In 1928, a Colorado Springs sportsman by the name of Lewis B. Maytag was visiting Montgomery, Alabama for the purpose of purchasing some quail country for a private shooting preserve. It so happened that the Continental Field Trial Club was hosting a field trial nearby in Union Springs that Mr. Maytag wisely thought attending would give him some advantage in seeking out ideal property. He arrived just in time to see professional trainer Jake Bishop turn loose a dog named Sun Ray that in a short period of time pointed nine covies of quail! “That was convincing enough for me,” stated Maytag as he headed for the Union Springs bank and purchased the land that to this day comprises the famed Sedgefields Plantation, home of the National Amateur Free-for-All Championship.
Beginning in 1937, Mr. Maytag, known as the “Laird” of Sedgefields, hosted programs staged by the Alabama Shooting Dog Club, often serving as one of the judges. In 1950, the National Shooting Dog Championship (later to add the subtitle: “An Amateur Free-for-All”) was born, hosted by the newly formed National Shooting Dog Championship Club, which by 1954 boasted the largest membership of any field trial club in country — 415 members from 16 states. By it’s fifth year, the championship attracted amateur entries from ten different states.
For many years the Club produced a richly illustrated catalog covering the previous year’s Championship, including the report, a list of previous winners, Championship rules etc. Supporters also made certain the Championship attracted extensive newspaper coverage, both local and national (Outdoor Life, Sports Illustrated, Sports Afield, Life Magazine, etc.) publishing stories written by important sports writers of the times.
The 1955 Catalog included the original Rules for the Championship:
1. This is a Free-for-All Championship, any pointer or setter being eligible to run.
2. Dogs must be run by amateurs only, professional handlers are not allowed to compete, either as handlers or scouts. A professional is anyone who has received compensation in any amount for training or handling dogs during the past five years.
3. Dog to be placed must be shot over at least one time. Guns and ammunition will be furnished by the Field Trial Marshal.
4. Handlers are to ask permission of judges for a scout when needed.
5. Qualifying heats will be 45 minutes; finals one and one-half hours.
6. Judges may order up dogs at any time.
7. A dog will not be automatically disqualified if not steady to wing and shot. (It is strongly desired that the winner of the Championship be a finished dog charged with no errors. The winner should display all of the characteristics of class, including, style, pace, drive, birdsense, biddability, etc. However, a brilliantly performing dog charged with some error or breach of manners may be named Champion over other contestants with no mistakes but not showing outstanding bird finding ability.)
8. Dogs may be required to work marked singles as well as to back.
9. Dogs must be run as drawn except judges may make changes to facilitate the running of the trial.
10. Entry fees: (a) Nominating fee $10.00 to be received by the Secretary or postmarked on or before February 15, 1955. (b) Starting fee $15.00 to be paid prior to the drawing. (c) Post-entry fee of $10.00 to be paid for dogs nominated after February 15, 1955. (d) No entry shall be accepted after the stake is drawn.
Officials of the AFTCA, attracted by the growing prestige and encouragement from many who were pillars of the organization, scheduled a meeting in 1962 in which earlier disagreements were resolved, whereupon the AFTCA sanctioned championship recognition of this field trial. Stipulations included the event always be staged at Union Springs and traditionally commence on the date of Washington’s birthday. The stake continued to grow and add to its prestige, to the delight of Mr. Maytag, club members and Union Springs officials.
After the demise of L. B. Maytag in August 1967, many were concerned for the future of the stake. Truman Cowles’ 1974 American Field report reads as follows:
“Most fortunately for all and for the continued prestige and continuity of this event, the ownership of this vast holding fell into hands (Dan McArthur, Waco Corporation) who were sympathetic to the cause and not only have permitted it to be popular, but have contributed greatly to its increased stature.”
The 1974 Silver Anniversary Catalog contained the following tribute by well-known field trialer John O’Neall Jr.
“One of the priceless experiences of my life has been yearly competition in the National Shooting Dog Championship at Sedgefields Plantation since its inception in 1950. Never have I missed a renewal, nor have I failed to have one or more entries for the Championship these twenty-four years. I guess I was born to love great bird dogs, and this trial has always epitomized to me what is best in bird dogs and good clean competition.”
“One’s memories naturally turn towards the many wonderful and dedicated sportsmen and sportswomen who gave of themselves so generously to make the National Shooting Dog Championship preeminent in its field. It is impossible to speak of this trial without thinking first of Lewis B. Maytag, the revered laird of Sedgefields Plantation who conceived the idea of this, the first championship competition for shooting dogs, and nursed it through many tribulations to acceptance on the national scene. For all those whose memories span the years, we must mention the first Mrs. Maytag, a lovely and gracious person, an unforgettable lady.”
“From inception to Silver Anniversary no one has made a greater contribution to this event than George L. Harden Jr. (HOF 1973). Through the years he has shaped it and molded it and demanded for it a standard of excellence that takes second place to no field trial in the world today. An appreciative and grateful sporting public has awarded him, along with Lewis B. Maytag (HOF 1967), the supreme accolade of induction into the Field Trial Hall of Fame.”
Since its inception the trial has been celebrated with many social events occurring around the running. Hospitality has always been an outstanding attribute of Union Springs. In years gone by, according to W. H. Denham Jr.:
“The spectacle of the barbeque on the flood-lighted grounds of the Union Springs Ball Park was a most memorable experience which attracted hundreds of people, out-of-state, local and from surrounding areas. It’s pleasant to recall many good times at enumerable cocktail parties, the annual dinner-dance at the Armory, and of course, the come-as-you-are party hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Maytag at their Sedgefields Plantation home.” The tradition continued through to the present, with events now staged at the beautiful modern pavilion on the grounds.
The Ownership Record of Sedgefields Plantation
1933 – 1976: Lewis B. Maytag
1976 – 1997: Dan McArthur
1997 – 2002: Paul Broadhead Sr.
2002 – 2010: The property was sold, split by various owners, then regrouped by the current owners.
2010 – Present: Raymond J. Harbert
The trial was eventually renamed the National Amateur Free-for-All Championship, conducted under the Minimum Standards of the American Field. It remains one of the most coveted wins for amateur field trialers and continues to be run on some of the most beautiful and historic field trial grounds in the country due to the extraordinary generosity and commitment of the owners of Sedgefields Plantation.