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Christmas Stories!

Dermot Gilleece regales us with some great christmas golf anecdotes

Posted Dec 28, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

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On the run up to Christmas back in 1898, an admirably adventurous golfer named Freddie Tait, being full, no doubt, of seasonal cheer, took on a rather interesting wager.  He backed himself to play a gutta percha ball in 40 teed strokes from the clubhouse of Royal St George's, Sandwich to the corresponding building at Royal Cinque Ports GC, down the road at Deal.  And he would "hole out" by hitting any part of the Deal clubhouse, a distance of three miles as the crow flies.

We are informed that the redoubtable Tait reached the target with his 32nd shot, which was so accurate as to send the ball sailing through one of the clubhouse windows. However, it landed him in some difficulty. In fact his winnings were reduced significantly by compensation paid to a serving maid who was cleaning silver when the final shot entered the building, sending her into hysterics.

Golf literature abounds with seasonal tales of the unexpected. Like the occasion in December 1864 when Old Tom Morris and fellow professional Charlie Hunter set off at Prestwick at the ungodly hour of 11.0pm with two amateurs, a Major Crichton and a French-Canadian dentist named Knowles.

Prestwick then comprised 12 holes, which they completed by 1.30am.  In the process, however, they were forced to play in complete darkness when the moon failed to make its anticipated appearance.  Remarkably, only two balls were lost.  

Meanwhile, the growing popularity of golf in the early decades of the last century, meant that pantomime wasn't the only entertainment at this time of year.  Which explains the rather curious accident which befell a member of the audience at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, in 1927, when a certain Norman Griffin was swinging a golf club in a sketch quaintly titled "I do look a lad in plus fours."  

In the event, the head parted company with the shaft and sailed into the auditorium where it struck the forehead of an Eton schoolboy named Tait - no relation of the aforementioned Freddie - who was sitting in the circle.  In the company of his father, mother and brother, the lad was taken to Charing Cross Hospital where the wound was dressed. But they were back in the theatre in about 20 minutes, with the admirably stoic Master Tait expressing disappointment at missing part of the performance.

While delving into golf history, it would be remiss to allow the year to pass without mention of two of the game’s greatest players who were born 100 years ago, in 1912, and who celebrated a rather special Christmas as teenagers.  As promising 15-year-olds on December 23rd 1927, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson were tied for the annual Glen Garden CC Christmas caddies' championship in Fort Worth, Texas, after covering nine holes in 39 strokes.  Nelson then went on to beat the caddieshack colleague who would become his great rival, by a stroke in a nine-hole play-off, sinking a long putt for a four-over-par 41.

All the caddies then went to a Christmas party, except Hogan.  A notorious loner even then, he couldn't bring himself to raise a glass of cider with the other kids, even at Christmas.  Years later, he recalled: "I felt I already had my party when I tied Nelson."  But his biographer, Curt Sampson, suggested that if this were true, it was the only occasion when he was satisfied with an eventual second place.   

Finally, if you feel obliged to give a belated Christmas gift and are a trifle uneasy about a book with a weighty title like "The Second Creation: The Age of Biological Control by the Scientists who created Dolly", be not disheartened.  In “Sleepy Time”,  one of his hilarious golf stories, PG Wodehouse informed us of a book by Professor Pepperidge Farmer, titled "Hypnotism as a Device to Uncover the Unconscious Drives and Mechanism in an Effort to Analyse the Functions Involved which gives Rise to Emotional Conflicts in the Waking State."

The irrepressible Wodehouse went on to explain, however, that it was being changed to "Sleepy Time", which, apparently, the author considered snappier. As well he might.

Finally, finally: may this season bring you festive cheer beyond your imaginings.

- Dermot Gilleece

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