It’s clear what Phillip Stewart Honeyman did in golfing terms in the United States Until now, it is far less clear who he was but certainly not who he said he was.
Starting from what is certain, in 1894 he arrived as professional at the golf club in Lenox, MA, ‘to instruct the new club in the rudiments of the game’. He was good at it and well liked. ‘He is constantly improving the links. He has put flags up near each of the holes and has had the greens improved’, according to the New York Times in August 1895. He had given names to the nine holes on the course and ‘he is very popular among the golfers and they have learned rapidly under his instruction’.
The following month he organised a week long golf event for men and women. Initially billed as an ‘international tournament’ that includes professionals and amateurs it was eventually a local amateur affair and reports of it are sparse, perhaps because Newport stole its thunder by following it with a tournament of its own. Nevertheless, it generated a huge amount of publicity in New England and beyond in the lead up to it, helping establish Lenox as a golfing centre, even if some of the press were not quite on brand with it as a sporting event.
This journalist from the Pittsburgh Post rounded off his political correctness by contrasting the fact that Lenox had a professional golf instructor, Honeyman, ‘a sportsman …. one who would rather eat a crust and work nights to indulge in his favourite sport than have all that the world offers without it’ with Newport having a professional bicycle trainer, ‘a darkey, very black, very illiterate, very respectful and very strong’.
For all that, the event was innovative, men and women, a six-day affair and beginning on Monday morning in daylight and ending on Saturday night under electric arc lights. Honeyman seems to have been an innovator generally. He was a keen supporter of women’s golf, explaining how handicaps could allow a girl to compete with her brother, and laying out an additional course at Lenox which, foreshadowing modern discussions about ladies’ tees, he did not dismissively call a ladies’ course, where they could be kept out of the way, but rather a ‘supplementary links …. for ladies, young people and beginners who are adverse to the fatigue and difficulties of the regular course’. He was also keen on educating caddies, taking them out for instruction on the course daily because in America caddies were simply ‘beasts of burden’ and ‘having no practical knowledge of the game cannot be of half the service to the players that they might be. A caddie should know at every point in the game exactly what a player desires without being told’.
He married Mary Mahanna in Lenox on 26 January 1898. A son was born to Phillip and Mary in June 1899 but the poor little mite only survived a day. They had no further children. On the 1900 census they are shown as ‘boarders’ with the Mahana family.
The ‘noted golf expert’ who had ‘given golf lessons for 15 years before coming to this country from England 6 years ago’ spent two days in Northville, NY, in May 1899 laying out a course for the F J & G railroad company at Sacandaga Park.
Honeyman left Lenox in April 1904 to become professional at the Alpine Club in Fitchburg, MA. This was either a very short stay or he served as professional to two clubs as his appointment to the Lake Champlain Hotel club was announced that July.
Nick Longworth asked him to take over at the East Hill club in Cincinnati in 1905, which he did. and played in the Western Open over his new home course that June.
He knew how to hustle. He played a match for a purse at the Losantiville course in the city, against James Watson from Monfieth, in 1907 which Watson won. Through the local press he challenged Watson to a rematch the following year but was quick to point out that any club wishing to host the match should put up a purse bigger than had been played for previously. Given that few readers now will recognise either name, it is remarkable that clubs competed for this and it appears that the East Hill club put in the winning bid. Watson was inspired by the challenge and offered to play any professional in America for a purse provided he had two weeks to practice. Honeyman also lamented the lack of time to play given ‘most of my time has been put in teaching newcomers the game’. He did not feel the need for practice time before meeting Watson but felt his opponent’s challenge was ‘a bit broad’. ‘Willie Anderson, US Professional Champion, might accept Watson’s challenge …. Anderson can give Watson or me a stroke a hole and still beat us by a good margin’. Sadly, I do not know if the return match happened.
Like most northern golfers, Honeyman went south as an instructor to Florida in the winter months, for example to Magnolia Springs in 1906 and in 1914 to Ormond. The 1907 winter he spent in Cincinnati making the course harder as bogey had taken a battering during the previous summer.
He was one of four Cincinnati golfers to enter the US Open in 1912 but, with a 96 for the opening 18 holes, he went no further..
In December 1915 it was announced he was leaving the club and would be replaced by Otto Hackbarth.
After his departure from the East Hill club Honeyman did not even go to his usual winter gig in Florida, instead spending the time teaching at an indoor school in Cincinnati where he received a visit from Alex Findlay, an old friend. In the 1916 season he was professional at the Phoenix club in Cincinnati but this was only for that season and in 1917 he is reported as being a seed salesman.
He stayed away from golf for a long time, instead being manager of the Walnut Street Theatre (sorry, Theater) in Cincinnati which operated until May 1928 and was demolished later that year. He was tempted back to the green in 1930 with the position of professional, billed with typical understatement ‘teacher of presidents’ at the Royal Pines club, part of a massively ambitious hotel complex by Barnegat Bay in New Jersey. The Depression, corruption and failed bids for the hotel resulted in a complicated bankruptcy for the complex and in 1932 he and Art Wells took over the the Pinewald course.
Just as his beginnings were a mystery so is his end as I find no further mention of him after this either in the press or in official records.
Now, who was he? The currently accepted story says he was from St Andrews, born there in 1870, and came to the United States in 1893. The problem is that all the documents which support this are on the American side i.e. the data for the entries was all provided by Honeyman himself. So, he gave details of his parents to the registrar when getting married, Phillip Stuart Honeyman (b 1842) and Mary Douglass (b 1846), with him born in St Andrews in 1870. He may also have needed to provide this information on his application for naturalisation in Lenox in 1900. For this, he certainly needed to state how and when he arrived in the United States and this was given as arriving in New York, ‘on or about 15 June 1893’. The problem with the parentage was that there is no record of his claimed mother and father existing in Scotland let alone producing a child together, Indeed there is no record of a Phillip Honeyman in Scotland from the start of statutory records in 1855 until the end of the century. There is also no record of Phillip Honeyman at immigration on Ellis Island, through which he would need to pass, in 1893.
A 345 page genealogical study, ‘The Honeyman Family in Scotland and America, 1548-1908’ produced by Abraham Van Doren Honeyman in Plainfield, NJ, in 1909 includes a section on Phillip S Honeyman.
Plainly nonsense but harder to check then than now though the author could surely have established that his subject did not finish third in the US Open nor did he even play in the 1895 competition. One suspects Phillip Honeyman was either a great self-publicist or a fantasist. If the Willie Park connection was not enough, an article in the New York Times in 1895 (with information provided by Honeyman himself) claimed he was a nephew of Old Tom Morris who had taught him to play at St Andrews. Just to ensure a good geographical mix, his appointment at Lenox saw him described as ‘a real Highlander’ by the Berkshire Eagle though, in this case, the blame might lie with the reporter. But think of him not as a rough-cut man of the mountains, he was ‘related to the 400 by cousinship’ (the supposed elite of New York Society as defined by Mrs Astor) according to what he told the Pittsburgh Post. [Mrs Astor was Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and J Egmont Schermerhorn, from another branch of the family, was secretary and treasurer of the Lenox club, bringing a clubhouse from New York, and so, essentially, Honeyman’s boss which is not quite ‘cousinship’!].
He told the Pittsfield Sun in 1896 he had been in the country for four years and laid out Lenox, Oyster Bay GC, the Belmont Club, Philadelphia, Troy County links, Fairfield County GC in Greenwich, CT, Hotel Champlain at Bluff Point, NY and ‘recently links at St Louis, Memphis, Cleveland, Richmond, VA, and Mamaroneck, NY’.
Abraham does rather better with the genealogy and gives some supposed family background to the man. William Honeyman, a farmer (land steward on his marriage certificate), born in 1827, was twice married in Scotland, firstly to Helen Purd(d)ie and, secondly, to Mary Keiller. According to the author, Phillip Stewart Honeyman was the son of that second marriage, born in St Andrews in 1870. Helen Purdie is buried in Leuchars churchyard, so that checks out, and William Honeyman married Mary Keiller, a dressmaker, in Edinburgh on 23 April 1867.
Helen, Christina and Jane, children of that first marriage, are registered as being born in St Andrews in 1859, 1860 and 1866 respectively. There is no record of Phillip being born but born he was, quite possibly in St Andrews, as his parents, his three half sisters and he are recorded aboard the ship Hudson sailing from London in 1874 and arriving in New York on 11 June, almost twenty years before he claimed to have come from Scotland. Aged 4 years and 4 months he will not have done a great deal of club swinging in St Andrews.
He will neither be the first nor last to embellish a curriculum vitae a little but to create an entire new backstory is rather extreme. He went further. For whatever reason, he was not naturalised when he applied in Massachusetts in 1900 and tried again fourteen years later in Ohio. This time he specified his birthdate as 31 December 1869 and his arrival in New York from Scotland as 23 June 1893 on the Umbria which he had boarded in Liverpool on 15 June. The Umbria was a Cunard ship which went back and forth between Liverpool and New York every month but there is now no passenger list or record for a June 1893 arrival. Perhaps there never was, because it did not happen, or perhaps Honeyman knew in 1914 the record was missing.
How would he know something like that? The answer might lie in the 1892 census for the borough of Queens, NY, where William is described as a “gardner” (sic), all the children are living at home and Phillip is listed as a detective. Not just any detective but ‘a man of experience with criminals of all classes and the scope of his business is almost worldwide’ and ‘although still a young man, he now has a name which many older detectives might well envy’. He was, in fact, superintendent of the National Detective Agency in Brooklyn (I am not sure if this is the Pinkerton agency or a competitor) but the high praise came from advertisements run in a large number of papers in New York, NJ and Pennsylvania and into New England in 1893. They told how he ‘broke down under the strain of his labours …. and suffered from extreme exhaustion and could not rest day or night’. Having to give up work for some time, and consulting two doctors, Dr Greene’s Nervura blood and nerve remedy soon had him operating on full power again. The advertiser, Dr Greene, was a doctor in Boston who sold this miracle cure at $1 a bottle. Not only did the advertisements tell the story, they also had large pictures of Phillip Honeyman within them. Yet a year later, Honeyman was a professional golfer in the area in which these newspapers circulated, supposedly recently arrived from St Andrews.
That’s the how, what about the why? The claims he made for his golfing background were grandiose. Perhaps he had concluded from his investigative experience that if you are going to tell a lie, tell a big one. There is, though, another wise suggestion, when in a hole stop digging but in 1895 he told the New York Times his sister, Mary, was visiting from Scotland. She had been the champion women’s player of Scotland but lost last year to Lady Margaret Scott. There was no Scottish ladies’ championship until 1903, there was the (British) Women’s Amateur Championship and, by then, it had only ever been won by Lady Margaret Scott (in 1893, 1894 and 1895), defeating Issette Pearson in both 1893 and 1894. Oh, and Phillip didn’t have a sister called Mary in St Andrews or anywhere else so I am curious as to who, if anyone, turned up. The Times reporter did not care, he could report, ‘She wears when playing a Scotch plaid golfing suit’. Maybe there was an element of mental illness and that was the reason for Dr Greene’s elixir. It could be he felt he needed the best possible resumé to break into the professional ranks. Or was there something in his work as a detective? There are stories in the press of detectives from his agency trying to track down bank robbers and forgers who, one imagines, would not be a threat to the detectives once imprisoned. But these early agencies were often used by corporations to break up strikes, sometimes violently, (even on the instructions of the supposedly philanthropic Andrew Carnegie) or to infiltrate unions, Had someone put the frighteners on Honeyman and he had to ‘disappear’?
And, there remains the question, where did he learn to play golf and lay out courses?
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