ORLANDO, Fla. — Almost everyone's golf swing looks good on the driving range. Like the practice putting stroke, it's usually smooth, unhurried and never misses.
But even among the impressive looking swings on the range at Grand Cypress Golf Club here, the one used by the old guy on the lesson tee was unmistakable--as smooth as syrup and as stylish as a Carolina cotillion.
That swing came out of the sandhills of North Carolina in the early 1950s with the name E. Harvie Ward attached to it. It was so pure it should have been Xeroxed and passed out to all those who found trying to beat the smiling youngster so frustrating.
Ward won the NCAA title in 1949 for the University of North Carolina, and for the next decade was the hottest thing in amateur golf. Now 58, he is the director of golf at Grand Cypress, a course built and operated by his former adversary, Jack Nicklaus, on the south side of Orlando. The course is a driver and a 4-iron from Walt Disney World and the EPCOT Center. Ward's swing is as sweet as ever.
Seemingly never out of control and swinging so easily that no one could understand why the ball went so far, Ward won the British Amateur in 1952 in his first try, the 1955 United States Amateur in his ninth try, and repeated in 1956. He did not lose a match in three Walker Cup appearances against the British-Irish side, and he is one of only two to sweep the U.S., British and Canadian Amateurs.
A younger generation, attuned to rating golfers by the thickness of their wallets, may not recognize Ward's name, but you can be sure that Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Ken Venturi and the other guys around 50 remember him well.
Ward was suspended for a year in 1957 for accepting too much expense money from his backer, San Francisco car dealer Ed Lowery, and that prevented him from defending his U.S. Amateur championship a second time. But still Ward did not turn professional until 1973, when he was already 47 years old. In 1980 he won the U.S. National Senior Open on the Rancho Canada course in Carmel.
Harvie Ward will be in California next week to play in the fifth annual Vintage Invitational, a $300,000 senior tournament starting March 14 at The Vintage Club in Indian Wells.
"I don't play in many of the senior tournaments because I'm too busy here at Grand Cypress, but the Vintage is one I'd never miss," Ward said. "That has to be just about the prettiest place to play golf in the world."
Ward didn't win the 1958 U.S. Amateur after sitting out a year's suspension, but a second-round match that year proved to be one of the most memorable of his career. He faced an 18-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, named Jack Nicklaus.
Ward, already a two-time champion, was outdriven and outhit from tee to green by the teen-ager, but his silken putting touch kept him in the match. He sank 12 putts of six feet or longer, and chipped in once from off the green so that even when Nicklaus chipped in himself for a birdie on No. 17, it couldn't save the match. Ward won, 1-up, shooting a two-under-par 70 to Nicklaus' 71.
"That was the start of a long friendship," Ward said while relaxing in the Grand Cypress clubhouse. "When Jack built this place, he asked me if I'd like to come down and run it for him. I already had a good job at Foxfire (in North Carolina), but I couldn't resist the opportunity. This is one of the finest courses in all of Florida. Maybe in the whole country."
Grand Cypress may be Nicklaus' finest creation, finer even than his own Muirfield course at Dublin, Ohio, or his other far-flung fairways, such as Shoal Creek, site of last year's PGA outside Birmingham, Ala.; Glen Abbey, annual home of the Canadian Open; or Bear Creek in Temecula, Calif.
It is like a piece of Scotland dropped down among the flat, palms-and-lakes look-alike courses that seem so characteristic of Florida.
Although the site was originally an orange grove, not a tree comes into play on the 7,054-yard course. Instead, Nicklaus has lined some of his fairways with huge grassy mounds that look like mini-volcanoes or king-sized haystacks. Others have rolling dunes, terraced fairways and lakes--10 of them. The greens are guarded by pot bunkers in which a 6-foot player can disappear. It is so contoured that there does not seem to be a flat spot in the 18 holes, making every shot an experience from a slanted lie.
Another Scottish touch is a pair of double greens, one huge putting surface that serves both the 9th and 18th holes, and another for two par-3 holes, the 8th and 17th.
"Come out here in the early morning, when the fog is still hanging low, and you'd swear you were on a links course in Scotland," Ward said. "It has that same wild, eerie look you get along the Scottish coast."