The Duel Hole

It was still dark well before the rising of the sun.  The day was the fifteenth of September and the year 1859.  Several carriages were making the best of their way over a rutted road and the way was frequently lost, the breath of the horses steaming white in the chill night air that still hung over the fields.  The travelers had as their destination a certain farm well out from the limits of the city of San Francisco near Lake Merced and not far inland from the Pacific Ocean.

These travelers were strangely silent and when any did speak it was in tense tones.  One of them might not ride back.  At sunrise he would be facing another, exactly ten paces away, each with a hair-triggered dueling pistol in his hand.  It would be difficult even for a poor shot to miss his mark at ten paces.

At last Laguna Merced was reached and the farm of William Higgins.  Silently the little group made its way along a valley with the hills reaching down sharply on either side.  Despite the utmost secrecy a few had winded the affair and eighty, including several San Francisco newspaper men, shivered on the hill slopes, waiting for the sun, --and almost the certain passing of a soul, for death was to stand only ten paces away from two men.

Each of these men were politically prominent.  One was the Honorable David C. Broderick, United States Senator from California.  His rival was ex-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, David S. Terry, who, shortly before, had made a speech before the Lecompton Democratic State Convention at Sacramento, in which he called Broderick an arch traitor to his party.  Recriminations had followed until, in accord with the code of the day, this affair of honor was inevitable.  However, it proved to be the last duel to be fought in the state of California.

Both of the duelists were prompt and ready for the break of day.  This is the generally accepted story, although there are some contentions that the shots were fired in the dark before sunrise.  After the reading of the terms of the duel, which provided that either might shoot after the word “Fire” was given, the men faced each other with pistols lowered with the muzzles vertically downward.  Each had been perfunctorily searched for hidden mail protection and small coins that might deflect a bullet removed from each waistcoat.

At the signal to fire Broderick’s pistol spoke first but apparently the hair-trigger worked too fast and the bullet ploughed into the ground directly at Terry’s feet, although the Senator had the reputation of being an expert shot.  Terry fired deliberately, his lead tearing a great wound in Broderick’s tight breast.  He dropped mortally wounded and soon after died.

Today the spot where each duelist stood is marked by a granite column, about four feet high, as I recall, one marked Terry; the other, Broderick.  And men drive golf balls from the elevation just above to the 7th green in the Valley.  It is called “The Duel Hole.”  It was my privilege to design this hole when I planned the San Francisco Golf and Country Club course some years ago.  I never passed the spot but I had a vision of the little crowd of spectators huddled on the hillside and the group in the valley, with two men facing each other with murderous pistols, --ten paces apart.


Lillian shows us the spots where each duelist stood.

The Duel Hole

The arrow in the photograph (below) indicates the precise spot where Terry and Broderick stood.  We are looking backward from the green to the teeing-ground, high on the right.  Roger Lapham is putting and standing alone to the right is Gene Tunney.

Many, many courses have these historic and romantic corners.  I have noted a great many.  But I venture to say that but few of the players, intent on their golf games, ever give them much thought as they press along.

Such is Life