One of the treasured keepsakes in our household is a large, oak-framed, cross-stitched genealogy of our family tree. Again, I repeat cross stitched because each family member's and ancestor's name, birth and death were painstakingly threaded until a wonderful family history tapestry was created. My wife, Deb, the official family genealogist, spent more than 500 hours on this project and even today I marvel at the patience, care, and diligence that carried this work to completion.
Whether or not she cross-stitches I'm not sure, but Oakland Hills member Kay Healey surely is someone who has patience, care and diligence. As the U.S. Open returns to the storied course on W. Maple, the name of Kay Healey may well be lost alongside more celebrated ones such as Pavin, Nicklaus, Norman and Mickelson. And unlike the club president, tournament chairman, host pro and superintendent she probably won't be interviewed by the media that dutifully searches every crevice for a fresh slant on the tournament. And that would be sad because Kay Healey, Oakland Hills' unofficial club historian and archivist, makes one fine story. I guess you could say she is in charge of the story of Oakland Hills itself.
Wife of the late William E. Healey, who was a club president in 1976, Kay was serving on the House Committee with chairman Bob Wood in 1980 when the subject of putting some order to the club's many artifacts and photos arose. "At that time, there were pictures in books, photos in closets and attics_just about everywhere in the club," said Healey. It was Wood who first suggested that the clubhouse's long second floor hallway might be perfect for a "galleria." Healey recalls that the 200 foot long hallway "looked like a lonely institution." But she remembered staying at one of the finest hotels in San Diego and how a similarly large hallway there was enlivened by historical photographs of the city and the hotel itself. "That was my inspiration for the galleria here at the club."
First, Kay assembled all of the pictures and plaques and placed them in chronological order. Then with the aid of member Tom Sheehan and longtime head pro Al Watrous, she carefully selected the pictures and memorabilia for the Galleria. "I really enjoyed that process," said Healey. "While reviewing hundreds of photos, Al would instantly recall an anecdote or incident about the particular player or event." One of the most poignant stories involved the '37 Open champion at Oakland Hills, Ralph Guldahl. Although the dashing, handsome Guldahl would go on to win back to-back Opens and was a dominant player for several years, his game suddenly and mysteriously left him. It's been written that Guldahl incurred a back injury and that he also grew bored with the travel. But noted golf writer Al Barkow, in his well-regarded Golf's Golden Grind: the History of the Tour, postulates that it was the travail of writing a golf instructional book that ruined the Open champion, a "purely instinctual golfer." Barkow writes: "Guldahl wrote his own book. He agonized, he introspected, he watched himself in the mirror, and after he completed the book he couldn't break glass, as the saying goes."
Upon viewing the photo of the beaming champion with his '37 Open trophy, Watrous vividly remembered the morning when Guldahl without any notice appeared outside of his pro shop now many years after the Open. "I remember Al telling us," said Healey, "that Ralph simply asked him to play Oakland Hills again in hope of finding his lost swing."
Memories are in abundance in the galleria. There's the program from the '22 Western Open, truly a major championship in its day, which was proudly won by the host pro, Mike Brady. There're excellent photos from the course's inaugural Open, the '24 championship won by a 30 year old, slightly built Englishman, Cyril Walker, who defeated runner-up Bobby Jones by three shots. In her Echoes of Oakland: Heritage of Oakland Hills, Healey cites a sad Walker footnote, taken from Herbert Warren Wind's The Story of American Golf. Several years after his Open triumph Walker lost everything in the Florida land crash. Destitute, Walker turned to caddying to make ends meet. He died a few years later in a New Jersey jail where he sought a bed for the night.
The most popular photo in the galleria is oddly not one of national champions. Instead, it's a Norman Rockwellesque photo of Oakland Hills' first superintendent, Herbert O. Shave, sitting under a shade tree and next to 6 year old Mike Conroy, the son of the North Course pro Leo Conroy. "I continually receive requests by members for a copy of that one photograph," said Healey. "It seems to resonate with innocence from a bygone era."
It's a shame that visitors to the U.S. Open this June won't all have the opportunity to appreciate the galleria. But the sheer size of the modern day Open gallery forces organizers to limit access to the clubhouse.
Having relished my personal tour of the galleria, I'm certain Kay Healey would admire the words that adorn the cross-stitched geneaology: "Every restoration of the past is a legacy for the future."