Raise a Dram to the Legend of Gin Rummy

As a former magazine publisher/editor for three decades, it was sometimes difficult to put that first word down on paper when starting an article. This time it was easy to start and actually hard to stop, as I could go on for days writing about two of my favorite activities — playing golf and gin rummy.
Pinnacle Peak Country Club in North Scottsdale recently held its fourth annual Gentlemen’s Gin Club Championship, now known as “Raise a Dram to a Legend,” with a new format and scoring system. But before we go there, here is a little bit of history about gin rummy and its relationship to the game of golf.
Gin rummy was invented around 1909 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and within a decade became a favorite card game at country clubs along the East Coast. It was very popular in the Roaring 20’s but really took a big jump during the Depression, when more and more people had less and less recreational money to spend on going out. The result of that idle time: they started to learn to enjoy themselves by discovering the art of amusing themselves at home.
Hollywood and radio gave gin rummy the publicity it needed in motion pictures and radio programs world-wide. It was now a “fad,’ and continued to grow going into World War II. Several movie celebrities, Zeppo Marx, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, among others, played gin while sitting around on the movie set. Gin rummy was mentioned in the movies and even on Broadway.
That “fad” learned during World War II continued to grow as returning soldiers purchased homes, started families and often entertainment was playing cards. The country was growing into rural America and golf courses were being built to entertain our greatly expanding population, now called “baby boomers.”
One of the best features of gin rummy is that it is easy and quick to learn the game and rules (but it takes a life-time to learn how to play it better). The game makes you think you are doing great one minute and then lets you down with a big bump the next, and that is why it is so maddeningly addictive.
Moving forward, gin rummy played a major part in the James Bond movie “Goldfinger” (1964) and the award-winning, two-person Broadway play “The Gin Game” (1976), as well as “The Flamingo Kid” flick (1984). Believe it or not, there was a time when gin rummy was the most popular card game at the 19th hole after a round of golf.
From a personal standpoint, if I lost playing golf in the morning I always thought I could make it up in the card room that afternoon. Without question, almost every major golf club in America had a card room and a gin game would start at a moment’s notice. From Shinnecock Hills to Saratoga National to Oakmont to Murifield Village to Preston Trail to Pebble Beach, gin rummy at one time was so popular that country clubs would play against other local clubs.
Golf and gin go hand in hand! Pinnacle Peak Country Club has a game six days a week during the season and then usually four or five days a week during the summer break. The highlight of the season is the annual Gentlemen’s Gin championship. This year, the tournament made a few major changes in the scoring format, where players, play a round-robin straight game to 200 points, whereupon the winner gets 9 points, 10% of the difference in the score carried to the first decimal and both players get one point for every box won. The winner in the past has always been decided by just a few points.
This year, 10 new ways to score bonus points for a gin hand has been added as gin is known for its many ingenious scoring systems. Players are never out of the money and the last hand of the tournament can easily change the final results.
Raise a Dram to a Legend will induct 6 original members into The Most Excellent Order of Gin Players along with its 2017 honoree — “The Czar,” Mr. Edward Williams. The Pinnacle Peak Gin Game was started by Harold Larson, Bill Swanston and Harry Jordan and continued on through the years by John Castrogiovanni, Scotty Garrison and Herbie Graff.
One is awarded this honor for their dedication to making the game of gin rummy widely known, recognizing gin as a social game, with the cardinal rule being you respect all players at all times. Overall, their substantial contributions to make the game of gin rummy intriguing while enhancing ones experience of good sportsmanship.
The 2017 Raise a Dram to a Legend was a hard fought two-day competition with defending champion Dr. Philip Vitale winning the championship in the last round by beating Roger Rummel by only four points for second place, and Jim Canace taking home third. The RATS Award Dinner was held afterwards at Eddie Merlot’s.
Author’s Comment: Why not have Phoenix country clubs general managers get up to speed like the ol’ days, lead the pack and start hosting teams for home and home golf/gin games to promote both games and for members to meet new players from other country clubs around the valley while enhancing their over-all Golf/Gin experience? It could be called “Tee n’ Gin”® and in short time, members would be looking forward to the day of playing other golf courses. I can see a league being set-up with teams competing against the other clubs for an overall championship that would lead up to an annual banquet and awards ceremony. There’s nothing better than meeting new friends, enjoying a few laughs all in the spirit of good competition and sportsmanship.