2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Blair-Swifts Golf Exchange, an annual opportunity for select boys’ golf team members to experience the excitement and enrichment of international travel and sport. Each year since 1968, the program has afforded seven or eight top high school golfers—alternately from the U.S. and England—the chance to travel “across the pond,” where they have played iconic courses and experienced culture and camaraderie during a multi-week tour of the U.K. or the eastern U.S.
The exchange was the brainchild of Blair parent Robert J. Castle, father of Michael Castle ’70 and grandfather of Ben Castle ’15. A 1968 Blair Bulletin article chronicled Mr. Castle’s hope that the exchange would “develop into a type of junior Walker Cup international competition” and noted that he generously agreed to subsidize those students who would have been otherwise unable to take the trip. Seven students—Michael Castle, George (Michael) Craig ’69, John Davis ’69, Robert Hays ’69, Andrew Pleninger ’69, James Ritzenthaler ’69 and Jex Wilson ’70—traveled to The Stowe School and other schools in England that year, and a Blair tradition was born.
Dr. Michael Craig, one of the original Exchange golfers, took the occasion of the 2018 Alumni Weekend Blair Cup Golf Scramble to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the program. Dr. Craig re-lived a bit of Exchange history for the alumni and faculty golfers who had just enjoyed an afternoon on the Blair links and spoke about the value of the program.
He describes his own experience of the trip as eye-opening and life-changing. “International travel was not common in 1968, and going overseas was a pretty big deal!” he said. Beyond the outstanding golf they played—including at St. Andrews, birthplace of the sport—he and his teammates experienced independence and learned about taking care of themselves during their three weeks away from home. “Our group got to know one another very well, and we experienced British culture by staying with host families and at other schools and basically fending for ourselves during two days of sightseeing in London. We all enjoyed it greatly!”
Dr. Craig praised the Exchange for the way it exposes players to different styles of golf, diverse game formats, and a wide variety of courses and course architecture, all of which helped him appreciate the truly international aspect of the sport. “I’ve taken about a dozen international golf trips since then, but every time, I remember the Exchange trip in 1968. It was a fun and interesting experience.”
Having followed the Blair-Swifts Golf Exchange “from a distance” over the years and spoken on occasion with veteran Blair math teacher Wayne Rasmussen, coordinator of the Blair side of the program since 2001, Dr. Craig hopes to continue the celebration of the Exchange’s 50th anniversary in the lead-up to his own 50th Blair reunion in 2019. He met this year’s British Swifts when they visited campus in March, and he is looking forward to a possible 2019 get-together of past Exchange participants at Pinehurst that is being organized by the British side of the program. A fundraising effort to commemorate the Blair-Swifts Exchange with a plaque or other naming opportunity on Blair’s golf course is also a possibility.
For his part, Mr. Rasmussen, who also spoke at the Alumni Weekend Blair Cup Golf Scramble, has remained impressed by the educational opportunities the Golf Exchange has afforded participants over his decades of involvement with the program. “It has been very rewarding to witness many young men benefit from the experience of traveling and playing golf for two to three weeks in a different country and culture,” he said. “The friendships those young men have formed last a lifetime. I’ve been fortunate to have made friends with several teachers in England, two of whom I count among my best friends.”
(Read more about the Blair-Swifts Golf Exchange here.)