Mr. Ryder, an Englishman from St. Albans by way of Manchester, grew up devoted to music and cricket. He was the son of a Manchester corn merchant and was educated at the University in Manchester. Most of all he was an entrepreneur and after his father balked at his plans to sell penny seed packets he went into business for himself in St. Albans. Building his seed distribution empire brought him fortune and raised his social standing to the point that he became Mayor of St. Albans in 1908. However, his extreme hard work resulted in illness in his late 40’s. An “overworked” diagnosis came with a prescription of fresh air and exercise. Golf was recommended. After a couple of years of resisting, he relented, and at the age of 50 he threw the same energy into the game as he had into his business. He retained the services of a golf professional at a cost of £1000 per year and practiced on his home estate six days a week. Eventually, he became a member, then Captain, then Club Champion at Verulam Golf Club in St. Albans. By age 51, he held a handicap of 6.

As his passion for the game grew, he shared his wealth to promote competition for golf professionals and in fact sponsored the first tournament solely for professionals in 1923. In 1926, the R&A announced for the first time there would be regional qualifiers for the Open. The American contingent had to journey to Great Britain early to play in the qualifier and then had some idle time so another informal match between the Brits and Americans ensued. This followed the first match, again informal, in 1921 at Gleneagles. The Americans lost in that one 9-3 and so they must have had revenge in their hearts as they agreed to play at the Wentworth Club in England. Ryder witnessed the 1926 exhibition and especially relished seeing his personal teacher, Abe Mitchell, defeat the reigning Open champ Jim Barnes 8 and 7 in singles. Mitchell then paired with George Duncan in foursomes to defeat the US twosome of Barnes and Walter Hagen. Although the Americans were even more soundly trounced 13-1, the camaraderie and spirit of competition left both teams eager to reconnect. When the match was over, Ryder had tea with his teacher and Duncan. They were joined by Hagen and teammate Emmett French. One thing led to another and before the crumpets were gone, Duncan had suggested that Ryder provide a suitable trophy and encourage formalization of matches on a regular basis.He did more than that. The fine trophy cup was adorned at the top with the likeness of Abe Mitchell at the insistence of Ryder, and he paid the final £500 out of his own pocket to finance the expenses for the first event.The following year the first Ryder Cup was held at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts. Worcester is a fine Donald Ross course located just west of Boston. Walter Hagen, a charter member of the PGA, was the first U.S. captain. Notable U.S. team members were Gene Sarazen and Johnny Farrell. The British team was to be captained by Ryder’s teacher, Abe Mitchell, but he had an appendicitis attack and had to remain home in England. Even so, the matches were played and the U.S. came out on top 9-2.Samuel Ryder’s health improved because of golf, but not enough. After getting to see only two of his beloved events on his home soil, he died of a massive heart attack while celebrating the holidays with his family on Jan. 2, 1936. He had shared his love of golf with his youngest daughter Joan. She picked up the cause and carried on for her father. Her last Ryder Cup was at The Belfry in 1985. She called it “the most exciting ever.” She died later that year at the age of 81.The Belfry was significant as more than just the “most exciting ever.” While there was always good spirited competition, the U.S. dominated the Cup for many years, holding the trophy from 1959 through 1983, with only a tie in ’69 at Royal Birkdale interrupting the American control. What’s more, the Brits had only won the event three times going into the 70’s. During the “77 matches at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Jack Nicklaus approached the British PGA President with the thought that all of Europe be included in the selection of their team. Nicklaus said it was “vital to widen the selection procedures if The Ryder Cup is to continue to enjoy its past prestige.”In 1979 the “new” European team included a fiery Spaniard, Seve’ Ballesteros. The exhibition realized a wonderful resurgence in popularity. Was it Ballesteros’ flamboyant persona and incredible talent or the fact that the matches were just more competitive? Since 1979, the Europeans gained or retained The Ryder Cup in eight of the 15 competitions. You can’t help but think that Samuel and Joan would have been even more thrilled.A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: