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Chapter 2. A False Start

My journey started eighty years ago in 1923, the year that England’s Arthur Havers won the Open at Troon, the last British victory for eleven years; the 21-year-old American amateur Bobby Jones took his first major title – the US Open and the first Wembley Cup Final-the famous ‘White Horse’ final-was won by Bolton Wanderers.

I left home with few regrets, for in retrospect, the last few years had been little else but work and school – and I really was glad to get away from school. For the last year I had spent most of my time standing in for teachers while they were doing something other than teaching. I was in what was known as ‘Standard X7’ – and I was the only one in it. I was expected to study on my own, which was difficult in a classroom with upwards of twenty pupils. As I approached my 14th birthday, Dad decided that it was time to leave and this I did at the Whitsuntide holiday.

A week or two later I was on my way to Ipswich to join Charles at the club he had joined after the war and begin my career as a professional golfer. I was put on the London train at Malvern and was met by my brother at Paddington Station for the onward journey to Ipswich - quite an adventure for a 14-year-old in those days. I was now looking forward to working in the shop and learning the trade, but school had not quite finished with me yet. Charles had received a letter from the Education Authority stating that I had left school too soon. The rule was that you could leave at the end of the school year in which you attained the age of fourteen, so I had to attend a local school on weekdays and work at the Golf Club at weekends. I finally completed my education at the end of July, without adding very much to my knowledge.

After this ‘false start’ I returned to full time employment at Ipswich Golf Club, where it was now time to get down to work in the shop and learn the trade - and there was much to learn. It was a busy club and there was always something to do, but the modern assistant will not recognise the job as it was then. Minor repairs like replacing whipping and fitting grips will be familiar enough, although whipping is little used now and the process of fitting the leather grips was quite different to the modern rubber ones, which were to appear in the thirties. Leather grips were still in regular use for another thirty years and they needed constant maintenance with substances like beeswax or castor oil to ensure a good grip. Alternatively a powder could be applied, such as flour or the special dry hand powder that my brother George promoted for a Manchester dealer. Wooden shafts were still the norm and I had to learn how to finish off the shafts fitted by Charles. This was a lengthy job. You had to sandpaper the shaft until it was smooth then rub water into it to bring up the grain. When it was dry you repeated the sandpapering and wetting until all the grain was brought up. The final rub down was always with a very fine grade sandpaper. The next stage was to fill the grain by rubbing solidified pitch over the shaft and heating it gently over a gas jet to soften the pitch. Having done that, you then rubbed as much off as you could, using a cloth moistened with linseed oil. This would leave the pitch filling the grain and produced the mottled look. The final stage was to polish the shaft using French polish. A wad of cotton wool was soaked in the polish and wrapped in a piece of linen, which had a touch of linseed oil applied. The shaft was then polished working from end to end and turning constantly to get an even spread and a good finish. These jobs kept me very busy as shafts were always splitting or bending with age and most players would have a club repaired rather than buy a new one, particularly if it was a favourite.

Making up an iron club could take as long as two hours – and in those days would sell at about 10 shillings (50p). 15 shillings was in the top range. Woods were a little more expensive; in the 17s 6d to 21s range – how times have changed!

One of my less enjoyable tasks was to deal with ‘repaint balls’. These were the used balls we bought in from ‘finds’ on the course – and there were many. The first job was to wash them in a large bowl filled with a solution of caustic soda. This was left overnight to remove the old paint, but considerable care was needed, as too strong a solution would burn the covers. The repainting was a messy job, done entirely by hand. A spot of special golf ball paint was deposited in the palm of the hand and applied to the ball, turning it until it was loosely covered. It was then rolled between the palms of both hands until an even spread was achieved. The ball was then placed gently on to a special rack and left for a couple of days to dry and harden before a second coat of paint was applied. Nowadays the process would certainly not meet with the approval of the Health and Safety Executive. The balls sold at 4 to 6 pence each and there was always a ready market due to the heavy loss of balls in the gorse and heather on the course. Balls were by no means as durable as they are today and they were very easily cut if you ‘topped’ a shot. Golfers were known to repair the cuts with tacks to prolong the life of a ball, but they would have to abandon them eventually.