Sometimes we just have to count our blessings and chalk up our existence to sheer luck.
For David and Tom King, their grandfather William Nichols falling ill the second week of April 1912 allowed them to be a part of Muskogee golfing lore.
“He and his buddy had tickets on the Titanic, and he got sick and couldn’t come over,” said Tom, a professor of instructional design at Doane College in Crete, Neb., said recalling a conversation he once had with him. “And he was mad about that. He said, ‘here’s my opportunity to be on that real nice ship.’ And we know what happened to the ship.”
At the time, Nichols was returning to Muskogee, where he was the first club professional at Muskogee Country Club from 1908 to 1915, from his native Edinburgh, Scotland. On Friday, the Kings, whose father Joe died in 2011, along with club officials, honored Nichols with a plaque laid at the first tee.
“The King family got in touch with us and the club about the plaque,” said Kristin Hamm of Muskogee Marble and Granite, designers of the monument. “It was put on hold until today because of their father’s death.”
Nichols, whose daughter Peggy Nichols King currently resides in Enid, came to Muskogee in 1908 at age 26 at the urging of fellow Scotsman Leslie Brownlee, who was a professional at Lakeview Country Club in Oklahoma City. David, who resides in Bartlesville, remembers his grandfather as a teacher who emphasized keeping things under control.
“He did not approve the likes of Arnold Palmer or any other golf for that matter who displayed any emotion on the golf course,” David said. “He was a Ben Hogan fan. If you hit a good shot, you had the same reaction as if you hit a bad shot. You learned from your mistake and moved on.
“He would not be a Tiger Woods fan, for a number of reasons, but for certain the way he enjoys himself on the golf course.”
During his competitive career, Nichols was one of the best golfers in the state, winning the Oklahoma Open five times from 1910-20 and after regaining his amateur status, captured the state amateur championship in 1925 and 1927. He registered 10 holes in one and was dubbed “The Grand Old Man of Oklahoma Golf” by the Daily Oklahoman.
“He came over here as a young man to teach cowboys how to play golf, then went into business and stayed in Muskogee most of his life,” David said. “He used to fiddle with golf clubs. I remember as a young man him working with me with an 8-iron. He convinced me if I could hit an 8-iron, I could play golf.”
After leaving his position at the country club, Nichols, who died two months short of his 90th birthday in 1972, was the club pro at Lakewood Country Club and Dallas Country Club, both in Texas, before returning to Muskogee to start an insurance business.
“It’s been a golfing experience for my family for many, many years,” David said. “My sons play, my brothers and I play. It’s great to know that my grandfather came from the birthplace of golf and played at St. Andrews. He was fortunate to meet some people with means that got him started.”
And Tom realized early on that his grandfather was a special man and a celebrity in the community.
“He used to come down to Okmulgee to see us,” Tom said. “He was in his 80s and he would take the King boys to breakfast to the breakfast place in Okmulgee and everyone knew him. He had conversations with everybody and everyone called him Mr. Nichols.
“It was Mr. Nichols this and Mr. Nichols that. I felt like a big shot.”
Until the latter years of his life, Nichols was still teeing it up and holding his own on the golf course.
“He was in his 70s and still shooting under par,” Tom said.
“He would beat my father. He was amazing. I just had a lot of fun with him.”
William Nichols (1882-1972)
If you would like to see pictures of Muskogee’s first club professional, go to https://sites.google-.com/site/tomkingfamilysite/bill-s-page.