BY JEFF FALK
During World War Two, one of the biggest names in golf served as the head pro of the Hershey Country Club. But because he was little more than a figure head – a name, if you will – many local residents are unaware of his role in Chocolatetown golf.
From 1941 to 1951, all-time great Ben Hogan sported the title of ‘head golf professional’ at HCC. But like many of the top pros of his day, Hogan spent very little of his working year in Hershey.
Hogan, a native of Stephenville, Texas, is generally recognized as one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. As ball striking goes, Hogan has never had an equal.
Jay Weitzel served as the Hershey Country Club’s head pro for 38 years, beginning in 1957, six years after Hogan’s departure. Weitzel is a known authority on the history of golf in Hershey.
“You had to be a good player to get a good job,” said Weitzel. “You had to be a good player to get a job at the Hershey Country Club. And then a pro shop manager would run the show for you. It’s nothing like today.
“Hogan would work in the beginning of the year and then go to The Masters,” Weitzel continued. “The rest of the time he spent touring. Every once in a while he’d stop at Hershey.”
Hogan was the protege of one Henry Picard, the man who proceded him as the head pro in Hershey. When Picard retired for health reasons, he recommended Hogan for the job.
“Ninety-nine percent of Hogan getting the job was on Henry Picard’s recommendation,” said Weitzel. “He (Picard) was a highly-established, high-class gentleman.
“Hogan was pretty much of a loner,” Weitzel added. “Henry Picard and Ben Hogan were very close. And they had similar personalities. He befriended Ben.”
The hiring of Hogan was an attempt by Milton Hershey to make his company town a national destination for golf.
“Mr. Hershey built four golf courses right after the Great Depression,” said Weitzel. “He had foresight. He wasn’t afraid to take big ventures. He was a brilliant man. And Hogan was a by-product of communications and advertising.
“To some degree, his name represented Hershey on the professional golf tour,” continued Weitzel. “That was his job, represent Hershey on a national level.”
And for that part of it, Hogan did a great job. While the head golf pro at Hershey Country Club, Hogan recorded six of his nine major championships.
“In his day, Ben Hogan was the best striker of the golf ball,” said Weitzel. “He would hit it square on the face every time he swung the golf club. He worked exceptionally hard at golf. Practice, practice, practice. He was the best striker of the ball I’ve ever seen, and that includes Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.”
But while Hogan’s notoriety served the membership of the Hershey Country Club well indirectly, it did nothing for it directly.
“He was a name, that’s all,” said Weitzel. “As far as duties, they were very limited. He had very limited connections with the membership. He never gave lessons. He did very little.
“He used Hershey as a place to tune his game, prepare for the year on the tour,” added Weitzel. “He basically did nothing to run the club. A guy by the name of Glen Hummer ran the pro shop for him.”
Still, when the time came for him to move on, Hogan and Hershey parted ways amiacably.
“Times were changing,” said Weitzel. “Ben Hogan was a national champion and he was looking to play for far more money. He left under favorable circumstances. It was a mutual agreement.”
Weitzel only met Hogan personally one time, and it came years after Hogan had left HCC, when Weitzel was then the head pro.
“It was at Oakland Hills at the National Open,” recalled Weitzel. “I was in the men’s room and Ben Hogan walked iin. Mr. Hogan was at the urinal, I washed my hands and went over to him and said “I’m Mr. Weitzel, the head pro at the Hershey Country Club.’ We shook hands after he washed his and we talked about how things were in Hershey. When we parted, he called me ‘Mr. Hershey’. That’s my communication with Ben Hogan.”