More than 4,000 miles separate the tiny Oklahoma Panhandle community of Beaver from the eastern shore of the old North Sea, wherein lies golf’s legendary birthplace, St. Andrews, Scotland.
Finding some sort of commonality between the two might even be a farther stretch.
Improbable, maybe, but not impossible.
At least one man has connected the dots, so to speak. And he did it on a number of occasions during a 45-year journalism career, each time using golf as the unifying means.
Ross Goodner fell in love with the game while growing up in Beaver during the Thirties and Forties. When he made his first visit to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews for the 1976 British Open, it was like falling in love all over again.
“What an incredible experience,” said Goodner, now 81 and retired in Norman. “St. Andrews is such a special place with all of its history and beauty. I’d have to say it’s my favorite golf course, with Pine Valley in New Jersey a close second.”
Goodner was a regular part of the press corps at most of golf’s major tournaments from 1966 until he retired in 1996. During that span, he traveled the world covering various aspects of golf ” from the drama of the United States Open to the game’s historical roots found on the other side of the Big Pond.
After earning his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1954, Goodner set out to become a sports writer, not knowing what sort of amazing adventures lie ahead. And his first real gig ” a desk job in the sports department at The Daily Oklahoman ” certainly offered no indication.
“I didn’t get to write a lot, but it got my foot in the door and I figured it was up to me from there,” explained Goodner, who turned down job offers from The Norman Transcript newspaper and OU sports information director Harold Keith to work for the state’s largest daily. “When I did start writing more, I covered lots of high school and small college events, and eventually became second-string golf writer behind Wally Wallis.”
Goodner’s first big break came quite unexpectedly while covering the 1959 U.S. Amateur Championship’s final match between Jack Nicklaus and Oklahoma native Charlie Coe. That day, he met respected golf columnist Lincoln A. Werden and decided to inquire about potential job possibilities at The New York Times.
“Mr. Werden passed my name along and before I knew it I was headed to New York for a one-week trial on the Times sports desk. Honestly, I was scared to death because the copy desk was everything there,” said Goodner, who was 32 at the time.
“The trial run went well. I turned out to be a fairly good desk man and the rest, as they say, is history.”
NO. 2 AT GOLF MAGAZINE
Goodner spent four years reading and editing the work of other writers, which he believes helped further develop his own writing skills. And in 1966, he got the opportunity to showcase those skills when an old friend offered him a job as the No. 2 guy at Golf Magazine.
“I loved the time I spent at The New York Times, but the chance to go cover golf was something I couldn’t pass up. It was great because I got to go to most of the majors every year ” the Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and a few British Opens,” said Goodner, who eventually was promoted to editor in 1968.
In all, Goodner spent 10 years at Golf Magazine, which was divided into two stints thanks to a two-year hiatus to the Bahamas where he worked as a public relations specialist at a major resort. Eventually in 1977, Goodner accepted an offer to become a senior editor at Golf Digest and that’s where he spent the next two decades.
Along the way, he rubbed shoulders with some of golf’s greatest players, including Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw and so many more. He got to know Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters so well, they became part of his very fabric.
“My profession has given me so many wonderful opportunities over the years. I’ve met some great people and traveled to some amazing places,” said Goodner, who has been married to his wife, Sue, for 46 years.
Through it all, Goodner maintained close ties with his home state and especially his college alma mater back in Norman, where he retired to 12 years ago. His fondness for other sports like baseball and football have always provided a break from the golf world when needed.
“All-in-all, not bad for a kid from Beaver, Oklahoma. I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’ve definitely seen a lot of golf and loved almost every minute of it,” added Goodner.
While health issues have forced him to give up playing the game, Goodner still watches whenever he can, especially when his current favorite golfer, Tiger Woods, is teeing it up. “Jay C. Upchurch