Video tributes poured in from around the world, a sold-out crowd of more than 2,100 packed the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, and Arnold Palmer presided over dinner as the evening’s honorary chairman.
Somewhere, Francis Ouimet must have been smiling.
The scholarship fund he created in 1949 — inaugural class: 13 scholars — became, in his words, his greatest achievement in golf. So the annual banquet put on by the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund Wednesday night appropriately honored its namesake, in recognition of the 100-year anniversary of Ouimet’s stirring upset win in the 1913 US Open at The Country Club.
This year’s Centennial Gala included biodegradable golf balls being hit toward the Ouimet Fund’s logo in Boston Harbor, the Commonwealth proclaiming Wednesday “Francis Ouimet Day,” and one of the largest fund-raising golf dinners in US history. The evening featured appearances by Ouimet’s granddaughter, the daughter of Eddie Lowery, who was Ouimet’s 10-year-old caddie in 1913, and video messages sent in by such golf luminaries as Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Gary Player, Greg Norman, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
Palmer was the first recipient of the Francis Ouimet Award for lifelong contributions to golf in 1997. He’s been a friend of and ambassador for the charity ever since.
“I’m just flattered to be here. I like the atmosphere of what is happening around this event. It is a foundry for golf,” said Palmer, who spent time with Ouimet at the 1963 US Open at The Country Club, when he lost in a playoff to Julius Boros. “The young people, the history of the Open and ’13, and all the things that have happened have made me proud of my association with Boston and the golf community here.
“The charities that are benefiting from this program and this caddie scholarship fund, my father’s name is involved, there’s just a lot of things that make this extremely important.”
Ouimet’s 1913 win was chronicled in a 2002 book written by Mark Frost, “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” which became a movie under the same name three years later, directed by Bill Paxton. Both took part in Wednesday’s gala.
“It was one of the great good fortunes of my life to come upon this story and realize that nobody else had written it yet,” Frost said. “My admonition to myself was, ‘Don’t screw it up.’ This is one of the great stories of the 20th century, and I think it’s one of the great sports stories of all time.”
Said Paxton, who acknowledged he was unaware of Ouimet’s story before reading Frost’s screenplay: “When I read this, it’s quite a story. That relationship with a 10-year-old caddie, at the US Open? Can you imagine? I tried to get that feeling into the movie, the cameraderie of Eddie and Francis.”
Rich Lerner of the Golf Channel once again served as emcee, and the student speaker was Ouimet Scholar Julia McCarthy, a Worcester resident who attends Holy Cross. In addition to Palmer, former PGA Tour star Peter Jacobsen, who received the Ouimet Award in 2006, was also in attendance as a fund ambassador.
Terry Kennedy, the president of the Ouimet Fund, announced during the program that more than $1.5 million will be awarded in college scholarships for the 2013-14 school year. That brings the fund’s total to more than $26.5 million given to more than 5,100 scholars since the inception in 1949.
The night belonged to the memory of Ouimet, and what he did 100 years ago in Brookline. But his lasting impact was also felt, by the large crowd that was there celebrating, many of whom have contributed so generously to such a worthy cause over the years.
“We’re doing what we’re supposed to do. We want to do it better,” said Kennedy, who also unveiled plans for a centennial capital campaign drive, with a goal of raising $5 million, the majority of which will be directed toward inner-city children in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Brockton, and New Bedford.
Francis Ouimet must be smiling about that somewhere, too.