|late eighties he was still scoring
in the seventies, before deteriorating health finally forced his
retirement from the game. He was a scratch player for the best part
of fifty years and was still playing to single figures over seventy
years after he first achieved that mark - and that after returning
to the game at the age of 75, following an eighteen-year break
during which he played no golf at all! The advent of the Seniors
Tour has encouraged many tournament professionals to compete again
and there is little doubt that Bert would have made his mark in the
senior professional game, had the Tour been so attractive when he
was in his fifties and sixties.
At his modest house in Chester, where he lived alone until he was 93, Bert told me about his life in the very different world of pre and immediately post-war golf and showed me the cuttings he had kept (some from his own newspaper columns) and I filled in the detail from contemporary accounts. When I showed him my research it often triggered off more memories and the manuscript gradually grew into the story you are about to read. We were wary of the inconsistencies to be found in golf reports and he would strictly edit anything that he was doubtful of. In his contribution to the foreword, Ken Jones tells us how keen Bert always was to ‘get things right’.
Bert’s fame locally did reach the ears of one of the national ‘glossies’ a few years back and an article was published which suggested that he did not include the new phenomenon, Tiger Woods, in his list of greatest players, a judgement that looked bad in view of Tiger’s subsequent record. “I didn’t mean that”, Bert said with a chuckle (he wasn’t one to get too excited about such things); “All I said was that he would have to change his swing if he wasn’t to retire early through back trouble”. Bert knew a thing or two about the golf swing and Woods, under the guidance of Butch Harman, certainly did change his action before going on to dominate the game, beginning an unbroken five-year reign as World number one and swiftly climbing the list of major championship winners.
At the head of Bert’s list was Bobby Jones and, not surprisingly, he chose the others from the greatest golfers of the last century who he had competed against, including: Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazan, George Duncan, Abe Mitchell, Henry Cotton, the Whitcombes, Alf Padgham, Dai Rees, Charlie Ward, Max Faulkner, Bobby Locke and Percy Alliss, father of Peter. Peter Alliss wrote in his autobiography, My Life: “Someone once said that two weeks after a funeral, apart from the immediate family, it seems as though the deceased never existed. Life moves on. There is a generation, indeed generations, to whom the name Percy Alliss means nothing. ” How true that is; even more so where Bert is concerned, for his career as a tournament professional was a short one and he never got his name in the Ryder Cup records. But, Like Percy, he was a noted match player and represented England six times in home internationals, remaining unbeaten in his singles with five wins and a half to his credit. Bert was ranked in the top dozen players in Britain and was himself in line for Ryder Cup honours when the outbreak of the Second World War brought his blossoming tournament career to a premature end. (One piece of research that he was happy to accept was the account of events surrounding the selection of the 1939 Ryder Cup team, which was never made public).
As Bert says in his dedication, this is not an autobiography - there was not the time or the inclination to go beyond his long and eventful life in golf. It is a celebration of the sportsmanship that Bert and his brothers epitomised and features many of the great sporting heroes of those days. It is a pity that Bert remained an ‘unsung hero’, but he was a modest and private man and was content with his lot. He always took a keen interest in the game that now brings such wealth and prestige to his successors and he was glad to see them enjoying the status denied to most professionals in his era, but he did not envy them and he never complained about the cards that were dealt to him. He savoured the memories of a time when golf was a sport to be enjoyed and he felt that the big money has taken that away.
Typically Bert never disclosed the remarks made to him by Dave Thomas to anyone and there were probably other things that modesty forbade him to mention to me over the all too brief period of our friendship. New information would come to light each time the book was ‘put to bed’, adding to the impressive record of the Gadd brothers and making it very difficult to bring it to a conclusion. At the eleventh hour, in June 2005, the long-awaited Times Digital Archive was found to be on-line and much that had been lost in ‘the mists of time’ was suddenly revealed. There may still be some stones unturned but access to that indexed on-line archive means that information hidden in small columns and under obscure headings, which could only be found by chance in a manual search, is now easily accessed. [Anything added or revised as a consequence is in square brackets]
Bert was not given to ‘blowing his own trumpet’. I have had the privilege of blowing it on his behalf - and telling the story of the ‘Golfing Gadds’ – not a ‘Great Triumvirate’ maybe, but a remarkable one all the same.
J. M. C.