17. A Change of Direction
In 1960 the Civil Service promoted me and I went to Hanover, as an
Assistant Barrack Officer, responsible for furnishing camps and
providing utility services for Barracks and some 1500 married
quarters. In the year that Arnold Palmer followed in the footsteps
of that other charismatic American, Walter Hagen and arrived on
these shores to breathe new life into the Open, my career in
professional golf had effectively come to an end. I played social
golf with the pro at the local club, an Englishman named Douglas
Stonehouse, and occasionally did some teaching at his invitation. He
had a very good set-up at the Hanover Golf Club, with ten driving
mats, an enormous wooden hut for use in bad weather and exclusive
use of one of the three indoor nets in a room above the Gastatte -
the local pub.
There is a long tradition of British professionals serving in
Germany, where the rewards are substantial. From 1926-32 Percy
Alliss was senior pro at Berlin’s Wannsee club; probably the most
luxurious and expensive in the world before the Nazi regime came to
power and Percy was on a huge (for those days) retainer of £800 per
annum. Peter was born there in 1931, the year that Percy missed
playing in the Ryder Cup because he was resident overseas.
(Peter weighed in at 14lbs 11 oz, setting his first record in
Europe, which stood for many years.) German
golf was getting near to recovering from the war and there was an
insatiable appetite for the game. There were opportunities for me to
teach at a golf club myself, but I decided that my pensionable job
with the Civil service was the best option for our family, although
I remained a registered professional.
In 1966, thirty-six years after the World Cup kicked off without
them and sixteen years after their disastrous entry to the
tournament, England lifted the Jules Rimet trophy at last – on home
soil - and further promotion brought me to Chester and a job that
left little time for golf. In fact, after a couple of games, I put
away my clubs and did not play again for eighteen years. It may seem
a strange decision to golf fanatics, but you have to remember that
golf had been my career and I now had a different one to concentrate
on. I am not unique in this; my old rival Max Faulkner gave up the
game for eighteen years after he retired from tournament golf, but
took it up again in later life. By the time I retired in 1972, at
age 63, I had drifted well away from golf and did not consider
playing the game as an amateur, so my clubs continued to gather dust
until 1984 when my wife and a neighbour, Bill Owens, who knew of my
background, persuaded me to go along to Bill’s club at Ellesmere
Port on the Wirral. The municipal course had been opened in 1971 on
a site once occupied by Hooton, where Dick Burton had been pro until
1939, after which the course had been turned over to pasture during
the war. Another big name mentioned in these pages, Sir Matt Busby,
was a guest at the opening of a new clubhouse in 1973. The following
year Dick Burton had died at the age of 66.
I soon got back into the swing of things and I am grateful to the
members of the Ellesmere Port club for welcoming me and reviving my
enthusiasm for the game. So I joined my 12th club and the following
year, at the age of 76, I was re-instated as an amateur. I put in my
three cards and was given a handicap of 5, only one more than the
last handicap I held at Ipswich sixty years earlier. I started
beating par again and I was now beating my age, including three
gross 69s, which reduced me to scratch again.
(To get his competitive game back Bert practised on the Roodee
racecourse near to his Chester home) The former Ryder Cup player
Tommy Horton, when he starred on the Senior's Tour, said that he
could still get good distance off the tee because the equipment has
improved at the same rate that he had deteriorated. I can confirm
the truth of this; I was surprised to find that advances in clubs
and balls since I had last played meant that I was still hitting the
ball as far as I did in my heyday and could still drive about 250
yards into my early eighties, when there was some run on the ball.
Even when arthritic fingers and a double hernia came to afflict me I
could manage 200 yards.
One thing I never did in my pro career was score a hole-in-one, so I
was pleased when I finally achieved that long held ambition at the
age of 78. Before too long a second came along and I was 84 when I
brought my final tally to three after trying for more than half a
century. Harry Vardon only had one ace and his accuracy was
described as ‘astounding’. An American amateur had almost sixty. The
odds against it have been calculated as approximately 3700 to 1; you
have to be lucky!
In 1987 Sir Henry Cotton died at the age of eighty. A few days
earlier he had been told of his knighthood for services to the game.
He was the first professional golfer to receive such an accolade,
but it was perhaps a little late in coming. He had spent his last
years at the course he built in Penina, Portugal, where he and Toots
lived in the penthouse suite in the resort’s hotel.
1990 brought a pleasant surprise for me when I was contacted by
Arrowe Park Golf Club. The original score card from my 1947 course
record had been unearthed from the club’s archives and a framed card
was presented to me by the Arrowe Park Captain, Tommy Cunningham.
The leading scorecards from