Rick Snider: Telling the story of the great golf marathon

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The challenge: 600 holes of golf over four days in eight cities. No cart, no breaking 100 in any round.

J. Smith Ferebee made it a sucker's bet.

The 1938 golf marathon that captivated the nation from Los Angeles to the final putt at the World's Fair in New York went forgotten until former Washington Star sports writer Jim Ducibella discovered a three paragraph newspaper clipping. Thus began another marathon over six years before Ducibella's "King of Clubs" was recently released. It's included in the National Press Club's book fair on Tuesday.

"The story was so bizarre nobody would believe it, and for awhile I didn't believe it. But yes, it really happened," Ducibella said. "The other people in the entourage were almost as eccentric. The more I got into the lives of the other people I thought it was a book. Nobody today would do this. You couldn't give Tiger Woods $1.5 million to play 600 holes in eight cities in four days."

A fairway was once lit by car lights. If Red Bull was around back then, Ferebee certainly would have drank gallons. After all, he walked more than 40 miles a day while finishing rounds in two hours.

All this over a wager for a piece of land near Virginia Beach. Well and regaining his reputation for outlandish stunts. Ferebee earlier received national attention for playing 144 holes in one day until critics claimed it wasn't a big deal when a housewife exceeded it.

"This is a guy whose whole life was one athletic challenge after another from swimming 1,000 laps in an Olympic-sized pool," Ducibella said. "Every physical challenge he layed out he met. It was part of his lifelong makeup of trying to do the impossible and pulling it off. He was a better-than-average golfer who was a physical freak of nature who could do this endurance."

The 1930s were certainly a golden age of sports from Seabiscuit and Babe Didrikson to Joe Louis and Joe DiMaggio. It seemed like anything was possible. Maybe supersonic skydiving now qualifies, but eccentric sportsmen like Ferebee seem to be sorely missing nowadays.

"We're not as adventuresome of people as we used to be," Ducibella said. "There was no television in 1938. Didn't have any of things we are now occupied with, so people made up entertainment like sitting on poles or swallowing goldfish. Part of it was to break the boredom of life. People used their imagination a lot more than we do today."

Golfers always seem to make good stories. "Tin Cup," "The Legend of Bagger Vance," "The Greatest Game Ever Played" ... even "Caddyshack" and "Happy Gilmore" are classics.

"It's the individuality of the game," Ducibella said. "You may have a guy carrying your clubs or helping you read a putt, but ultimately you're responsible for making the putt. Stories involving individuals are much more interesting than team-oriented movies."

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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