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Chapter 11. An Eventful Year

1937 was one of the most eventful years of the century - and in my golfing life. The season began in March at Royal Liverpool with the 36-hole Liverpool and District Championship. Bill Davies from neighbouring Wallasey shot a fine 67 in the last round to win the trophy by six shots from home pro, Jimmy Adams (Bill won that cup seven times). My closing 75 left me three shots behind Jimmy in third place, the first of a series of disappointing finishes as the season progressed.

The following day the Grand National was run at nearby Aintree, where the new King and Queen watched ‘Royal Mail’ win, to the delight of the headline writers. The next morning’s other headline told us that the great Harry Vardon had passed away at the age of 66, twenty-five years after he had cancelled his reservation on the maiden voyage of the Titanic due to illness. He had watched courses being ‘humbled’ by the power of the modern golf ball in the past few years. Players had gained 20-30 yards in length between 1933 and 1937 and some were now advocating that the power of the ball should be restricted, a proposal that Vardon had made a good thirty-five years earlier.

It was a year when there was much debate about issues concerning the rules and equipment. The R&A met to discuss the recommendation of the Rules of Golf Committee that the number of clubs carried be restricted to fourteen, as adopted by the USGA the previous year. The motion failed, but it was irrelevant to me – I was still usually carrying twelve. The centre shafted ‘Schenectady’ putter was a great success in the USA, but it had been banned in Britain from around the time I was born and was to remain so for many more years. Shortly before the R&A at last relented in the early fifties I wrote in my newspaper column: “In the event of agreement being reached by the ruling bodies of the two countries, I see no reason why it should not be accepted but, in any event, I fail to see that a centre shafted putter will make putting any easier. I wish it did – I’d try one.” I recalled the words of an old golfer: “It doesn’t matter what it looks like-the garden rake or a frying pan-as long as it gets them in the hole” It’s ‘all in the mind’, as they say, but I did use one myself when it became legal. In 1937 there was also controversy concerning the Sarazen ‘blaster’, which was only now becoming widely available. Traditionalists pointed to the performance of skilled players like Lawson Little, who was reported to have played a bunker shot that had spun back two feet – on the second bounce! They argued that these ‘super dreadnought’ clubs did not conform to the ‘spirit of the game’ and should also be barred, but Gene’s invention was saved for posterity. The question: ‘Is technology ruining the game?’ continues to appear in golf publications and the long ball debate still goes on today – there’s not much that is new in golf!

Lawson Little wrote a column that was serialised in the Liverpool Echo and in May 1937 he was looking back to the early days with an interesting article about the way Harry Vardon and James Braid played from ‘juicy grass’ such as clover or wet rough. He revealed that they applied chalk to the face of the club in much the same way as a snooker player chalks his cue to prevent mis-cueing. The R&A outlawed that practise when they introduced Rule 4-2 (b) into the Rules of Golf.

Also in the Echo that month, the Liverpool Department Store-Blackler’s, long since closed, advertised suits for 45/- to 57/6 (less than £3 in modern money). Shoes were 8/11d (about 45p)

In May came the terrible disaster in New Jersey where the German Hindenburg airship caught fire as it attempted to reach its moorings and thirty-five lives were lost. It was a huge blow to the prestige of Hitler’s Third Reich and it sealed the fate of the airship, which had been seen as the future of long-distance air travel. The ship was to have taken passengers to London for the big event of 1937, the coronation of King George V1, the fourth of the five Monarchs to sit on the throne during my lifetime. I had seen his father celebrate his Silver Jubilee two years earlier; little did I know then that I would live to see his daughter reach her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

May had commenced with Sunderland, captained by Horatio (Raich) Carter, defeating Preston North End at Wembley to win their first FA Cup in front of a crowd numbering 93,000. It is interesting to compare the football scene at that time with the situation we see seventy years later. Sunderland had won the league title the previous season and were in their greatest period in the thirties, until their momentum was stopped by the war. Defeated finalists Preston were to win the Cup the following year, helped by a hard playing right-half named Bill Shankly, later to become famous as the very successful Liverpool Manager - and for saying that football was not a matter of life and death; It was more important than that! That was said in jest, but today winning titles has reached that level of importance; the game is awash with money from TV - and foreign owners, who are spending multi millions on players – and managers - from all over the world. Clubs with huge debts are paying top players as much as £150,000/week. The past decade has been dominated by the ‘Big 3’ – Manchester United, who have now joined Liverpool as winners of the most championships (18),  Arsenal (13) – and Chelsea (3), who were in Division 1 throughout the thirties, but never higher than mid-table. They were not to win the title until the fifties and added two more after the First Division became the Premier League in the 1992/3 season.     

The Premiership was then the First Division and, on Cup Final day, a full league programme took place, involving clubs then in the top flight who have since declined into the lower divisions, including Brentford, Grimsby - and Huddersfield Town, who had won a hat-trick of First Division championships in the mid-twenties.