He was an avid golfer who once landed his airplane on a golf course
In the mid-1930s actress Katharine Hepburn – a lifelong golfer – was being amorously pursued by Howard Hughes, himself a devotee of the game. One day while Hepburn was playing at Bel-Air Country Club with the course pro – some say she was taking a lesson – the pair were surprised to see a small airplane circling the course before landing on the fairway of the 7th hole, as they were preparing to putt on the corresponding green.
After landing, the pilot, Howard Hughes got out of the airplane with a bag of golf clubs and asked if he could join them to finish the round. It was the first of many rounds Hughes played with Hepburn, although the last at Bel-Air, as not even Howard’s wealth could calm the outraged club stewards.
Hughes began playing golf at the age of nine, after the gift of some clubs from his wealthy oil-man father. The family belonged to the Houston Country Club and young Howard played often enough to soon be playing quite well. When still very young, Hughes wrote down his ambitions for life wanting to be…”The best golfer in the world…The best pilot…The most famous producer of moving pictures…” One of his frequent golf partners was a Houston judge named Walter Monteith.
Monteith would one day sign the order granting full emancipation of the 19-year-old Hughes – 21 being the age of majority in those days – which gave Hughes full access to his recently deceased father’s fortune.
Hughes developed a friendship with professional golfer Gene Sarazen, one of the world’s top players then and a legendary player now. Sarazen agreed to trade golf lessons for flying lessons. During one flying lesson over a beach, Sarazen was expounding upon what he considered the weakest part of his game, playing out of sand.
Hughes took the opportunity to point out to the golfer the relationship of drag to flight, using the airplane’s wing flaps to demonstrate. The discussion led to the golfer making modifications to a golf club then known as a niblick – roughly what would today be a nine iron – and the result was the world’s first sand wedge. Hughes never became the best golfer in the world, but his impact on the game is there in nearly every bunker shot.