CHRISTMAS BOOKS: Walton Heath's History Reveals Treasure Trove of Characters ; Former Widnes Forward's Autobiography Is Pick of Rugby League's Offerings While History of Famous Golf Course Stands Out
Farrell, Andy, The Independent (London, England)
THE RASH of clubs celebrating centenaries over the last decade or so recalls an important period in the evolution of golf. Usually the celebrations have included producing a history of the particular club but not all of them have much to recommend them to the outside world. A very definite exception is Heather and Heaven - Walton Heath Golf Club 1903-2003 (limited edition, available directly from the club).
Simply put, it is a thing of beauty. A treasure trove of anecdotes, pictures, cartoons and illustrations, it rewards repeated lingering during these long winter nights. It has been loving put together by Phil Pilley, whose text brings to life the many colourful characters of the club's history, and Philip Truett, the club's archivist and chief research assistant for the project.
It all started with Cosmo Bonsor, a brewing millionaire who was also involved with banking, insurance, property and the railways. He brought in Herbert Fowler, a "huntin', shootin' and cricketin' man" who had never designed a course before but happened to be Bonsor's brother-in-law. Two of the best courses in the country - the "New" arrived in 1907 - were created on Surrey heathland tucked just inside what is now the M25.
Bizarrely, it only became a members' club in 1970 after Rupert Murdoch bought the News of the World and decided he had no need of a golf club. Previously, Lord Riddell and Sir Emsley Carr, respectively chairman and editor of that newspaper, had been among the chairmen who ruled the club.
Royal and political associations were always strong. Edward, Prince of Wales, became the club's first captain in 1935 and was still in the position the following year when he became King Edward VIII and then abdicated. In 1933, one of the club's most celebrated matches - and it was to stage the Ryder Cup in 1981 as well as many professional tournaments - came in the semi-finals of the Parliamentary Handicap when the then Prince of Wales played Lady Astor, the first woman MP, and won only 2 and 1.
Four Prime Ministers were members of the club: Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Bonar Law and Arthur Balfour, while in 1913 the club's committee contained four cabinet ministers. During World War I, it was often said that, "the war is being conducted from Walton".
Remarkably, the club has only had three professionals: James Braid, the five-times Open champion; Harry Busson, a master clubmaker; and Ken Macpherson, who has been in the post since 1977. Few clubs can boost such a rich heritage; few club histories' have been so enjoyably told.
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