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A Sandwich and a Broken Bottle

Dermot Gilleece recounts the most controversial event at the famous Open course

Posted Jul 11, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece


Royal St George’s with its notorious humps and hollows, has been getting its usual share of adverse comment during the build-up to the 140th Open Championship.  Yet it is beyond argument that the staging there in 1993, produced one of the finest, final leaderboards in the recent history of this beloved event.  While Greg Norman swept to his second Open triumph, Nick Faldo, the eventual runner-up, set a new, course-record 63 on the Friday and was eventually followed home by Bernhard Langer, Corey Pavin, Peter Senior, Nick Price, Ernie Els, Paul Lawrie, Wayne Grady, Fred Couples, Scott Simpson and Payne Stewart.

As it happens, Bernard Darwin, the father of modern golf journalism, once wrote glowingly of Royal St George’s: "As nearly my idea of heaven as is to be attained on any earthly links."  Yet Darren Clarke famously claimed there were "no real landing areas on the fairways."

Sandwich became the first Open venue outside of Scotland, when John H Taylor captured the title there in 1894.  And while playing host to the championship on 10 occasions in the last 10 decades, it has yielded more than its share of enduring stories. None of these has provoked as much controversy and ill-informed comment as events in 1949 which concerned Irishman Harry Bradshaw, a broken bottle, a double-bogey six, a round of 77 and ultimate defeat by Bobby Locke in a 36-hole play-off.

Firstly, let us consider the relevant rules which applied at that time.  Rule 6 stated: "A ball must be played wherever it lies, or the hole be given up, except as otherwise provided for in the Rules."  Then, according to Rule 11 which dealt with the removal of obstructions: "Any flag-stick, guide post, implement, vehicle, bridge, bridge planking, seat, hut, shelter or similar obstructions, may be removed.  A ball moved in the removal of such obstructions shall be lifted and dealt with as provided for in Rule 8, without penalty." 

No mention of bottles, broken or otherwise.  Meanwhile, it was generally accepted at the time that a ball could be deemed unplayable only if the player could not make a stroke at it and dislodge it into a playable position.  Nowadays, under Rule 28, a player is entitled to declare a ball unplayable anywhere on the course, except in a water hazard.  He/she is the sole judge as to whether it is unplayable.

The vague nature of Rule 11, which drew no clear distinction between movable and immovable obstructions, caused golfers to adopt the safe dictum of "play it as it lies."  Which is what Bradshaw did when his second shot through a gap in the dunes on the 422-yard, dog-leg fifth hole, was pushed into rough, near the road separating the course from the sea.

There, it came to rest in an upturned broken bottle, the neck of which was stuck into the sand.  When I spoke to Harry about the incident some years later, he said: "Looking back on it now, I feel I could have put the competition committee in a quandary.  At that time, however, it was not easy to get a ruling on the course.  There were no walkie-talkies or golf buggies."

After considering his position for 10 or 15 minutes, The Brad, fearing disqualification if he did otherwise, took his nine iron and after a few practice swings, turned his head away and closed his eyes.  Then, with a blind swing, he smashed the clubhead into the glass but succeeded in moving the ball only 20 yards.  Eventually, a pitch and two putts led to a six.

So, had he taken the correct action, remembering that it wasn't possible then to put a second ball into play under the present Rule 3-3?  When I discussed the matter with an R and A rules official who studied the 1949 rules, he said: "I believe it would have been very difficult for an official to grant him (Bradshaw) relief, under the rules of the time."    

But did events in the second round affect the overall result?  According to Scotsman Frank Moran, the then president of the Association of Golf Writers, they most certainly did.  As he wrote: "He (Bradshaw) was upset enough by the whole incident to affect his play at subsequent holes and, taking 39 to the turn, he finished no better in that round than 77.  So luck had its debit side for Bradshaw."

The ultimate vindication of Bradshaw's decision, however, came a few months later.  In a revision, the R and A added a clause to Rule 11, whereby a ball could be removed from "any artificial object placed or left on the course."  No longer could a broken bottle crush a player's hopes of capturing the game's most cherished prize.

- Dermot Gilleece

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