Alphonse Gabriel Capone: Italian-American Prohibition-era gangster, brutal Chicago Outfit mob boss….and as it turns out, also a great one for golf.
Away from his business dealings and violent deeds with The Outfit, it seems he enjoyed nothing more than participating in some target practice of a very different kind – on the fairway. During his time on the green, the terms ‘backhander’, ‘hook’, ‘skull’ and ‘watery grave’ would have been used in a completely different context to his usual vocabulary.
John Binder, author of ‘The Chicago Outfit: Images of America‘ told CNN “Al Capone was an avid golfer, some of the guys around him were too.’’
Capone enjoyed golf, but there is some evidence to say that he wasn’t much of an expert, or indeed very good at the game.
Luciano Iorrizo says in the book ‘Al Capone: The Biography‘, ‘’”At first, he seldom broke 60 for nine holes; he eventually elevated to 18 holes though there is no evidence he was anything but a hacker on the golf course. His rounds were devoted to having fun with his gangster friends who drank plenty each hole, gambled recklessly on the stroke of a ball and carried loaded weapons in their golf bags for use in emergencies.”
During the 1920s, Capone was a regular at Burnham Woods Golf Course, around 20 miles outside of Chicago. He often hosted games at the club with his associates. It was here that he employed Tim Sullivan, an eight-year-old caddie. In an interview for Sports Illustrated in 1972, Sullivan talked about his first round working on the green for Capone. It was a game where Capone teamed up with ‘Machine Gun’ Jack McGurn against Fred ‘The Killer’ Burke and Jake ‘Greasy Thumb’ Guzik, and bets were set at $500 per hole. Sullivan said “Capone teed off first. He fetched the ball a whack that would have sent it clear down the fairway, only he hooked it and it curved way off to the left into a clump of trees. I scrambled around on all fours for about 10 minutes trying to find it, scared to death Al would lose his temper and hit me or maybe shoot me, but all he did was grin, pat me on the head and call me Kid. ‘It’s O.K., Kid, So we lose a stroke, that’s all. Just gimme another ball.’ And I thought: ‘He can’t be as mean and rough as he’s cracked up to be.'”
Tim Sullivan also tells of matches where drink had definitely been on the menu, and often arguments turned violent. Then there was the time when Capone shot himself in the foot after searching in his golf bag for one certain club. He accidentally set off a revolver in there. Sullivan also wrote about a game called ‘Blind Robin’. “One guy would stretch out flat on his back, shut his eyes tight, and let the others tee off from his chin. They used a putter and swung slow and careful. Otherwise they would have smashed the guy’s face. On the putting greens they’d throw down their pistol holders — clunk – and hold a wrestling match.”
Al Capone’s niece, Deirdre Marie Capone, also speaks of her uncle’s love of golf in her book ‘Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story from Inside His Family’. According to Ms Capone, Al once escaped to Scotland using a fake name, and traveled with a caddie who was also serving as a bodyguard. He purchased a handmade set of golf clubs whilst in Scotland, and had his initials engraved on them. In an interview with the Daily Express newspaper, she said, “He was in love with the game and with Scotland. I remember seeing his bag of clubs in the house in Miami. He told me they’d been made for him in Scotland.”
Back in Chicago, Capone and his gang ran the golf clubs through their rackets. Most country clubs were built and paid for by the elites of society and it was an unspoken rule that only the socially acceptables and the upper classes were allowed in. The clubs in Chicago had a unique structure – gangsters earned protection money from the country clubs and so had access to the golf courses.
There’s no doubt that important discussions and decisions would have taken place on the green between Capone and his associates. It would’ve presented the perfect opportunity to get some space and privacy to discuss their particular brand of business…and have fun and maybe make a few bucks while they do it.
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