James Foulis, Early U.S. Open Winner and Golf Influencer

golfer James Foulis with the US Open trophy
James Foulis was a golf professional from Scotland who had a large impact on American golf around the dawn of the 20th century, particularly in Chicago and the Midwest. He was a club pro, a course designer, a golf inventor, oh, and also a U.S. Open winner.

Date of birth: August 22, 1871

Place of birth: St. Andrews, Scotland

Date and place of death: March 3, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois

Also known as: James Foulis Jr.; he was usually called Jim by friends. He had a nephew who won on the PGA Tour, also named Jim, so we've mostly stuck with James in this article.

Foulis in the U.S. Open

James Foulis played in the first U.S. Open ever, in 1895, and shot 89 in the first round. But guess what: That was good enough to share the first-round lead with Willie Dunn and Willie Campbell. In the second round, Foulis shot 87, but finished three behind winner Horace Rawlins.

But in the 1896 U.S. Open, Foulis carded rounds of 78-74 at Shinnecock Hills, and that was good for a three-stroke win over Rawlins.

The first three U.S. Opens were only 36 holes in length, and Foulis' winning score of 152 was 10 strokes lower than the 1897 winning total, 21 strokes lower than the 1895 winning total. Why such a difference in scores in those three Opens? Because Shinnecock Hills was only 4,423 yards long at the time.

Foulis' second-round 74 in 1896 was the U.S. Open's 18-hole scoring record until Willie Anderson carded a 73 in the first round of the 1903 U.S. Open.

Foulis played in 11 U.S. Opens, the last in 1911. In his title defense in 1897, he tied for third place. His only other Top 10 finish was a ninth-place showing in 1904.

Foulis Family and Inventions

There were many families in the early days of golf that boasted multiples siblings, fathers-and-sons, uncles-and-nephews, who were all involved in the golf scene. The Foulis brothers of St. Andrews were a fivesome that included James, David, Robert, Simpson and John. (And later, David's son Jim won once on the PGA Tour in the 1930s.)

All five emigrated to the United States, all five are today buried in a cemetery next to the Chicago Golf Club, where several of them worked.

Robert Foulis and David Foulis were also, like James, professional golfers, and Robert, back in Scotland, had been a protege of Old Tom Morris. Simpson Foulis competed as an amateur golfer and played in the 1904 Olympics. John Foulis was not frequent golfer, but was a top ballmaker and also worked as a bookkeeper at Chicago Golf Club.

James and David also made names for themselves as inventors of golf equipment, spurred by their co-ownership of a pro shop at Chicago Golf Club. The collaborated to design the bramble pattern for the rubber-cored golf ball invented by Coburn Haskell in the early 1900s (think of brambles as the opposite of dimples — raised bumps on the golf ball's surface). They also are credited with developing the mashie niblick, a golf iron that is viewed as the forerunner of the 7-iron, patenting their design. David Foulis is sometimes called the inventor of golf hole liners, but rudimentary cup liners first appeared in Scotland several decades earlier. However, David did import the concept to America, the first pro promoting their use on U.S. courses. His design is still, basically, the one used today.

To capitalize on their promotion of cup liners, James and David began selling the "Foulis Flag," a flagstick whose bottom was designed to fit snugly into a hole in the bottom of the cup, thereby standing straighter for better visiblity. They were the first to do that, too.

When James left his position as pro at Chicago Golf Club, David replaced him and served in the role until 1916. David later served as pro at Chicago's Hinsdale Golf Club through 1939.

James and David together owned J&D Foulis Company of Chicago, which, until 1921, produced golf clubs and American Eagle-brand golf balls. Prior to that company, they were affiliated with golf equipment maker named The P.G. Manufacturing Company.

More About James Foulis

James Foulis was born in the home of golf, St. Andrews, Scotland, into a family steeped in the game. His father, James Foulis Sr., worked at Old Tom Morris' golf shop next to the 18th hole at The Old Course as the shop foreman. Growing up, James worked in the shop (as did his brothers) and learned the clubmaking business.

In the mid-1890s, Chicago Golf Club designer Charles B. Macdonald asked James' younger brother Robert Foulis to move to the United States and become the club's first professional. (Chicago Golf Club was the first 18-hole golf course built in America.) Robert declined, but recommended James. In 1895, Jim Foulis emigrated to the USA, becoming the Chicago Golf Club pro and the first golf professional in the western United States. James was 24 years old when he arrived in America.

He established himself quickly, and winning the 1896 U.S. Open sure helped. A 1906 issue of Golfers Magazine called Foulis "one of the best instructors and green-keepers in the United States."

In a directory of golf professionals published in the same magazine in 1919, Foulis advertised himself as a "Scientific Instructor — Maker of Foulis Famous Mashie Niblick."

Foulis' U.S. Open scores cited above are not impressive to today's golfers (he had a lot of scores in the 80s). But they were in line with the scores of the time, and Foulis could certainly go low by the standards of his time. In 1906 he set a course record in Florida of 63 (presumably on a very short course); in 1907, he carded a 68 for a new course record at Calumet Country Club in Illinois.

Foulis often played carrying only seven clubs: a driver, brassie, cleek, mid-iron, mashie, mashie niblick (of course) and putting cleek.

Clubs where James Foulis served as pro, in addition to Chicago Golf Club, include two other chicago-area clubs, Calumet Country Club and Olympia Fields Country Club. Shortly after the creation of the PGA of America in 1916, the Foulis brothers spearheaded the founding of the Illinois PGA, which was one of the first PGA Chapters in the United States.

Foulis also was a golf course designer, laying out courses in multiple midwestern cities across the USA. He was codesigner of the second nine at Chicago's Onwentsia Club in 1895, working with brother Robert. In 1896, James designed the original 9-hole course at St. Louis Country Club. Among the better-known courses in the 20+ other designs by James (either solo or in collaboration, often with one or more of his brothers) are Denver Country Club, Bonnie Brook Golf Course in Illinois, Glen Echo Country Club in Missouri, Memphis (Tenn.) Country Club, Bellerive Country Club in Missouri, and Wheaton Golf Club in Illinois.

He was 56 years old at the time of his death, from kidney failure, in 1928. In 2007, James, along with brothers David and Robert, was inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

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