‘The Doctor’ – Dr. William Tweddell

21st March 2016

On Friday 20th June 1930 Bobby Jones shot rounds of 74 and 75 at Hoylake to win The Open Championship and secure the second leg of his famous Grand Slam. Despite being only 28 he must have been exhausted. 36-holes on the final day and the mental exertions of winning as the favourite would have taken their toll on anyone. Nevertheless the following day he left the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool and drove himself 120 miles south to Blackwell Golf Club in Worcestershire.

Dr. William (‘Bill’) Tweddell was the reason why.

WT Amateur 1927 Hoylake

Dr. William Tweddell – 1927 Amateur Champion (Photo: Getty images)

Tweddell was born on 21st March 1897 in the prosperous town of Whickham in County Durham, a few miles west of Newcastle under Tyne. He started playing golf when he was 7, playing on the nearby coast at South Shields. Tweddell developed an upright back swing with arched wrists which was far from elegant but that enabled him to score. He was also said to be a slow player but one who had good concentration and a sound temperament, which meant that on his day he could be a match for anyone.

After serving as a soldier in World War I he studied Medicine at Aberdeen University, playing golf for the University in 1922, ’23 and ’24, often at Murcar Links and Royal Aberdeen. Dr. Tweddell later became the first President of the Scottish Universities Golfing Society, which was established in October 1906.

Having qualified he moved to a Manchester G.P. practice before quickly changing course and settling in The Black Country. He served the communities of Wordsley and Kingswinford (interestingly, at least for me, the place I was born and brought up) for the rest of his working life, living happily in the area. A Roman Catholic Tweddell married Dorothy Hillman at the Oratory Church in Birmingham on 2nd May 1930. They left the church through an arch of golf clubs held by guests.

The couple had three children William (like his father known as Bill), Mary-Ann and Michael. Bill also qualified as a Doctor and practiced in Wordsley and Kingswinford too. He was also Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. Club Doctor between 1981 and 1994. Dr. Tweddell Jnr. died recently on 8th December 2015 aged 84. His daughter is the mother of Ben Robinson, the Worcestershire golfer currently studying at Louisiana Tech on a golf scholarship [Ben turned Pro in June 2016]. Michael’s son Matt Tweddell graduated from Hawaii Pacific University in 2014 and now plays golf professionally, mostly in Asia.

Dr. Tweddell joined Stourbridge Golf Club in late 1926 on his arrival in the area. Established in 1892 and located in Pedmore it was his most convenient option at the time. He continued to play well into his 70s, where his sons eventually joined him, and occasionally still posted scores below his age.

Clearly Tweddell’s new working and golfing life in the West Midlands suited him as in 1927 he earned his greatest golfing achievement. He won The Amateur Championship at Hoylake, beating home player D. Eustace Landale 7&6 in the Final.

He played in 24 of the 29 Amateur Championships held between 1921 and 1955 (World War II). He played 77 matches in total, winning 54 and losing 23.  His win percentage of 70.13% is the 9th best for players who competed in at least 20 Amateurs. However his studies, his career and his family were important to him and he seems to have always viewed golf as just a sport to be enjoyed. His relaxed approach and friendly personality made him popular amongst his peers. He had a few good runs and over such an extended period met and competed against many of the great players from the first half of the 20th Century.

He had one other very real opportunity to win The Amateur. In 1935 he lost at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, the first time this course had hosted the Championship, to the defending champion and reigning US Amateur champion W. Lawson Little. Herbert Warren Wind writing in ‘The Story of American Golf’ about the Final said about Tweddell:

“He was a consistent low 70s shooter although, at first glance, he looked like a golfer who would have his work cut out to break 85. His arm action was stiff, and on his irons especially he aimed far to the right of his target and allowed for lots of draw. In 1935 he was playing hardly any tournament golf and might not have entered the Amateur had the week of the Championship not coincided with the vacation the doctor’s doctor had ordered him to take. Tweddell lost to Little but it is difficult not to think of him as the hero of their exciting match.”

Little, according to Warren Wind “was odds on favourite to take the final….by 7 and 6, 8 and 7 or some similarly secure margin” but ended up only winning the 36-hole Final by 1-hole.

WT and Lawson Little Amateur 1935

Tweddell with Little at the 1935 Amateur Championship (Photo: Historic Images)

Tweddell played in The Open Championship just once although it was a good one to view first hand – 1927 at St. Andrews with Bobby Jones the winner. He probably felt some obligation as Amateur champion as he appears to have made no effort to do so before or after. Jones won with a 285 total whilst The Doctor was well down the field on 306. He later admitted “I really am unable to play my game, or what I call my game, when I know that Bobby Jones is playing on the same course. Since I watched him at St. Andrews winning the British Open, I have had an inferiority complex.”  

Tweddell was selected for England’s match against Scotland in 1928 (won), 1929 (halved) and 1930 (won). He also played in the Home Internationals in 1935, which only started in 1932 (England, Ireland and Scotland tied).

Dr. Tweddell’s second most noteworthy contribution to golf lies in The Walker Cup, although it can hardly be described as successful. He was playing captain of Great Britain & Ireland in both 1928 and 1936, albeit he chose not to play himself in the latter match. In 1928 at Chicago G.C. Tweddell paired himself with T. Phil Perkins in the Foursomes, another West Midlander and the reigning Amateur champion. They lost 7&6 in their 36-hole match with George Von Elm and Jesse Sweetser. In the Singles Tweddell lost again to Von Elm, this time 3&2. Perkins lost 13&12 to US Captain Bobby Jones – the 26 year old setting the event’s record defeat. At the end of play the 1928 match was lost 11-1.

Bobby Jones and WT Walker Cup 1928 in Chicago

Bobby Jones and Dr. William Tweddell – 1930 Walker Cup at Chicago (Photo: USGA) 

The 1936 Walker Cup match was played at the relatively new and extremely difficult Pine Valley in New Jersey – an inexperienced GB&I team lost 9-0 to USA despite arriving early and practicing on site for 8 days beforehand. Three matches were halved but back then points were only allocated for victories. The record books therefore show the 1936 match as the only whitewash in the history of the competition.

Despite playing in a golfing era closely depicted by cigarette cards he featured only sparingly presumably reflecting his modest playing schedule and relative low profile.

In 1956 Dr. Tweddell captained a British Seniors team in a match against America and Canada played in Bermuda.

His contribution and standing in the game was rewarded when in 1961-62 Dr. Tweddell, by then 64, was elected Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrew’s.

So back to the match at Blackwell. The story goes that Tweddell invited his opposing Walker Cup captain Bobby Jones to play an exhibition match in the Midlands over dinner in 1928. When the date in 1930 had been agreed Tweddell made arrangements for the match to take place at Blackwell G.C., a local club he had been made an honorary member of following his Amateur victory 3 years earlier. Blackwell was (and still is) a much sterner test than Stourbridge, located 5 miles to the north so this decision was entirely understandable, albeit I can imagine it didn’t go down well at his home Club. Tweddell was no fool and paired himself with Jones. They took on two leading local golfers, Stanley Lunt from Moseley and Eric Fiddian, another Stourbridge amateur. Lunt went on to win the English Amateur in 1934 whilst Fiddian was the 1927 British Boys champion and went on to play in the Walker Cup’s of 1932 and ’34. Jones, perhaps not surprisingly arrived late given the exertions of the day before and the lengthy drive – sadly for him the M6 and M5 were still to be built. A photo was taken (see below) before the match quickly got underway. It was a relaxed affair with Jones and Tweddell eventually running out 3&2 winners. Jones enjoyed the course and particularly the par 3 13th hole that it is said he later used as a blueprint for the famous 12th at Augusta.

Blackwell Match 1930

Tweddell, Jones, Lunt and Fiddian at Blackwell G.C. (Photo: Blackwell G.C.)

Dr. William Tweddell was an amateur golfer in the truest historical sense. He died on 5th November 1985 but there seems to have been little celebration of his life in the golfing world at the time.  That’s a shame as his victory in the 1927 Amateur Championship and role in the formative years of The Walker Cup certainly place him above the rank and file. What I particularly like about him, and you can see for yourself, is that in all the old photos I can find he seems to have a broad smile on his face. It seems obvious looking at these as to why he was such a popular character.

At the end of the day any friend of Bobby Jones is a friend of mine.

ME.

Copyright © 2016, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

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