The Madras College Archive


Former Pupil Biographies

Findlay Small Douglas (1874 - 1959)

Findlay Douglas, born in St. Andrews 17 November 1874, the son of Colin and Elizabeth Douglas. His father was a joiner. He died in New York 29 March 1959 but his ashes were returned to be buried with his family in the Eastern Cemetery.

He was U.S. Amateur Champion in 1898 and President of the U.S. Golfing Association in 1929-30, as such he presented the trophies to Bobby Jones in 1930 when he won the “Impregnable quadrilateral”.

Nassau Country Club can rightly claim Findlay S. Douglas one of her own, since he was a member, joining the Club in 1901. However, when he won the 1898 U. S. Amateur he was playing out of Fairfield County Golf Club in Connecticut. Born in St. Andrews, Scotland. Douglas first came to this country at the age of 22 when he visited a brother who had settled here on business. The opportunities that offered themselves for engineering talent persuaded young Douglas to remain and practice his profession in the United States.

That year, 1897, the tall, powerfully built young Scot immediately made his mark in the National Amateur at the Chicago Golf Club. For Douglas. this was his first tournament in the US. and, as the man who had captained the St. Andrew University team the year before, he was highly fancied . However, he lost in the semi-final to H. J. Whigham, the defending champion. Whigham was also Scottish born and had captained the Oxford University golf team before coming to America in 1895. Whigham won the championship. Douglas also played in that year's U. S. Open, which was held, as then was the custom, at the same place and week as the Amateur. He finished 19th.

In 1898, the U.S.. Amateur was held at the Morris County Golf Club, Morristown, N.J. Winning his early matches decisively, Douglas went on to become the champion. In the semi-finals, he defeated Walter J. Travis by 8 and 6, and in the final beat Walter B. Smith by 5 and 3. A long. accurate hitter and fine iron player. Douglas later showed a weakness on the green. That week, however, his putting presented no problems.

In 1899, Douglas again was in grand form in the Amateur. defeating his first three opponents with contemptuous ease. He again took care of Walter J. Travis in the semi-finals, this time by 3 and 2. In the final, he met H. M. Harriman. Harriman was 7 up after the morning round, but in the afternoon, Douglas played brilliantly and it appeared as if he would prevail. However, he "over-drove" the short 16th . and this error cost him the match by 3 and 2.

After the championship. Douglas sustained a serious accident. The Editor of the magazine Golf reported that Douglas "was the sole victim amongst a quintet of golfers who were all unceremoniously thrown out of a
carriage at Greenwich." Both of Douglas' hands and arms went under the wheels and the right hand was "torn almost to shreds." At first, amputation seemed necessary, but by "the insertion of three stitches and careful splicing together it is certain now that nature will restore the wounds." Douglas had to miss the Open, held that year in September.

The Scots are a tough race. In the 1900 U. S. Amateur, Douglas again was a finalist. His first three opponents went down 5 and 4, 10 and 9, and 9 and 8. In the semi-finals. he met Harriman, and eliminated him by 4 and 3. However, in the final, Travis had his revenge, winning by 2 up.

In 1901 , Douglas went to the semi-finals. Travis was again his nemesis, beating him 1 up in 38 holes, and becoming the champion for the second time. However, the story behind these facts was that,. of the 124 players in the championship, 20 were playing the new, lively Haskell rubber-cored ball. among them, the short-hitting Travis. Douglas stuck to the old, less resilient, gutta-percha solid ball.

The magazine Golf reported: "It was mainly to the use of the rubber-cored (Haskell) ball that Travis owed his victory. Douglas was playing a superb long game, the champion (Travis) would have been out-driven if he had stuck to the gutta, and he was generally outdriven as it was. It was the fine action of the rubber-cored ball with irons that saved Travis. The stroke that won the match at the 38th hole was with a mid-iron. It is doubtful if he could have reached the green on his second with a gutta."

In the light of this match, it was hardly surprising that this national championship proved to be the last in which players used the old gutta ball.

Although Douglas continued to compete in the Amateur for a number of years, he only qualified twice more, in 1903 and 1908; on both occasions he went out in the first round.

He also played in the British Amateur. but without success. In 1903, Douglas had his highest finish in the U.S. Open; 8th place, scoring 322, 15 strokes behind the champion, Willie Anderson. He tied for 23rd in 1909.

In the Met Amateur, Douglas was twice the champion. In 1901, he defeated C. H. Seely by 11 and 9 in the final at the Apawamis Club, and in 1903, he bested John A Moller, Jr. by 10 and 9 at Deal Golf and Country Club. In 1907, he lost in the fin al by 8 and 7 to Jerry Travers. at Nassau.

Douglas was Nassau champion in 1904, 1905 and 1908 and was successful in many other Met area events. Of them all, he once said that his "most cherished golf prize" was the the St. Andrew's Golf Club's silver trophy of 1897. Douglas remembered it so well because he had been forced to jump a stymie at critical stages in his semi-final and final matches. He negotiated both successfully. To the day he died, in 1959, he always maintained, "It was a mistake to take the stymie out of golf. It added more interest to a match." (A stymie occurred when your opponent's ball lay on the green between your ball and the hole, the balls being more than six inches apart. The stymie was part of match play from the game's beginning until 1951, when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, and the USGA abolished it. To play a stymie, you had to either "jump" your ball over your opponent's ball with a lofted club or putt your ball around the other, using a slope on the green.)

Douglas' game stood the test of time. At the age of 57, he won the 1932 U.S. Seniors Golf Association championship at the Apawamis Club, Rye, NY, with a score of 148.

Douglas was more than just a fine player. In 1908. he was one of 70 original founders of Charles B. Macdonald's National Golf Links (Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, New York). He also served the game as president of the USGA from 1929-30, of the MGA from 1922-1924, and the U.S. Seniors Golf Association in 1937.

Douglas was the USGA's Bob Jones Award winner in 1959, given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. He died on Easter Sunday in 1959 with no surviving family, and his ashes were buried in a family plot in St Andrews. In the late 1990s, the R&A restored the headstone, which had deteriorated, and added an inscription with Douglas' name, which had not been there.

In 'The Madras College' Dr Thompson wrote:

"Finlay S. Douglas won the U.S. amateur golf championship in 1898, was runner-up in 1899 and 1900, and became president of the United States Golf Association"