Lieutenant F. G. Tait

10th January 2016

Lieutenant F.G. (Frederick Guthrie) Tait was a leading golfer at the end of the 19th Century. A hugely charismatic man he starred alongside Johnny Ball, Harold Hilton, Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor. At a time when amateurs and pros played together a lot their combined popularity helped to grow the game in Great Britain and Ireland.

So why haven’t most people heard of him ? Well sadly he only played competitive golf for 9 years before he was tragically killed aged 30 serving his country in the Second Boer War. Despite this his happy demeanour, good sportsmanship and attacking, winning play made him a national hero and left a golfing legacy that endures to this day.

Freddie Tait & Amateur Champ Trophy

Freddie Tait with The Amateur Championship Trophy in 1898

So let’s take a look at the life of this important historical figure: –

1. Freddie Tait was born just under 150 years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland on 11th January 1870.

2. His father, Peter, was an Edinburgh University professor and fanatical golfer. As such the family spent most of their summer holidays in nearby St. Andrews. He started playing golf aged 5 and along with his three brothers learned to play the game on the Old Course. The family would often play up to five rounds a day starting at 6.00am. Professor Tait, known as ‘The Governor’ by Freddie, undertook many of the earliest experiments on the physics of golf using his son to produce the ball striking data he required.

3. After completing his education at the Edinburgh Academy he joined the Royal Military College at Sandhurst – where it is said he introduced golf – and became an infantry soldier, eventually serving with the 2nd Battalion of The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). He clearly had some flexibility with his employment and when he was not guarding Queen Victoria during her Balmoral stays he appears to have been able to play golf at will, be it friendlies, competitive matches or tournaments.

Freddie Tait Black Watch

4. He became a member of the Royal & Ancient G.C. of St. Andrews in early 1890 just after he had turned 20. Thereafter he repeatedly set new Old Course scoring records. A 77 in 1890, a 72 in 1894 and then in 1897 a remarkable 69.  From an early age he kept detailed records of all his matches, detailing his scores and play as well as the course conditions and his opponent’s play.

5. He was a 6 foot tall powerful man and one of the longest hitters of his era. He became famous nationwide when on 11th January 1893 he produced a record breaking drive of 341 yards on the 13th hole of the Old Course. His gutta-percha ball flew 250 yards and ran a further 91 yards on the frozen fairway.  This more than exceeded his Father’s “scientifically proven” maximum drive distance.

6. In total he won 28 tournaments between 1893 and 1899, many of them on the Old Course in Royal & Ancient Golf Club competitions. He also won three St. George’s Challenge Cups at Royal St. George’s. In his final 1899 season he won the Prestwick Silver Medal, the St. George’s, the three major Medals at the Royal & Ancient, the Calcutta Cup and was runner-up in the Amateur. In July 1899 he shot a new course record 63 at the old Archerfield Links. This was clearly a man at the top of his game come the turn of the century.

7. His greatest golfing achievements were his two Amateur Championship victories. Having reached the semi-finals in 1893, 1894 and 1895 his first victory came in 1896 when he beat Harold Hilton 8&7 in the final at Royal St. George’s. This was the first year the final was played over 36 holes and Tait went into the Championship as favourite having won the stroke play St. George’s Challenge Cup played immediately before it. Nevertheless his first win was hard fought; the draw seeing him have to beat John Laidlay, John Ball and Horace Hutchinson, all previous multiple Amateur champions, before facing Hilton.

Freddie Tait & Harold Hilton

Freddie Tait tees off against Harold Hilton in The Amateur Championship of 1896

In 1898 Tait beat S. Mure Ferguson 7&5 at Hoylake.  In the fourth round Tait found himself up against local favourite Harold Hilton. The ‘match of the week’ turned into an anti-climax with Tait easily winning 6&5. In the next round he played another Hoylake member, Jack Graham, whose family he happened to be staying with. Tait was fortunate to win by 1 hole, Graham missing two late putts, one of which Hilton kindly described as “about the shortest I have ever seen missed in a Championship”. He was equally lucky in the semi-final where his mixed play saw him taken to the 20th hole.  Despite a comfortable win in the final he endeared himself to the locals with his humble victory speech: “Thank you for the way in which you have received my fluky win. I ought to have been beaten twice yesterday, but I got off. I played better today but I really don’t deserve the Championship”.

Freddie Tait & Mure Ferguson

Freddie Tait with Mure Ferguson at Hoylake in1898

Tait’s record in the Amateur is the second best of those who have played 30 or more matches, beaten only by American Frank Stranahan. Between 1892 and 1899 he played in 8 Amateurs competing in 36 matches. He won 30 and lost 6 giving him a win percentage of 83.3% (Stranahan’s being 86%).

8. In what Bernard Darwin later described as “the greatest, most prostratingly exciting” match he ever saw Freddie Tait lost the final of the 1899 Amateur Championship, his last of course, to Johnny Ball. Played at Prestwick G.C. Tait again beat Hilton, this time by 1 hole in the quarter finals, on the way to the final. It was the final everyone wanted – Scotland versus England with the two most popular and respected figures in amateur golf going head to head. Tait led by 3 holes after the morning 18, albeit he had been 5 Up after 14.  Ball was level by the 6th in the afternoon and went 1 Up with just two holes to play.  On the 17th, the ‘Alps Hole’, Tait failed to carry the sandhills and ended up in the large cross bunker short of the green.  Due to heavy rain the bunker was full of water (see below). However, Tait managed to get the floating gutta-percha ball out of the water and half the hole; Ball having been just short of the green in two himself.  Tait then won the 18th to take the final to extra holes. Sadly for Tait Ball holed out for birdie on the 1st from seven feet whilst he missed from a similar distance.

Freedie Tait 17th Prestwick 1899

Freddie Tait ponders his approach to Prestwick’s 17th with Ball on the steps (Photo: Getty Images).

9. He competed in eight Open Championships between 1891 and 1899. He missed the 1893 Open at Prestwick. He was the leading amateur six times with his best finish being third, which he achieved in both 1896 and 1897.

10. In 1898 he made a legendary bet that he could play from Royal St. George’s G.C. in Sandwich, Kent to the neighbouring Royal Cinque Ports G.C. 3.2 miles (5,652 yards) away in less than 40 teed strokes with the same ball. The two courses do not abut so some rough scrubland between the two also had to be overcome. It was agreed that when his ball struck the Cinque Ports clubhouse the cross-country shot count would end. With a gallery, some ball spotters and his dog ‘Nails’ helping him Tait achieved the feat in just 32 shots. Unfortunately his final shot went through a clubhouse window and as a result much of his winnings were paid over in compensation to the Club. Unusually he chose not to record the challenge in his diary but it was recorded for posterity in the R&A’s Golfer’s Handbook for many years.

11. Tait was well known for celebrating his golfing victories by playing his bagpipes loudly and marching up and down clubhouses and town centres across the country.  It was his friendliness and mischievous nature that the people of Scotland came to love.

12. His last competitive golf match took place at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s G.C. on 2nd October 1899. It was a 36-hole re-match against Johnny Ball, a member of Lytham. With 5 holes to play Ball was 3-Up but Tait fought back and finally won on the 18th. Just three weeks later his life would be turned on it’s head and he would off to war.

13. In October 1899 the Second Boer war broke out and on the 22nd, as a Lieutenant in the Black Watch, Tait travelled to Cape Town in South Africa to fight.  He was shot in the thigh of his left leg at the Battle of Magersfontein on 11th December. After recovering he returned to the front line in January to lead his platoon in the Battle of Koodoosburg Drift near Kimberley.  On 7th February 1900 he was shot dead leading a charge.

14. He and his fallen colleagues were ‘buried in a soldiers grave’ on the banks of the Riet River. In 1963 he was re-interred in the West End Cemetery in Kimberley by the War Graves Board. A plain marble cross simply records his name, and dates of birth and death. A memorial service was held for Tait at the Church of St. John The Evangelist on Princes Street, Edinburgh on 21st February 1900.  There is also a commemorative headstone in the church’s graveyard.

Freddie Tait Memorial Service

Freddie Tait Memorial Service Programme

Freddie Tait Edinburgh Headstone

Freddie Tait Commemorative Headstone in the Church of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh

15. There was a national outpouring of grief when the news of Tait’s death was received back home. Another amateur golfer of the day John L. Low was asked to put together a remembrance book. ‘F.G. Tait – A Record; Being his Life, Letters and Golfing Diary’ was published in 1900. With the full cooperation of Tait’s family and everyone who knew him it was the first golf biography ever written and without question one of the most comprehensive. All of the profits from the sale of the book were donated to the Black Watch Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund.

16. Given his status in the game and in particular at St. Andrews his fellow Royal & Ancient G.C. members commissioned John Henry Larimer, the famous Scottish artist, to paint his portrait in 1901. It still hangs in the R&A clubhouse to this day.  The 16th hole of the Jubilee Course at St. Andrews is also named ‘Freddie Tait’ after him.

Freddie Tait R&A Portrait

Freddie Tait with his terrier dog ‘Nails’ and a Boy Caddie (Photo: R&A)

17. The St. Andrews Memorial Hospital in Abbey Walk, opened in 1902 and closed in 2009, was largely funded by monies raised in memory of Freddie Tait.

Freddie Tait Hospital Plaque

The St. Andrews Memorial Hospital Freddie Tait Wing Plaque

18. Tait was a founding member in 1894 of Luffness New G.C. in East Lothian. For many years his family allowed Luffness to display most of Freddie’s medals and other memorabilia in their clubhouse. The family tried to sell 36 of his medals in May 2009 but with an estimate of £120-180,000 they failed to sell at Convery Auctions. The National Library of Scotland acquired six Tait letters for £10,000 in the same auction. The medals were returned to their Luffness cabinet and remain there. The Club has an annual Freddie Tait foursomes stableford competition to start their season. The winners are allowed to wear some of the medals during a prize giving lunch afterwards.

19. In 1936 Lieutenant Tait’s putter was presented to the Kimberley Golf Club by J.H. Taylor. Tait’s will had asked for his putter to be given to the club closest to the site of his death. The club hold an annual Freddie Tait Putter competition, in 1990 a Freddie Tait Museum was opened and to mark the centenary of his death a Freddie Tait Golf Week was instigated in 2000.

20. In 1928 The Freddie Tait Cup was donated to the South African Golf Association by a touring British Amateur team who found themselves with surplus funds. From 1929 it has been awarded to the leading amateur at the South African Open, subject to them making the cut. As it does this year this event normally concludes around the date of Tait’s birthday. South African greats Bobby Locke, Denis Hutchison, Dale Hayes, Ernie Els and Trevor Immelmann have all won it in the past. South African Cameron Moralee, the only one of 9 amateurs to make the cut, won the Cup today. The 2011 Freddie Tait Cup winner, Brandon Stone, went one better and won the 2016 South African Open Championship.

Freddie Tait Cameron Moralee 2016

Cameron Moralee with The Freddie Tait Cup (Photo: Sunshine Tour)

Freddie Tait was a genuine national hero and a household name. Bernard Darwin, reflecting in 1933 said “I do not think I have ever seen any other golfer so adored by the crowd – no, not Harry Vardon or Bobby Jones in their primes.” He was clearly a superb golfer and a fans favourite. One can only wonder at what he may have achieved in the game if his life hadn’t been so cruelly ended by a shot through the heart when he was just 30 years old.

ME.

Copyright © 2016, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

John Ball

24th December 2014

On the anniversary of his birthday I thought I would research the career of arguably Britain’s greatest ever amateur golfer.  Indeed many commentators place him only behind the legendary Bobby Jones on the World’s greatest list.

John (‘Johnny’) Ball was born in Hoylake on the Wirral, England on 24th December 1861.

John Ball 1

John Ball

John Ball’s father, John Senior, owned the Royal Hotel at Hoylake.  The hotel became the club house for the Liverpool GC (the Royal was conferred in 1871) when it was first established in 1869.  Living adjacent to the famous links (and old race course) John soon took up the game and quickly became proficient.

He grew to know Royal Liverpool like the back of his hand. He proved it in 1907 when he took a bet that he could go round the course in a dense fog in under 90 shots, without losing a ball and taking no longer than two and a quarter hours. Playing with a single painted black ball he scored 81 well within the allotted time.

He had a natural talent and the most envied swing of the time, despite what Bernard Darwin described as a “curious right-handed grip”.  Darwin, the famous Times Golf Correspondent, who saw all of the old greats play in person, thought very highly of Ball, saying “The beauty of any particular player’s style must, like his exact placing in the golfing firmament, be a matter of individual feeling, and I can only say that I have derived greater aesthetic and emotional pleasure from watching Mr. Ball than from any other spectacle in any game”.

In 1878, aged 16, he came to national prominence when he finished fifth in the Open Championship held at Prestwick GC.  The Open, largely aimed at professional golfers, had been inaugurated by Prestwick GC in 1860.

In 1885 his home club, Royal Liverpool, held an informal Open Amateur ‘Grand Tournament’, which was played during their Spring Meeting.  This match play competition attracted 44 leading players “from recognised clubs” of the time, including Ball (23) who had gained entry through some Committee shenanigans (having received a £1 payment for his Open place in 1878 and whose amateur stays was therefore questionable at the time).  In the middle of the competition the stroke play Club Gold Medal was contested.  Ball won this with a course record 77.  The following morning he played Horace Hutchinson in a titanic semi-final match in the resumed Grand Tournament, losing on the 18th 2 Down.  Later that day Allan Macfie beat a spent Horace Hutchinson 7&6 in the final.  The event proved to be the success the Club had hoped for and as planned a proposal was put to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A) for a formal Amateur Championship to be established thereafter.  The suggestion was accepted and the first Amateur Championship was staged at St. Andrews in 1886, albeit the 1885 Hoylake Tournament was subsequently recognised in 1922.

John Ball went on to win 8 Amateur Championships in total – 1888, ’90, ’92, ’94, ’99, 1907, ’10, and ’12.  His wins came at Prestwick (2), Hoylake (3), Sandwich (1), St. Andrews (1) and Westward Ho ! (1).  His final Amateur victory in 1912 came when he was 50 years old.  The gap of 24 years between his first and last victories is clearly a record that will never be broken.  He was also runner-up twice, in 1887 and 1895.  Playing his last Amateur in 1921 at Hoylake, aged 60, he reached the last 16 from a starting field of 223.  His Amateur win record of W99-L22 (81.8%) is unparalleled.

When one considers Ball was playing in The Open in 1878 (8 years before the first Amateur) and that he also missed the 1900, ’01 and ’02 Championships due to military commitments (see below) one can only hazard a guess at how many Amateurs he may have won if events had unfolded in a more favourable manner.

img_5514

John Ball’s Medals at Royal Liverpool GC (Photo: GolfBible) 

Ball also won the Open Championship in September 1890 at Prestwick GC – only the second time he had played since his 1878 debut.  He was the first Englishman and the first amateur to win the Championship.  He was also the first to hold both the Amateur and Open Championships – a feat matched by Bobby Jones in 1930 on his way to the Grand Slam.  Fellow Royal Liverpool member Harold Hilton is the third and only other amateur to win The Open.  He was runner-up in the 1892 Open at Muirfield, when he let a lead slip to his friend Hilton.

The importance afforded to the Amateur over The Open in these early years is clear when one considers that Ball played in every Amateur between 1885 and 1921, save for his three war years, but was sporadic in his Open entries.

Unsurprisingly given his match play record he was a stubborn and determined competitor who would fight to the very end.  Darwin once noted that Ball had “a strong vein of hostility and if he wanted a player’s blood, he would fight his way through a tournament with the sole object of getting him”.

After his 6th Amateur win in 1907 at St. Andrews he was made an honorary member of the R&A.

John Ball 2

John Ball’s ‘Vanity Fair’ picture

He served for the Cheshire Yeomanry in the Second Boer War (October 1899 – May 1902) in South Africa.  During this period he played next to no golf and missed three Amateur Championships.  Indeed one of his fiercest competitors, Scotland’s Freddie Tait, was killed in the same conflict.  His later competitive years would also have been impacted by World War I (1915-19) when he served in the Home Forces and most competitions were cancelled.

Ball was a quiet, retiring, introverted character who said very little to anyone.  It is next to impossible to find any written words or quotes from the great man.  He was very modest preferring to let his golf do the talking for him.  This approach created a certain mythology around him which remains to this day.  The quality of his game meant that he was the first player to consistently go for nearly every flag, whereas his peers simply played for the green.  This led to many memorable, heroic shots in his matches which spectators would talk about for days afterwards.  It also helped nullify his main weakness which was his putting.

He was a traditionalist who fought against the introduction of the lofted iron.  He described the niblick (a modern 8-iron), which he refused to carry, as “just another bloody spade” and felt it de-skilled the game he loved.  He believed players should simply adjust the lie of their existing mid-iron clubs with their grip when height was required on an approach shot.

He retired a ‘legend in his own lifetime’ to a farm in Holywell, Flintshire in nearby North Wales where he eventually died on 2nd December 1940, just shy of his 79th birthday.

John Ball 3

John Ball’s World Gall Hall of Fame Plaque

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977.

John Ball is a true great of the game who undoubtedly helped spread the popularity of the sport in Great Britain and Ireland in the early 20th Century.  He is clearly someone whose legacy should not be allowed to fade away and who should be remembered by us all.

ME.

Copyright © 2014, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

10 Things You Should Know About Bobby Locke (Video)

20th November 2014

As the years go by any reminiscences about South African golf increasingly start with the name of Gary Player.  However, before him came Bobby Locke.  Whilst not in the legendary bracket of Mr. Player Locke is certainly worthy of further note and in no way should be forgotten by us.

Bobby Locke

Bobby Locke

On the anniversary of his birthday here’s my Top 10 Bobby Locke Facts (in chronological order): –

1. Arthur D’arcy “Bobby” Locke was born in Germiston, South Africa on 20th November 1917.  He died, aged 69, on 9th March 1987 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

2. He achieved a scratch handicap by 16 and went on to win the South African Boys (1931), South African Amateur (1935 and ’37) and South African Open (1935, ’37 – both as an Amateur – ’38, ’39, ’40, ’46, ’50, ’51 and ’55).

 

Watch Bobby Locke Win The 1940 South African Open

3. After World War II, which interrupted his career, he toured South Africa with Sam Snead playing a series of exhibition matches.  After Locke had won 12 of the 16 they played Snead encouraged him to try the PGA Tour in the USA.  He started playing in the US in April 1947.  He won six tournaments that season, including four in five weeks.  In 1948 he won the Chicago Victory National by 16-shots (a record).  In two and half seasons he played in 59 events; winning 11 (19%) and finishing in the top three in 30 (34%).

4. In 1949 he was banned from the PGA Tour.  The official line was that he had failed to turn up at events he had previously committed to after his first Open win (see 5. below).  Unofficially it is often said that the other players opportunistically sought to remove him because he was simply too good for them.  The ban was lifted in 1951 but Locke rarely returned, his stock having by this time risen in Europe and the Rest of the World.

5. He won The Open Championship four times, in 1949 (Royal St. George’s – after a 36-hole play-off), 1950 (Troon), 1952 (Royal Lytham) and 1957 (St. Andrews).

6. His win in the 1957 Open proved a little controversial.  Having hit his approach to the last hole to a yard he famously failed to properly replace his marker having been asked to move it.  The newsreel footage was clear and the rules at the time indicated he should have been disqualified.  However, the R&A, having already presented Locke with the Claret Jug, allowed the result to stand, arguing that to not do so would be inequitable.  He had secured a birdie at the last and won by three strokes from Peter Thomson.

Watch Bobby Locke Win The 1957 Open At St. Andrews

7. Whilst very accurate he played with a relatively unattractive in-to-out swing and hit big draws for almost all of his full shots.  He was famous for being a smart dresser often playing in plus-fours.  He was impenetrable with a superb temperament but also notoriously slow.  He would only ever play at his own pace, irrespective of any penalties that he was threatened with.

Watch Bobby Locke’s Famous Golf Swing

8. He quickly realised: “No matter how well I might play the long shots, if I couldn’t putt, I would never win”.  He therefore became a magnificent putter, in many people’s opinion (including Gary Player’s) the best there has ever been.  He again had an unorthodox style, trapping the ball and imparting a hooking, top spin to it.  He later coined the often used golfing maxim: “You drive for show but putt for dough”.

9. His competitive career was shortened by a serious car accident in 1959.  Headaches and sight issues thereafter meant he never fully recovered his A-game.

10. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977.  He was only the second non-USA or UK entrant after his fellow South African Gary Player (1974).

ME.

Copyright © 2014, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.