round resumed the next morning, the winds were even higher. Day 3 was a mix of biting cold, gusting winds, a stream of rain squalls washing over Turnberry — and hailstorms. One hailstorm early in the day caused a 30-minute halt to play, then a second hailstorm hit later in the day.

Miller had an 81 in the third round, Palmer an 80. Chi Chi Rodriguez also shot an 80, and said, "On the worst day of my life I haven't been this cold." Rodriguez, the AP reported, "went out for his third round with woolen gloves on both hands, a white wool bonnet that buttoned under his chin, layer upon layer of sweaters and rain gear."

Coody made it through the cold, rain, wind and hail with what had to be an awesome 70, and took a 4-stroke lead.

Tournament Ends, Legend Begins

The 1973 John Player Classic at Turnberry finally wrapped up on Sept. 29, 1973, with Coody shooting 77 and winning by three strokes. Coody's 289 total was 5-over par — remarkable under the conditions, but higher than any PGA Tour score of the previous two years other than the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (Jack Nicklaus won that one at 290).

Were the conditions any better in the final round? "Brutal cold and 45 mph winds," the AP reporter stated.

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