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Chapter 6. The International Golfer

In 1933, the year that prohibition came to an end in America, GB won the Ryder Cup back in the second ‘home’ match and Jack Hobbs scored his 100th century, I entered my first (and only) European tournament-the French Open. I travelled with several players of national fame, including my friend Charlie Ward and George Duncan, the 1920 Open Champion. George, a winner of two French Opens, had been one of the closest challengers to the ‘Great Triumvirate’ and was now approaching an age when he would qualify as a ‘senior’ today. Like my brothers he went to North Wales early in his career, to Rhos-on-Sea and then the Caernarvonshire club at Conwy, where he played for the town’s football club and attracted the attention of Liverpool, who offered him terms. He turned them down, but his enthusiasm for football eventually cost him his job and he returned to his native Aberdeen, before coming south of the border again to the old clubs at Timperley (Manchester) and Hanger Hill, near Ealing. He had a three-year stint as pro at Wentworth before going ‘freelance’ in 1929 and securing a very lucrative appointment as private coach to the Aga Khan, with whom he often played at Roehampton. He was one of the great characters of golf and had a very simple approach to the game. “The right way to play golf”, he said, “is to go up and hit the bloody thing”. No one ever played the game quicker than George did, whether he was playing brilliantly or direly. His friend James Braid said of him: “I cannot make him out. He plays so fast that he looks as if he doesn’t care…he’s the most extraordinary golfer I’ve ever seen”. George called his book ‘Golf at the Gallop’ and, having played with him, I can confirm that the title was very apt. [Bert played for a Midland team that year in a match at Stoke Poges and beat Duncan 5&4]. Nor was this irascible yet loveable Scot slow in expressing his opinions. His other famous saying was “If you are going to miss it, miss it quick” and that was most evident on the greens, where he did not seem to give his putts due attention. When he was Open champion, a spectator mocked him for missing a three-footer, saying he could have holed it with his eyes closed. George rounded on him and shouted “Aye Sir, the balls no in the hole, but the hole’s four and a quarter inches across and the whole bloody world is around it”. When teaching he could be caustic and sarcastic; I was soon to feel the rough edge of his tongue, as you will see later on.

Neither Charlie nor I had been to France before, so we were both looking forward to the experience. The fun started at Boulogne where we boarded a train for Paris. The day was hot and, when the train started, I immediately got up and opened a window. Just as quickly a Frenchman sitting opposite got up and closed it. He received some black looks from our party but the window remained shut for a few minutes; then up got Charlie and opened it. Up got the Frenchman and shut it again. The French farce continued as the window was opened and shut several times, until eventually the Frenchman remained seated. Feeling smug we now settled down to a game of solo. Inside five minutes we were picking pieces of coal out of our eyes and hair, while the Frenchman had a good laugh at our expense. We shut the window and sweated for the rest of the journey.
We stayed one night in Paris before going on to Chantilly (of lace fame), where the championship was to be played. Before getting down to business we enjoyed a day out at the French Derby on the town’s famous racecourse with Dick Penfold of the Penfold company, whose golf balls I played and whose company was sponsoring me on that trip. He was the son of Albert E. Penfold, who played an important part in the development of the golf ball. In 1927 he founded Golf Ball Developments, makers of the Bromford ball. Sadly Albert was to be killed when a Trans-Atlantic liner was torpedoed in 1942. I did not have much success on the racecourse and Dick’s tip did not make anyone rich when it came in - at 10 to 1 on!

Chantilly Golf ClubSet in one of the great forests of the Ile de France, the picturesque Tom Simpson designed course at Chantilly, since modified, is still widely regarded as the best course in France and is among the toughest in Europe. Here the agent who was handling our trip fixed us up with caddies and I found myself with a girl caddie (many female caddies were employed on French courses). I viewed this with some trepidation as the only French I knew was un to neuf and she didn’t have any English. However it turned out to be a good partnership. She called out the number of the club she thought I needed – and she was seldom wrong, other than that we did not communicate, but she let me know what she thought of my bad shots. “Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu”, she said in a tragic voice, much to my amusement.