Moorehead Jr. helped rise of golf in Altoona
John Moorehead Jr, pioneer of golf in western Pennsylvania, first introduced the game to the city of Pittsburgh in 1893.
The sport created such a stir that it quickly spread to nearly every corner of the state. During the late 1890s, Moorehead would also help the sport gain a foothold in our own Altoona area.
Born into a well-to-do Pittsburgh family in 1859, Moorehead would go on attend Yale University beginning in 1877. A great athlete, Moorehead joined the school’s newly-formed football team and played alongside Walter Camp, who would become known as the inventor of modern football.
Years later, Camp would list Moorehead as one of the leading players of the game during the sport’s first decade.
After graduating from Yale, Moorehead was named president of Moorehead Brothers Steel Company. He would also head several other Pittsburgh-based corporations while remaining active as an athlete.
When the Allegheny Athletic Association formed one of the country’s first amateur football clubs in 1890, Moorehead was named the team’s center. Just a few years later, Moorehead received his introduction to the newly-Americanized game of golf.
“I was vacationing in Massachusetts in the summer of 1893,” Moorehead said in a newspaper account of the time. “When I saw my first golf at the Essex Country Club. A bearded, old Scotchman with some peculiar looking sticks in a long bag confronted me one day.
“He showed me the nine primitive holes they had laid out and told me that golf was a Scotch game of hitting a small gutta percha ball into a hole placed in the ground. I engaged him to play the next day, and I was so captivated by the game that I became a slave.”
In his memoirs, Moorehead related that on a train ride home, he looked upon the countryside from Altoona to Pittsburgh, fancying the many beautiful golf holes he could place a long the way.
After arriving in Pittsburgh, Moorehead was determined to build a course of his own. Ingenuity led him to take six French pea cans to the first flat, clear tract of land he could find. The resulting location turned out to be the old Homewood racetrack situated within the Pittsburgh city limits.
By the fall of 1893, Moorehead and his associates were playing a rudimentary form of golf on the six 20-foot square greens that were laid out approximately 300 yards apart.
Enthusiasm for the game quickly grew, and Moorehead’s group of friends soon formed the Allegheny Country Club, constructing a more formal links on nearby land.
During this time, Moorehead’s golfing skills were improving at a rapid pace. His game became so good that he actually qualified to play at the first ever U.S. Amateur Championship held at Newport Country Club in 1895. He also qualified the following year when the tournament was held at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.
During his many competitions, Moorehead met and befriended Scottish golf professional John Reid, who had competed in the inaugural 1895 U.S. Open. Moorehead convinced the young pro to become Allegheny Country Club’s first head professional.
In addition to his teaching duties in Pittsburgh, Reid often accompanied Moorehead on visits to the Cresson Springs Mountain Resort during the summer of 1896.
Moorehead owned a cottage at the resort and entrusted Reid to help layout a nine-hole course for the guests to enjoy. The duo’s work resulted in a 2,032 yard, par-32 course that was the first golf links within a 50-mile radius of Altoona.
Moorehead would go on to lend his input to the design of the Altoona Cricket Club links that were built in 1897.
Moorehead’s passion for the game of golf continued throughout his lifetime. He was a frequent participant in the annual invitational tournaments that were held at Bedford Springs and the Altoona Cricket Club.
In 1899, Moorehead helped to organize the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association and served as the organization’s president for more than a decade.
In his later years, Moorehead could always be seen in the gallery at all important tournaments in western Pennsylvania before passing away, peacefully, at his Pittsburgh home in the spring of 1927.