Joe was at his best as a teaching pro, and he spent the final years of his life as Stowe Country Club’s first golf pro. He was a big booster of the game of golf, especially with youngsters. Kirkwood’s tricks included quickly hitting two balls, one a hook and the other a slice. It appeared that the two balls would collide in flight, but they did not. He later said his most challenging trick was when he portrayed a duffer. He would first fan at the ball, then topping it barely off the tee, topping it progressively further, and finally hitting a perfect shot down the middle.
Joe Kirkwood was born in Sydney, Australia, and left home at the age of ten to work on a sheep ranch in the outback. His boss there was a golf enthusiast, and Joe soon developed a love for the game. He made his clubs from saplings and snakeskin and practiced nightly. In 1920 he won the Australian Open and the New Zealand Open, after which he decided to go on tour.
Joe fared very well on tour and over the next three years won the Canadian Open, the North and South Open, the Illinois Open, the California Open, the Texas Open, the Lossiemouth Tournament and was runner-up in the Gleneagles Tournament. He also came in third, fourth, and sixth in the British Open over the years.
Joe was probably best known for his trick shooting. He teamed up with Walter Hagen. Together, they toured the worlds’ golf courses, put on shows, and offered golf tips to royalty and ordinary people.
Joe had 29 holes-in-one, 2 of which were on the same round. He was the first pro to use a wooden tee, and he helped develop modern golf clubs while an adviser to Golfcraft engineers.
“I suspect that Joe Kirkwood did more to popularize golf than any other man who ever lived.”
Joe Kirkwood died in 1970 in Stowe, Vermont, and is buried in a nearby cemetery. He was a unanimous choice to the American Golf Hall of Fame at Foxburg, Pennsylvania. As told to Barbara Fey, his autobiography was published posthumously in 1973 under the title Links of Life.