In Support of Golfing Traditions: Exploring the roots of amateur and professional golf competitions with Gale Primary Sources

In Support of Golfing Traditions: Exploring the roots of amateur and professional golf competitions with Gale Primary Sources

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By Matt Chivers, Gale Ambassador at the University of Liverpool
I’m Matt Chivers and I am in my third and final year studying History at the University of Liverpool. I am obsessed with golf and regrettably even more obsessed about football. But at school, History took my interest; throughout sixth form and university I have loved studying the Cold War and for my dissertation, the nuclear arms race. I am keen to pursue a career in sports writing and journalism – I couldn’t think of anything better than being paid to watch and write about the biggest sporting events in the world! I like film and, much like most people nowadays, I tend to binge-watch a series or two.

The picture above shows Jordan Spieth after his victory at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay. Spieth has become a fan favourite since bursting on to the scene in 2014 and is an example of a player who excelled at the amateur level of the game. The humble beginnings of amateur golf are arguably where professional golfers look back to with the most fondness, remembering the traditions of the sport and the importance of the education that amateur golf provides. Today golf is marred with obsessions of technology, how far one can hit the ball, and making courses harder to provide the ultimate challenge for the professional players. These developments raise questions of what essence of tradition is left in the game.

At this year’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans, the competitors were able to choose their own walk on music to the first tee box; in the 2012 Ryder Cup in Medinah, players such as Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter made the crowd cheer as they struck their first tee shots. Traditionalists, such as myself, don’t enjoy seeing these new features in the game. It is a result of external changes in the modern world that we speak about the tools and techniques used to make clubs that send the ball flying four hundred yards.

A prime example of the roots of one of golf’s great amateur competitions, and a competition that continues to represent golf’s traditions is the Halford Hewitt. I have had the privilege to be a part of this event. Played in the south east corner of England, namely Deal and Sandwich, the Halford Hewitt is contested by public school teams. I was not lucky enough to take part in the competition – nor was I ever going to be good enough! – but I have caddied in the event. My previous participation in the event is not the only reason I hold it so close; being from Dover and just a stone’s throw away from Deal and Sandwich, the Halford Hewitt is close enough that, even if I was not caddying, I could still spectate.

Gale’s primary source archives have allowed me to view a list of the first-round results of the competition when it was played in 1951. Note that there were fifty-five teams competing in 1951, whereas there were only thirty-two teams in 2017. The large number of teams contributes to the competitiveness of the event. The report of the results (below) comes from the Daily Mail archives and although it is a very short extract, we still have an authentic insight in to which teams played. As you can see, both Radley College in Oxfordshire and Loreto College in Manchester competed in 1951 (and also most recently in 2018). The participation of some of the oldest public schools reminds us that there are long lasting traditions behind such competitions.

HALFORD-HEWITT CUP, Daily Mail, 13th April 1951, Daily Mail Historical Archive,
HALFORD-HEWITT CUP, Daily Mail, 13th April 1951, Daily Mail Historical Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8QE3F9

One of the biggest fans of the Halford Hewitt was Henry Longhurst, a golf writer and commentator who passionately wrote about and played in the competition. It is from Longhurst’s work , a memoir entitled “My Life and Soft Times” written in 1971, that we can salvage a somewhat romantic insight in to how the Hewitt was founded, at the Addington Golf Club in Surrey. It comes as no surprise that such an event was founded at a club where its members would socialise with the aristocracy of Britain.

DINNER, The Daily Telegraph, 5th October 1932, The Telegraph Historical Archive,
DINNER, The Daily Telegraph, 5th October 1932, The Telegraph Historical Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8aDFV8

Longhurst wrote that the competition was supposedly formed in 1923 as a result of a conversation at the Addington. He says two gentlemen, John Beck and Sir Harold Gillies, planned to begin the tournament and needed someone to present the trophy. Another gentleman named Halford Hewitt walked in the room, and Beck and Gillies had their title. Below is an extract of a piece Longhurst wrote on the competition in 1938.

HALFORD HEWITT CUP, The Sunday Times, 10th April 1938, The Sunday Times Digital Archive
HALFORD HEWITT CUP, The Sunday Times, 10th April 1938, The Sunday Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8aCvt8

It is open to debate how the name of the cup originated, however I am content to think this was the true story. The quaint image created by Longhurst’s story is typical of golf’s origins. You can just picture it; the meeting of three gentleman sat sipping tea in a classic old British golf club. The benefit of using Gale’s archives is that I was also able to discover the golfing exploits of Mr Hewitt himself, significantly at Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club, where I currently hold membership. Below is part of the column issued in the Times in 1914, nine years before his competition began. It shows Mr Hewitt’s participation in the Lord Brassey Challenge Cup at Royal Cinque Ports.

ROYAL CINQUE PORTS GOLF CLUB, The Times, 13th April 1914, The Times Digital Archive
ROYAL CINQUE PORTS GOLF CLUB, The Times, 13th April 1914, The Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/7Buxu7

I have mentioned amateur golf a lot here. This is because amateur golf is equally as important and respected as professional golf and represents golf’s true traditions and origins. Indeed, it was Bobby Jones, arguably golf’s most iconic amateur, who founded the Masters at Augusta National in 1934 and helped design the course. The link I make between amateur golf and golfing traditions is most important, as it was this combination that made one of the biggest golf tournaments on the planet.

I love golf (had you guessed?!) and thoroughly enjoy watching my favourite players hit the ball miles, and bring courses to their knees with low scores, and when the latest set of clubs is manufactured, I often fancy a set myself. Admitting so makes me appear somewhat of a hypocrite, but I also feel strongly that the traditional competitions that represent golf’s traditions must still be appreciated. Of course, golf club manufacturers will always look to make, promote and sell the best clubs. But the sort of stories that make the Halford Hewitt what it is, are what I love most about golf, and I hope that they will not be forgotten as the golfing world develops.

Blog post cover image citation: FOX’S ROUGH GUIDE TO THE OPEN, Financial Times, 29th June 2015, Financial Times Historical Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8qHaZ9

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