Top Golfers the world over, from Tommy Bolt to Pete Nakamura, can trace their ancestry back 200 years to St. Andrews in Scotland where the Royal and Ancient Golf Club has stood for all that is most expert in the game since 1754. But what about golfdom's duffers, that vast and happy legion whose enthusiasm far outstrips its skill? As members of this majority, we are proud to claim for them an ancestry even older—an ancestry rooted in the 19th hole of a golf club predating the R & A by 150 years.
Founded in 1608 on a patch of open grassland overlooking London, Britain's Royal Blackheath Golf Club more than once played host to England's new king, the Scotsman James Stewart. Its proudest possession is a silver claret jug won in competition against golfers of the Royal and Ancient itself. But though golf is the staff of Blackheath's life, its spirit bubbles with the ruby wine that often fills its cup to overflowing. Daring wagers in fine vintages have marked the centuries of play on the Blackheath links, as on that day in July 1791, when a Mr. Pitcaithley bet Captain Fairfull a full "gallon of claret" that he could "drive the Short Hole in three strokes, six times in ten." Pitcaithley's thirst, it turned out, was stronger than his strokes and Fairfull won the bet.
Other challenges at Blackheath have involved spirited games played right through the club rooms, putting contests at night by the light of carriage lamps, and a foursome played in bowlers and shorts. As the years passed and the city encroached, Blackheath's golfers were forced to employ a "fore caddy," whose sole duty was to warn off strollers, "scare away nursemaids" and make sure balls were not stolen while still in play. More and more the Blackheath enthusiasts sought the pleasures of the less-cluttered 19th hole.
By 1923, the crowded city had proved too much for the golfers and the Royal Blackheath moved to new quarters in a fine old 17th century house at Eltham, Kent. There the old traditions are maintained in the midst of a spanking-new 6,065-yard course. There last week, the old club celebrated its 350th birthday in a replay of the tournament which won its claret cup. The play was spirited but so-so. A team from Wentworth in Surrey took first place to win a replica of the club's famed cup, with Blackheath's golfers lagging a poor six strokes behind. But if the old club's play on tee and green was still not quite up to par, its heart and its claret, as these pictures plainly show, were still in the right place.