Remembering the Ham-Am Tournament at the Pittsburgh Field Club. Arnold Palmer & Perry Como - left. Palmer & a spectator - right. Photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Paul Slantis.

Ham-Am Tournament Supported Caddies, Brought out Celebrities
By Josh Rowntree, Director of Communications  • February 23, 2024

Over six decades ago, right here in Western Pennsylvania, one of the country’s most beloved pro-am golf tournaments began, bringing out some of the world’s most popular stars of the screen, the mic and of athletics.

The purpose of the competition was simple: raise money for local caddies unable to afford a higher education a chance to go to college.

The Ham-Am Tournament started in the fall of 1962 and was founded by six men.

Former Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasting legend Bob Prince, known as “The Gunner,” was at the forefront of the Ham-Am for years.

Past WPGA executive director Jim Potts, who served the association from 1955 until his retirement in 1976 and was a massive supporter of youth involvement in the game, was also a primary founder.

Insurance executive Jack Brand was in that initial group, as was John Hinkle, an employee of Channel 4. Advertiser John Price and Jack Chivers were the last of the group to begin the charitable tournament.

Chuck Voelker served as the president of the Ham-Am Association, as well.

By 1973, the tournament was bringing in top professionals, around 90 district amateurs and some of the most famous people of the time. Pittsburgh-area businesses sponsored the event, providing prize money for winners, while entry fees — that reached as high as $250 per golfer — benefitted the WPGA’s Caddie Scholarship Fund.

Initial requirements for the scholarship were simple. One must’ve worked for at least two years as a caddy at a Western Pennsylvania Golf Association Country Club, must have had high college board scores and been in the upper ten percent of their class. An affidavit of financial need was also required.

The unique name of the tournament reflected the lingo at the time. A celebrity Pro-Am style event, the ‘ham’ portion of the name came from the moniker for a person who performs for a living, or a ‘ham.’

In 1963, a pair of well-known locals shined brightest in the tournament. Singer and actor Perry Como, a Canonsburg native, and the great Arnold Palmer, took the course and returned to the event as their schedules allowed over the years.

Other entertainment celebrities to swing the clubs at the Ham-Am in its heyday were actor Fees Parker, radio and television announcer Jack Lescoulie, actor Chuck Connors, entertainer Jack Benny and actor Lee Majors among many others.

Sports legends like former Pitt football coach Johnny Majors, NBA Hall of Famer John Havlicek, Baseball Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, broadcaster Pat Summerall, Pittsburgh Pirates ace Bob Friend, St. Louis Cardinals star Stan Musial, and Pirates shortstop and Duke basketball player Dick Groat participated in the event.

Even former U.S. President Gerald Ford was invited to play but was unable to attend in 1977. His replacement wasn’t too shabby, however. Golf immortal Ben Hogan played and taught a clinic.

The Ham-Am rotated through several local clubs, including the Pittsburgh Field Club, Shannopin Country Club and Laurel Valley.

The event was also supported by many women in the area who volunteered for the event. In a July 4, 1964 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mrs. James K. Spence of Upper St. Clair was interviewed about her involvement in the Ham-Am.

“I think it is just great,” Mrs. Spence told Marion Leslie of the Post-Gazette. “I have a twin brother and he went to school on a part time scholarship. I believe this gives impetus to these boys’ careers.”

According to Mrs. Spence, the WPGA tried to always keep at least 25 boys in full tuition scholarships, and in 1963 there had already been 94 recipients of the WPGA Scholarship Fund to have gradated college.

Along with Spence — who was the hostess chairman for the tournament — the wives of Prince, Price and Brand also were among the women to volunteer. According to the Post-Gazette, the women wore green skirts and white blouses, adorned with a hostess ribbon for identification purposes — a mark of the times, without a doubt.

In addition to their support, the help of local businesses ended up being the catalyst of the event, as their financial and material contributions to the Ham-Am and Scholarship Fund — later named for Potts — resulted in many young people from the region being able to attend college.

In the first decade of the Ham-Am Tournament, approximately 250 caddies were sent to college thanks to the funds gathered by the Ham-Am and WPGA. 12 local educational institutions helped cosponsor the event as well, opening the door for higher education to those who may have not otherwise had the opportunity.

Sadly, by 1979, the Ham-Am died after struggling to find a consistent home.

But today, the WPGA Scholarship Fund lives on. It has existed since 1941, and nearly 700 students have received a WPGA scholarship. In the 1980s, The Scholarship Fund was expanded to include employees from all departments of WPGA member clubs, including course maintenance, club house, swimming pools, the golf shop and more.

To read more and donate to the WPGA Scholarship Fund, click here.

For media inquiries, please contact WPGA Director of Communications Josh Rowntree.

About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and nearly 37,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund and Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.