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The Olympic Club’s history goes beyond US Opens
Question of the Day
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Next week’s U.S. Open host has conquered far more than golf’s greatest.
Little black books buried in the archives of The Olympic Club reveal a place that groomed gold medalists and heavyweight champions, whipped writer Mark Twain into shape and whose members teased Ty Cobb so much after he lost to a 12-year-old that the baseball great rarely returned.
Following in the footsteps of this eccentric city built on steep hills and shaky ground, little about the nation's oldest athletic club _ from the wacky weather to the hot-dog shaped hamburgers _ conforms to conventional standards.
“The whole place is unique,” superintendent Pat Finlen said. “You look through the lineage and names, and there are a lot of names. What I’ve always found interesting is most private clubs have a horizontal membership from a socioeconomic standpoint. The Olympic Club is vertical.
“You can have someone who’s a fireman or a policeman, or somebody just across the street, all the way up to major celebrities. There are people from all walks of life.”
The club’s official roots date back to May 6, 1860, when 23 charter members founded the San Francisco Olympic Club, which started as informal gymnastics workouts in the backyard of Arthur and Charles Nahl.
The great 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the original downtown facility, later reconstructed on Post Street. The group assumed control of the Lakeside Golf Club in 1918 and still maintains both facilities.
Amateur athletics boomed during those early years and Olympic became a premier West Coast training destination.
In 1892, member “Gentleman Jim Corbett” won the heavyweight title. Ralph Rose took home six total medals (three gold) from the discus, hammer and shot put over the 1904, 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games. In 1924, the club sent 22 Olympians to Paris _ the largest single delegation from any membership.
“People came from all over to train because there was really no other place on the West Coast with such facilities,” club historian Jessica Smith said.
Even some without sports pedigrees.
Long before he penned “Tom Sawyer” or “Huckleberry Finn,” Twain made his mark at Olympic Club. At first, he spent more time pulling pranks than anything else.
“Mark Twain was contemporaneous with these gentlemen, but his exercising was confined to studying up jokes to play on his fellow members,” an excerpt from the 1893 club history book recounts about Twain’s time there in the 1860s.
While it’s unclear exactly what his mischiefs included, a letter Twain wrote back home suggest Olympic eventually tamed the great American novelist.
“I feel like a new man,” Twain wrote, thanking his “Ma” for pushing him into sports. “I sleep better, I have a healthier appetite, my intellect is leaner, and I have become so strong and hearty that I fully believe twenty years have been added to my life.”
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