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Amateurs Hold Lytham Trophy Dear

by John Hopkins - May 5, 2014

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND | Sir Michael Bonallack got slowly to his feet and looked around the Club room in the imposing clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St Annes. He was about to give an after-dinner speech. How many of those had he delivered in his time as a player, administrator, guest of honour?

“I fell in love with this little lady in 1965,” Bonallack began, gesticulating with his right hand. “I lost her for a while and then rediscovered her in 1972. From that day to this she has never left my heart.” At this point he paused somewhat theatrically and nodded toward a lady sitting perhaps 10 feet in front of him. “I didn’t tell Lady Angela.”

A gust of laughter spread around the panelled room at Bonallack’s joke. He was referring in the first instance to the handsome trophy he had received when he won the inaugural Lytham Trophy, and again in 1972, and in the second to his wife, herself a distinguished former amateur international. “From that day to this,” Bonallack continued, “I have held the view that the trophy is the finest in our trophy cabinet.”

The Lytham Trophy, which is now among the most important strokeplay events on the amateur calendar in Britain and Ireland, was the brainchild of Colin Maclaine, a Scots dentist practising in that town on the Lancashire coast. Maclaine was a good golfer himself and in time would be chairman of the general committee of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, a member of the championship committee and, finally, a captain of the club.

Lytham Trophy

In the mid-1960s there was only one 72-hole stroke-play event for top amateurs in England, Wales and Scotland and that was the Brabazon Trophy. Maclaine felt there should be more and with the help of a couple of equally farsighted club members, the first was staged on the first weekend in May in 1965, and the 50th was held this past weekend.

Maclaine said he wanted it to be The Masters of amateur golf in Britain. If by that he meant the start of the amateur season and an event that would attract players from Ireland and the rest of continental Europe as well, then he was right. Players realised that the examination Lytham set them was a stern one, particularly so early in the year. It was, as Bernard Darwin, the great golf writer, said, “a beast but a just beast.”

This might have been held to be a weakness. In fact it became a strength and the appeal of competition grew year by year. Matt Carver from Australia won it in 1996 and three years later Tino Schuster from Germany became the first winner from continental Europe. Daan Huizing of the Netherlands, the champion in 2012 and Albert Eckhardt of Finland, who won in 2013, were the latest in a line of entrants from Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Italy as well as those from England, Scotland and Wales.

In a world of golf increasingly dominated by the professionals, the Lytham Trophy marked a welcome opportunity to pause and scrutinise the amateur game. It reminded us again and again of what a civilised game golf is. Annually it brought home to us that Lytham was a wonderful place to hold the event. The majesty of its course, which thankfully overwhelms its mundane surroundings, is as marked as the club’s standing and the canon of knowledge of the rhymes and rituals of the game as represented by the club’s members.

“In such august surroundings as this,” I wrote in The Times after the 2000 event, “the visitor gets a rare feeling of closeness to the contestants as one is able to walk down the fairways alongside the players. There is little difficulty in relating to the men who mark their own cards, often carry their own bags, hold the flagstick for one another, walk side by side, sometimes with their heads bent in conversation. This, after all, is what almost all amateur golfers do when they play.”

Since the Lytham Trophy began, it has been marked by signs of a sense of humour. Indeed, Colin Maclaine admitted as much in a well-turned speech just before Bonallack’s. The Masters may have resisted the opportunity to pair Herman Keiser and Frank Fuhrer together a few years ago but in the Lytham Trophy a Burgess has played with a Maclean, a Tate with a Lyle, a Marks with a Spencer, a Donald with a Duck, and a Holmes with a Moriarty. Amateur golf is not just fun to watch; it can bring a smile to the face of spectators, too.

Bonallack told stories of Joe Carr, the famous Irish amateur, and the rivalry and friendship the two of them had. He harked back to a former era. But there was not going to be any criticism from those who were listening to him. They were pleased to be in the room that contained one of the famous paintings of Bobby Jones, as well as the club with which Jones hit his famous stroke on the 71st hole of the 1926 Open, on a night such as this, listening to stories about, and celebrating the staging of, one of the amateur game’s most esteemed events. “All competitors remember it (the Lytham Trophy) … as one of the great experiences of their golfing life” Bonallack said and on a night such as this no one was going to disagree with him.

Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free


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