There are several long-standing members of HGC, and I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon in the company of not only Ron Fisher but Phil Moore and Tony Mackintosh. This was no chance meeting though because a couple of weeks ago at Club Night, Thursday 24 July, Tony Cross discovered that Ron Fisher had been a member of HGC for fifty years that very day and had gone up just to take stock of everything. With Ron happy to reflect on his many happy years I could not pass up the chance of recording some of it for prosperity.
1964 was a very different time to now, golf was considered ‘an old man’s game’ but that didn’t stop Ron defecting from the game of cricket to join his brother John, as a member at the ripe old age of 18. Even to this date, Ron has kept his neatly type-written letter of acceptance and small handbook of rules in pristine condition. The clubhouse also looked extremely different with the mixed lounge (as was then known) being much smaller and the ‘Men’s Lounge’ had its bar in the alcove that now houses the trophies.
Manners and etiquette were of the highest importance and to Ron it was almost overwhelming at times, especially as he was still considered a junior at 18. Jacket and tie was to be worn at all times in the clubhouse and everyone was to be called ‘Mr’. Only one senior member invited Ron to call him by his first name and that was Brooke Holroyd, a past Captain, and was always to be seen in a three piece suit and wearing ‘John Lennon’ style, round glasses. One day, Brooke Holroyd said to Ron ‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you’ and took him into the locker room and shut the door. Ron was slightly apprehensive by this point until Brooke Holroyd said ‘It’s very nice of you to call me Mr Holroyd but please call me Brooke’ to which Ron replied ‘Yes Mr Holroyd’.
To learn about golf other than watching and playing was quite difficult. There was only one golf magazine ‘The Golf Illustrated’. Ron recalls how one member, Frank Wapplington had read ‘to get the best strike you needed to keep a stiff left arm at the top of the back swing’. This he decided to do to the letter so was seen entering the club house and preparing for his round with a straight left arm supported by an elasticated bandage. Frank managed to maintain this even when placing his ball on the tee. However, when he reached the top of the backswing his left arm bent and he hit the ball, it went straight up in the air and landed back down only a few yards away.
Ron had several ‘hero’s’ within the club and two of his fondest were Frank Latimer and Bill Smart who were in their 70’s. He would spend many a Saturday morning watching these gentlemen and their unusual swing. Ron jumps out of his chair to demonstrate to me. They would take their swing and suddenly as they bought the club down and made contact with the ball the men would become airborne jumping into the direction of the ball, fully rotating their body. Ron couldn’t understand it
at the time but now with a little less suppleness, he thinks a little differently about their method.
Within six months of playing Ron won his first trophy, The Butler Horton Cup (the third oldest trophy of the Club which dates back to 1925 and was also called the ‘Tea Totallers’ Cup as it had to be played before 11am on Boxing Day). At that time, there were a lot of low handicapped golfers attracted to HGC as it was renown as one of the most prestigious clubs in the Midlands and Ron is quick to say how the course is back to looking and feeling as good as it used to be but with a lot more trees.
Jean Roberts is one of HGC’s most successful lady golfers and Ron remembers seeing her for the first time in a white pleated skirt and blue blazer adorned with a Curtis Cup Badge (The Curtis Cup is still played to this day between Great Britain and America). She won the English Ladies’ Championship and the Warwickshire Ladies’ Championship six times and could be seen on a Sunday afternoon playing off the men’s tees, having been given special permission, and was only out driven by 10-15 yards by the men. A year after Ron had joined, he was requested by Jean to partner her in the HGC mixed open to which they came second. Ron’s prize was a centre-shafted putter which he still proudly owns to this date. Apparently Jean is fit and well to date and living in Cornwall, and with a handicap of 5 she plays at one of the South West’s finest link courses, St Enodoc.
Ron’s brother, John, won the Warwickshire Amateur Championship three times, the Midland Amateur Championship alongside the Club Championship one year with 139 (70-69) but the most successful male golfer Ron remembers was Peter Butler, the Harborne Pro, who’d played in four Ryder Cups and was recorded as being the first person to achieve a hole-in-one in the history of the event. He also represented England in the World Cup three times. Ron smiles as he explained Peter knew how to get noticed. He drove a Jenson Interceptor which was a sporting GT class car, hand-built in West Bromwich and when he opened the boot there would sit the biggest red, white and blue Ryder Cup golf bag imaginable, especially as most people then were only carrying pencil bags.
One of the saddest times for Ron was the premature death of Bob Broadmore, aged only 18 in 1973. He was the assistant professional hit by lightning on the course, doing what he loved best. Tony Mackintosh was in the four ball behind him that day along with a Doctor called Jimmy Stewart who went to see what could be done but to no avail. Bob was known for his broad lapelled, pinstripe suit and he loved nothing better than to strut his stuff at the Club’s discos.
The dress code during the 70’s was still very formal and jacket and ties were to be worn at all times, no matter what. As some of you may remember 1976 was one of our hottest summers on record. During the early evening, Frank Evans, a larger than life character, with an ashtray, tapped the bar, and said ‘Gentlemen, you may remove your jackets’ to which Ron and Terry Wilkinson shouted out ‘ties as well?’, ‘certainly not!’ came back the retort.
Another popular night at the Club used to be race nights for horse-racing. Cine films would show the racing whilst tills were available to take the bets. In 1971 a one arm bandit machine was introduced to the men’s locker room and Arnold Churchill (another name every member should recognise) would be regularly seen playing. He was provided with a chair to sit in and it is thought he was given money as well and once he’d gambled through the lot he was escorted home.
Ron proceeds to tell me that he asked Arnold Churchill one evening if he had participated in other sports when he was young. He replied that he had taken part in the Olympics and aged 23, was part of GB’s athletics team that took part in the 1906 Athina Summer Games in Greece. Although not considered a ‘true’ Olympics as it was held two years after the 1904 games, it was classed as the first ‘interim’ Olympics that probably saved the movement which at that time was struggling. Arnold Churchill’s events were the five mile run and 1,500 metres. He later went on to serve as a Captain in the London Regiment in World War 1.
A further HGC war hero and idol of Ron’s is Wilfred Wheeler who is still alive today and was Captain from 1983-85 but during the Second World War was a rear gunner in a Lancaster Bomber and completed over 50 sortees. Something probably a lot of people are not aware of is that for a rear gunner to actually get into the gun turret they had to take their parachute off so if the inevitable happened there wasn’t a lot to save you. Having shown such bravery and lived to tell the tale, Wilf was a very humble man but it didn’t stop Ron shaking his hand, out of respect, every time they saw each other. A fun fact about Wilf, he used to drive a fancy pink Jaguar!
It is apparent that throughout the years HGC has seen many characters and Ron, Phil and Tony have given me so many wonderful stories there is simply too much to write about but I would recommend any member, if you have a bit of free time, to go sit and listen. Tales of their never ending golf breaks away are endless but also priceless, and will entertain you for hours.
Not many people may know this but Ron is a huge golf fan with a collection of around 150 clubs, some with hickory shafts and some with famous golf player’s names imprinted on the clubheads. Did you know the British golf ball was changed to the much larger American golf ball in 1973, I didn’t but I do now. Ron has also posed another question to see if anyone knows the answer. Over the years various tees have been moved ‘Where was the original 16th tee?’ Unfortunately, I don’t know but with any answers that come my way I will see whether Ron agrees.
There is only one more thing I would like to leave with you to think about and I don’t know whether it’s possible to be done again but your thoughts if you agree would be great to have. Back in 1973 Robin Yarwood, Mr Captain, had a number of daffodil bulbs planted into the shape of HGC along the 18th facing the clubhouse so he could look out each spring with his Pink Gin and know where he was. How great an idea is that?
Many thanks to Ron for sharing all his happy memories.