Every so often, when general manager Josh Bridge zigzags out of his office, he will come face to face with ol’ Jim Barnes.
It isn’t the real Jim Barnes — the lanky 6-foot-4 Englishman has been dead nearly 50 years — but a jumbo-sized photo of the man who was a top golfer in his day that hugs the back wall in the Tacoma Country and Golf Club’s clubhouse.
“If you are a golf fan who knows any history,” Bridge said, “you should know his name.”
And his nickname. Because of his height, he was called Long Jim Barnes. Bridge has suggested that the adjoining restaurant be renamed the “Long Jim Barnes Bar.”
Many don’t recall the man or his accomplishments. Barnes was the club professional at Tacoma C&GC from 1911-14. Just as he was starting to carve out a name for himself, he moved east to embark on a career that included being a president’s playing partner and winning four major golf championships.
One of those wins was the 1921 United States Open golf championship held in Maryland.
As popular a figure as he was, particulars about his tenures in Spokane, Vancouver, B.C., and Tacoma, remain shrouded in mystery. Newspaper accounts of tournaments he played are on record. So are later-life tales. But remnants that tie him to all three cities either barely existed, or were wiped out by disastrous clubhouse fires.
In many ways, Barnes has become Tacoma’s lost sports legend.
Tacoma C&GC superintendent Joel Kachmarek, who is regarded as the closest thing to a club historian these days, said the record of Barnes’ time in Tacoma is thin.
“The most interesting thing about his tenure here? It is that I know very little about it,” Kachmarek said.
FROM ENGLAND TO WEST COAST
Born in 1886 in Cornwall, England, Barnes grew up like many of his countryman who chased a golf career. He started out as a caddie at West Cornwall Golf Club where he also learned how to play. And he became an adroit hickory-shafted club-maker.
At 20, he was ready to pursue professional golf and sailed from Liverpool on the Cunard liner Carmania to Ellis Island, New York.
But unlike many from the United Kingdom who settled in country clubs along the Eastern seaboard or in Chicago, Barnes joined other Cornish migrants on the West Coast.
That is when details get sketchy: It is thought that when Barnes was stationed at the Claremont Club in Oakland, Spokane-area capitalist F.T. McCullough heard about the golfer’s growing reputation and sought him out as the Spokane Country Club’s first club professional.
It isn’t even known what year exactly Barnes made his way to Spokane. Most figure it was late in 1907 or early in 1908. Whenever it was, it coincided with the time that the club was moving to its current location.
Two things that are distinctly known: First, Barnes represented Spokane Country Club when he won the 1909 Northwest Open at Seattle Golf Club, and when he placed second at the same tournament a year later — at Tacoma C&GC.
And second, when it came time to designing a new layout at Spokane Country Club, Barnes had a big say on at least the front nine holes, which opened in 1909.
“He is the architect on record,” said Les Blakley, the director of golf at Spokane Country Club.
Any other recorded journals or footnotes of Barnes’ time in Spokane very well could have been destroyed in a 1946 clubhouse fire, Blakley said.
It is hard to tell how Barnes came to take the Tacoma C&GC position. Something very well may have been planted, or privately negotiated, when he visited the club with its new clubhouse and burgeoning membership for the Northwest Open in October of 1910.
The year of his hire was 1911. It had to have come within the first half of the year. By the time he won the Northwest Open again in June at Waverley Country Club in Portland, he was listed as being from Tacoma.
Barnes replaced Charles Locke, becoming Tacoma C&GC’s second head professional.
“The members knew how good he was, and that is why he was recruited here,” Bridge said. “And at that time, Tacoma C&GC was becoming one of the top clubs in the country. This hire, I think, was a statement to let people know that.”
What Barnes did while serving Tacoma C&GC is pure conjecture, since much of the organization’s recorded history went up in flames in a 1962 clubhouse fire, Bridge said. No photo of Barnes on the grounds can be found.
The only physical proof linking Barnes to Tacoma C&GC are two hickory-shafted irons that he made. Engraved in the bottom of the clubs is “JM Barnes … Tacoma, Wash.”
“We know he built clubs and was employed with a salary,” Kachmarek said. “What else did he do? I don’t know. He probably played golf with members and helped them with their swings.”
What Barnes also did was stage high-profile exhibition matches with some of golf’s biggest names. In the summer of 1913, he held a best-ball foursome match featuring popular amateur champion Chick Evans, who three years later captured the U.S. Open title.
And later that fall, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray traveled to take on Barnes and Seattle Golf Club professional Robert Johnstone in an exhibition match — won by the two Bailiwick of Jersey stars.
Barnes also began playing bigger tournaments across the country, including his first entry in the U.S. Open in 1912, tying for 18th. A year later, he tied for fourth at the national open.
He also became a three-peat champion of the Northwest Open in 1913 at Butte Country Club in Montana.
“Tacoma was very proud of him,” Bridge said. “They wanted him to go out and play and win those tournaments. Every time he did that, it brought back notoriety to our club.”
Barnes’ name has been linked as at least an advisory voice to golf architectural projects around the Northwest — Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club in Vancouver, B.C.; Jefferson Park Golf Course in Seattle, the first municipal layout West of Chicago; and even a Lake Club design along American Lake that no longer exists.
In February of 1914, Barnes announced he was leaving to take the head professional job at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club near Philadelphia. A two-day farewell tournament for Barnes was held at Tacoma C&GC — which, of course, he won.
On March 19, Barnes boarded a train heading out of town. Five months later, he won the first of many major professional tournaments at the Western Open at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota.
KING OF THE COUNTRY IN 1921
By the time the 1921 U.S. Open came around, Barnes was already known worldwide. He had captured his first major championship at the inaugural PGA Championship in 1916, defended it three years later, and had won 14 times on the PGA Tour.
And he had played casual golf matches with President Warren Harding.
But what he accomplished at Columbia Country Club in Maryland that week in July will forever be recalled as one of the commanding performances in U.S. Open history.
Barnes arrived the day before the qualifying round. Having never seen the layout, he shot a 1-under-par 69 to set the course record.
The next day, Barnes — with a piece of lucky blue clover tucked away in his teeth — opened with another 69, and led the rest of the way.
“The greens had upset (the other golfers) — and the hot weather hadn’t helped their mental attitude, either,” Barnes recalled years later to Golf Journal. “I knew I was playing well — well enough to play any course, I thought.”
After 36 holes, Barnes held a four-stroke advantage over two golfers, one of whom was close friend Fred McLeod. His lead grew to seven shots after three rounds. And after a final-round 72, he ended up winning by nine strokes over McLeod and American superstar Walter Hagen; 13 shots over Evans; 14 over budding star Bobby Jones; and 22 over Gene Sarazen, who later would win the career “Grand Slam” of golf.
Given the depth of field, Barnes’ nine-shot win was hailed more impressive than Willie Smith’s 11-stroke triumph at the 1899 U.S. Open.
As Barnes putted out on the final green, Harding was waiting to present the championship trophy. At the exchange, Harding said, “Congratulations, partner.”
Two days after the U.S. Open ended, Barnes was invited to have lunch with Harding at the White House.
Barnes would never win another U.S. Open, but he finished off his Hall of Fame career by winning the British Open title in 1925.
GONE, BUT HARDLY FORGOTTEN
Philip Rowe, who was considered the next great player out of Cornwall and is now an assistant men’s golf coach at UNLV, said Barnes’ legacy in his place of birth is very much alive.
“They are always looking out for who the next Jim Barnes is,’ ” said Rowe.
“There is a big-framed caricature of him above the bar. … He is an absolute giant.”
Back in Tacoma, connections to Barnes are few. A few years ago, Bridge met Dr. Joseph Manda — Barnes’ grandson — who showed up unannounced at Tacoma C&GC to visit the site Barnes once called home.
“He asked me if I knew who Jim Barnes was,” Bridge said. “I said, ‘Turn around (to see the photo on the wall).’ He was pretty excited that we had not forgotten who Barnes was.”
Kachmarek has started piecing Tacoma C&GC’s long and rich history together in a scrapbook. It is nearly 1,000 pages of hand-written notes and old photos he has found.
“I am intrigued by all of it,” Kachmarek said. “And Jim Barnes is a cool part of it.”