Photos courtesy of John Riley
Author John Riley celebrates Delaware Sports Hall of Famer Ed “Porky” Oliver in a new book titled How He Played the Game.
If you’re a younger golfer, your only knowledge of Ed “Porky” Oliver may well be the course in Wilmington that bears his name. It was once the site of the original Wilmington Country Club, where Oliver grew up caddying and playing.
In a classic case of foreshadowing, John Riley was primarily responsible for the move to rename the course in Oliver’s honor back in 1983. Growing up in Oliver’s neighborhood, Riley befriended his children. That access—along with Riley’s extensive research, historical perspective and passion for the game— make his new book, How He Played the Game: Ed “Porky” Oliver and Golf’s Greatest Generation, an instant classic.
“At the time, the county was responsible for the Greenhill golf course, formerly the Wilmington Country Club,” says Riley. “I proposed a resolution to rename the club in honor of Oliver. The resolution passed unanimously.”
Riley’s book brings Delaware Sports Hall of Famer’s career out of the shadows and shines new light on his place among his peers—men the author refers to as “golf’s greatest generation.” This subplot details an era of golf professionals like Oliver, who rose from the caddy ranks, survived the Great Depression, served in World War II and returned home to lay the foundation of today’s pro tour.
A past recipient of the Delaware State Golf Association’s annual award for his contributions to the sport, Riley spent most of his career as a public affairs executive. Since retiring in 2016, he’s devoted himself to writing and golf, most recently supporting the BMW Championship, which funds the Evans Scholars Foundation.
Riley takes you on a journey through Oliver’s life, from his success as a caddy to his triumphs on the pro circuit. It’s fitting that one of Oliver’s biggest victories was in the Western Open. It’s now the BMW Championship, which just happens to be at Wilmington Country Club this year. Readers will come away with a new appreciation of Oliver—and wonder how history has put this man on the back shelf. Oliver drew large galleries wherever he went, prompting Sports Illustrated to dub him “the most popular player on the circuit.”
“I knew how much everyone in this town loved and admired him,” says Riley. “But when you looked at his record, it appeared fairly pedestrian. As I conducted my research, I kept finding these amazing little nuggets that suggested there was much more to his story than met the eye. I felt like I’d discovered a long-hidden secret, and I got more excited by the day.”
History may have misplaced Oliver for some time, but the people who knew him and played with him will never forgot. Oliver deserves the belated vindication— and like a good neighbor, Riley has done so masterfully.