By Joy Kraft
The economic misery of the Great Depression apparently had a positive side effect. No, not market regulations. Entertainment. Short on money, the people went to bizarre if not amusing lengths to find ways to entertain themselves and take their minds off the desperate times. Case in point: Grueling dance marathons. Be-bop until you drop. And a variation for the sports set: golf marathons. Jim Ducibella, a 1974 grad and longtime sports reporter for the Virginia Pilot, details perhaps the longest of these odd events in his new book King of Clubs: The Great Golf Marathon of 1938 about two stockbrokers who—to settle a bet—covered 600 holes over four days in eight cities.
Ducibella stumbled on golf marathons while writing his first book, Par Excellence: A Celebration of Virginia Golf. He then promptly forgot about it. Six years later, cooking up another book idea, he discovered that the papers of the marathon ace, J. Smith Ferebee, were bequeathed to Virginia Military Institute.
Ferebee, who was born in Virginia Beach, had a dispute with fellow stockbroker Fred Tuerk about 296 acres in Virginia Beach. Tuerk wanted to sell the land. Ferebee didn’t. They came to an impasse and decided to settle it with a bet—Ferebee had to play 144 holes of golf in one day. The brash amateur golfer raced through the eight rounds. Tuerk was ready to surrender his stake but cried foul when Ferebee’s appearance on the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” radio show ignited golf marathons all over the country in which players knocked off more than 144 holes. A rematch to end all golf marathons—600 holes over four days in eight cities—was arranged.
One of the pair’s clients, Reuben Trane of heating and air conditioning fame, wanted to promote his new AC unit that could be placed on the roof of office buildings, so he backed the event. Betting subsequently ballooned, and characters aplenty came out of the woodwork.
The entourage traveled by rented plane and Ferebee ran every course (182 miles over four days), hustled dawn to dark and beyond at a breakneck pace. He won the bet.“He slept one and a half days in New York after finishing, flew back home and played 18 holes after landing.”
And, says an astonished Ducibella, after “hitting more than 2,800 shots in four days, he never lost a ball.”