Golf Bucks County

By Bob Oliver

Middletown Country Club

Middletown is a compact 80 acres of challenging golf, with rolling hills and large specimen trees that have watched many golfers travel its fairways over time. It has retained its old time feel with tees and greens in close proximity, allowing golfers to walk the course if they choose.

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Stewart's magical smile will never flash again

Written by Bob Oliver on .



He was known for his knickers, his Scottish tam o’shanter cap, his heart and his exquisite golf swing.



He was known as a family man, a charitable man and for his desire to lead a balanced, full life.



On the golf course he’d be wearing the colors of one NFL team or another, seriously chewing gum while appraising his golf situation of that particular minute. Later, he’d go home and play with the kids.



He was able to focus, to take golf’s unlucky bounces in stride. Even when it meant, as at the Olympic Club in 1998 when his picture perfect drive ended up in a sand-filled divot on the back nine of the final round in a major. That unfortunate lie, and a treacherous 18th hole pin placement, may have cost him the national championship.


Yet somehow he ground up the inner strength to move on.


Along his golf travels he won 19 times, including 11 victories on the PGA Tour. He captured three major professional championships, including two United States Opens and one PGA Championship. His gave rose at the Majors, where he loved center stage and usually performed well as his 15 top-10 finishes attest.


Statistics are one thing, but in the end what I will remember about William Payne Stewart was his magical smile.


He’s flash that smile at you, and in the ensuing seconds you felt like a million dollars. He’d light up the room with it. He’d make you feel at home.


In January, 1997, at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., Stewart was brought in by the Wilson Sporting Goods people to meet, greet, say a few words and flash that magnificent smile.


He spoke about his career, how he had righted the ship of his game, which had seen early career lows followed by a breakthrough at the 1989 PGA Championship. He won that first major, then another at the 1991 U.S. Open, then fell from that lofty plateau, heading into a drought which saw him unexplainably win only once in eight long years.


For several of those seasons he was a grizzly bear, arrogant, snapping off quick answers when asked about why his game had deteriorated so quickly, about why he could no longer close the deal, about why nothing ever seemed to go right.


But, in an interview at the PGA Show, Stewart reflected on how he had turned things around and righted the ship.


“I think it was a matter of putting things into the proper perspective, there is so much more to life than just the game of golf. It is my career, I am blessed with some talent, but I have a family and my faith too,” said Stewart, flashing that smile as if to say he had his priorities straightened out. “I guess, well, I guess I’ve grown up.”


Then he dispelled that thought when he wisecracked: “You know, you don’t look like a golfer…have you ever played the game?” he said, rolling his eyes. Classic Stewart. Serious when he needed to be, a bit of a jester when people were taking things too seriously.


His game of life was back in perfect order in 1997 when he made 20 of 23 cuts. A year later he broke back out of the box by making 15 consecutive cuts, then followed by putting together his best season this year.


He won early at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and then added his third major championship in dramatic fashion when he holed a pressure-packed 15-foot par putt on the final hole to secure a one-shot victory over Phil Mickelson in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst Number 2.


“I never gave up,” said Stewart after that open, choking back tears.


Payne Stewart was at the top of the world. His faith was solid, his family of closely knit, and his game was first class. 


“I’m a lot wiser, I’m more mature,” he said recently. “I’m not going to blink and miss my family grow up. When I am on the golf course I will do the best I can. When I’m at home I will be a husband and a father.”


Just a month after Team USA won the Battle of Brookline and securing the Ryder Cup, the golf world lost a wonderful competitor when the Learjet he was riding in crashed in South Dakota. Five other families lost a loved one in that disaster.



Stewart’s wife, Tracey, lost a loving husband, daughter Chelsea and son Aaron a great dad.



We all lost that magnificent smile. But it won’t be forgotten.