MEMORIES OF MINGLING WITH MASTERS MAESTROS
Current Winter Park & Former Daytona Beach Resident Reflects on Life Playing Golf
By Mike May
Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Jimmy Demaret, Dr. Cary Middlecoff, and Jack Nicklaus are all past Masters champions – and hall of fame golfers, as well. Those six golfing legends are also people that former Daytona Beach youth golfing icon and former Daytona Beach-based attorney Joe Eubank either met or saw play when they visited Daytona Beach to play golf over the years. Eubank is now 83 (2020), retired, and living in Winter Park with his wife Marjie. He enjoys reflecting on his time spent chasing Old Man Par and the great people he has met along the way. It’s worth noting that Eubank still plays golf and plays it quite well. He’s a six handicap at the Interlachen Country Club in Winter Park. He can still talk the talk and walk the walk.
THE EARLY DAYS
|Eubank has been playing golf since he was in kindergarten. It didn’t take long for him to start mingling with and meeting many of golf’s greatest players.
Eubank has been playing golf since he was in kindergarten. It didn’t take long for him to start mingling with and meeting many of golf’s greatest players.
“I was two weeks shy of my ninth birthday when Hogan, Nelson, Snead, and Demaret came to Daytona Beach to play in an exhibition at the South Course at the Daytona Beach Golf Course in March 1946,” recalls Eubank. “I was with my dad who had just returned from the service in the Philippines.”
That day, Demaret won the exhibition with a 63. Hogan and Snead had matching 67s and Nelson carded a 69.
“It’s amazing how those four great players did while playing a course for the first time,” reflects Eubank. “I bet I played the old original South course well over 1,500 times and don’t recall ever shooting below 67, which would have barely been competitive with these fellows on their first outing. So much for early dreams of going on the PGA Tour.”
Soon after that celebrity foursome played in Daytona Beach, longtime Daytona Beach News-Journal sportswriter Benny Kahn asked young Joe if he learned something while watching Hogan, Nelson, Snead, and Demeret showcase their driving, pitching, chipping, and putting skills.
“Not at all, my dad is my golf teacher,” said young Joe Eubank.
ESTABLISHING WINNING WAYS
Three years later, in 1949, Eubank recorded his first big win – the National Pee-Wee Tournament at the Dubsdread Golf Course in nearby Orlando.
And then, in 1950, Eubank, then 13, captured his first club championship at the Daytona Beach Golf Course.
“I won a few of those,” adds Eubank, who was a scratch golfer for a number of years while living in Daytona Beach. “I also won a few city golf championships in Daytona Beach.”
As a youngster, Eubank seemed to spend every spare moment of his childhood either playing golf or thinking about playing golf. His passion for golf was one of the reasons that he was able to get a driver’s license earlier than his peers.
“I got my license at 15, not 16, so my mother would no longer have to drive me to the golf course,” admits Eubank, who graduated from Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach.
As Eubank grew older, he kept pursuing opportunities in competitive golf, though he quickly realized that the competition was tough.
“I tried unsuccessfully to qualify for the U.S. Open only one time,” said Eubank. “The qualifier was in West Palm Beach on the day before graduating from Seabreeze High School in 1955.”
He failed to qualify for the 1955 U.S. Open, which was won by journeyman pro Jack Fleck who upset Hogan that year in an 18-hole playoff to win the Open. In retrospect, Eubank was trying to be Jack Fleck that year. It was not to be.
LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL
Upon graduating from Seabreeze, Eubank enrolled at the University of Florida to pursue a degree in chemistry and to play golf for head coach Conrad Rehling. But, within a year, Eubank realized that college life was not for him, but his love of golf remained strong.
Soon after leaving UF and returning home to Daytona Beach in 1956, he played in the North-South amateur golf tournament. Then, Eubank took a flyer on life and joined well-known trick-shot artist Paul Hahn as the straight man on his national trick-shot exhibition tour. After being on the road and away from home for a year, Eubank returned to Daytona Beach.
Upon his arrival back home, he enrolled at Stetson University in nearby Deland in the fall of 1957. He immediately joined the Stetson Hatter golf team.
“There were no golf scholarships at Stetson, but we played Florida Southern and Rollins,” remembered Eubank. “Golf at Stetson was not as serious, as we drove our own cars to away matches.”
PRACTICING LAW & PLAYING GOLF
Eubank eventually graduated from Stetson and then extended his stay at Stetson to get his law degree, which he earned in 1960.
He then started his law practice in insurance defense where he represented the interests of insurance companies and their insureds in automobile and premise liability matters. He eventually joined the firm of Smalbein, Eubank, Johnson, Rosier, & Bussey.
When he wasn’t seeking legal justice, Eubank continued to excel in golf.
Eubank continued to play golf. His highlights were playing in the first few Riviera Opens in the mid-1960s at the Riviera Country Club in nearby Ormond Beach. It’s worth noting that Eubank had the course record – a 63 – at Riviera until the ownership made some course changes, which means his course record remains intact.
|And on February 29, 1968, Jack Nicklaus and Doug Sanders played a Challenge Match as part of the Grand Opening of the North Course. For that match, Eubank, then 31, served as the on-course commentator.
THE NICKLAUS EXPERIENCE
And on February 29, 1968, Jack Nicklaus and Doug Sanders played a Challenge Match to mark the grand opening of the North Course at the Daytona Beach Golf Course. For that match, Eubank, then 31, served as the on-course commentator. The match was held on Eubank’s favorite local course -- on the North Course at the Daytona Beach Golf Course. Eubank had the honor of picking Nicklaus up at the Daytona Beach airport. He had known Sanders for years as they had competed against each as juniors.
Eubank’s biggest memory from that day was Nicklaus’ ability to hit a one iron.
“Nicklaus could hit a one-iron high, straight, and long. And it landed softly,” said Eubank. “I’ve never seen anybody hit a one-iron as he could.”
PLAYING LINKS GOLF IN BRITAIN
While Eubank had accepted that he was not going to be a successful professional golfer, he could still be an accomplished amateur golfer. His two big opportunities came in 1969 and 1971 – overseas.
“In 1969 and 1971, I played in the British Amateur. That was a dream,” said Eubank. “In 1969, the British Amateur was played at Hoylake in England. In 1971, it was at Carnoustie in Scotland.”
In both years, he was eliminated in the first round of match play, but he battled to the bitter end on both occasions.
“In 1969, I lost on the second playoff hole. During that match, I was three holes down and was able to bring the match back to all square after 17. We tied the 18th hole which sent the match to extra holes,” recalled Eubank. “At the beginning of the match, my opponent had his wife pulling his clubs on a pull cart. I thought I had an easy win and then his first drive went 310 yards. I knew it was going to be a tough day. And, it was. And, in 1971, I lost my first-round match on the 18th hole.”
But, his trips to Great Britain were memorable because his dad joined him.
“While in Scotland, we had a chance to play the Old Course at St. Andrews,” said Eubank. “That was a thrill for both of us.”
GOLFING HEROES AND IDOLS
When asked who are the four players that he would like to play with, if given a chance, he quickly said Bobby Jones, Nelson, Hogan, and current world number one Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.
“Bobby Jones was an incredible player,” says Eubank. “I once shook his hand while attending the Masters. He was a great old gentleman.”
As for Nelson, Eubank was impressed with his sense of kindness and respect.
“I once sent a hand-written note to Nelson where I asked him for a lesson,” says Eubank. “He wrote back to me. He told me that he was too busy and only had time for one student. It was a young Tom Watson. I understood and was impressed that he took the time to reply.”
Eubank idolized Hogan.
“Ben Hogan was my hero,” says Eubank.
As for McIlroy, Eubank says that McIlroy does things in golf that are simply amazing.
“Rory McIlroy is simply a very talented golfer,” states Eubank. “He’s also a favorite player of my wife.”
Eubank has a special memory of seeing Hogan practice one day in south Florida, back in 1957.
|Joe Eubank at the Congressional Country Club after winning Senior Club Championship in 2010.
Eubank was in Palm Beach County while he was driving through Juno Beach, located just north of West Palm Beach when he realized it was time to stop his car, get out, and take a short hike.
“I was driving past the exclusive Seminole Golf Club (in Juno Beach). I decided to stop so that I could take a look at this private club,” recalled Eubank. “I walked through a wooded area and hopped across a small stream to sneak on the property of the Seminole Golf Club. I walked across the fairways in the direction of the clubhouse, fully expecting to be approached by a club official to be told that I must leave. But nobody seemed to notice. I eventually arrived at the driving range where I sat on a small hill and watched Ben Hogan on the driving range. He was the only player hitting balls on the range. He was getting ready for an upcoming edition of the Masters. I was about 20 feet away from him and not once did he acknowledge my presence. I just sat there and watched. I then watched him practice his putting. When Hogan finished, I walked back across the fairway, hopped over the stream, walked through the wooded area, and climbed into my car to drive home.”
One other prominent PGA Tour who had a presence in the greater Daytona Beach area was Dr. Cary Middlecoff, who won the U.S. Open in 1949 and 1956 plus the Masters in 1955. Middlecoff had an affiliation with Ellinor Village, which owned the Oceanside Country Club in Ormond Beach, located immediately north of Daytona Beach.
“I got to know Cary and he introduced me to other pros such as Tommy Bolt and ‘Porky’ Oliver,” said Eubank.
EBBS & FLOWS OF LIFE
As Eubank got older, the demands of his law practice took more and more of his time. He played less golf.
|Joe practicing in his backyard in Winter Park, Florida.
The year 1988 was life-changing for Eubank – both professionally and personally. That year, Eubank broke away from Smalbein, Eubank, Johnson, Rosier & Bussey to partner with Brad Hassell to create Eubank, Hassell & Associates. And, on a personal note, he got married for a second time. He married Marjie and they are still together.
“We had both been married previously and divorced and single for several years when introduced by a friend in 1987,” remembers Eubank.
It quickly became a ‘Brady Bunch’-type scenario in the Eubank household.
Marjie had two children and Eubank had three children. And, both had custody of their children.
“We married and Marjie and her two children moved to Daytona Beach at that time and so we suddenly had a large family together under one roof,” said Eubank. “Marjie had graduated from Duke University where she was a cheerleader and valedictorian, in that order she says.”
Eubank proposed on a mountaintop in North Carolina with his dad’s old high school basketball charm with the comment “the ball is now in your court.” Marjie said yes.
“So, the UF dropout and former golf trick-shot employee snared the Phi Beta Kappa. Only in America,” said Eubank. Truth be told, as was stated earlier, Eubank did graduate from Stetson University’s Law School in 1960.
LIFE AFTER LAW
|In 1996, Eubank retired from his law practice. That gave him more time to spend with Marjie, their joint families, and to play more golf.
In 1996, Eubank retired from his law practice. That gave him more time to spend with Marjie, their joint families, and to play more golf. It’s worth noting that their joint families now include five children, 11 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild – all of whom are athletically inclined and are staying physically active, which includes a round or two of golf with dad and/or grandad from time to time.
Looking back, while Eubank’s golfing career didn’t yield too many victories, the ones that he has had have been significant and meaningful, especially two of his most recent trips to the winner’s circle.
In 2010, Eubank won the Senior Club Championship at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. As a result, he became Captain of the Club team for competition against other clubs in the great Washington, D.C. area.
“I played with some good people and we played on some good old, well-known courses in the Washington, D.C. area,” said Eubank.
And, another meaningful win for Eubank was in a Florida State Golf Association Super Senior event when he was in his late 70s. Upon accepting the first-place trophy, he said that it had been a while since his last big win.
“I told them in accepting the prize that I was truly happy as I had been in a 65-year ‘slump’ since my last ‘major’ win -- the National Pee-Wee Tournament at Dubsdread in 1949,” said Eubank.
Eubank, who plays with the latest and greatest equipment (Callaway irons and hybrids, Ping driver, Scotty Cameron putter, and Titleist ProV1X golf balls), seems to enjoy talking about golf as much, if not more so, as he does enjoy playing golf.
“I like to sit around afterward and exchange a bunch of old golf experiences,” admits Eubank. “That’s one of my favorite things and I am capable of boring you to tears with golf stuff so be careful.”
As Eubank reflects on the hundreds of rounds of golf he has played in the last 75+ years, he can relate to one of his grandfather’s comments who spent years fishing, forever in pursuit of ‘The Big One,’ which he never caught. But his grandfather had no regrets.
“Golf for me has been like my grandfather with his love for fishing,” remembered Eubank. “Someone asked him how it went and he said he didn’t catch one fish, but he spent the whole enjoyable day trying. And, for me with golf, I have spent every enjoyable day trying. There have been no regrets.”
It’s fair to say that Eubank has many more enjoyable days trying to play golf in his future, just as Hogan, Nelson, Snead, and Demaret did in Daytona Beach on March 13, 1946. And, Eubank will tell a few more golf stories along the way and have no regrets.
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