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This article first appeared in the 1988 Eldon Golf Day programme. It deserves a wider circulation, and so, as an affectionate tribute to a learned historian and past Society captain, the late Reg Conlon, here it is again for your enjoyment.

We in this sceptred isle have been accustomed to believe that the origins of golf (that elaborate form of torture we inflict upon ourselves) are rooted among the heather and the sand dunes of those wind-swept eastern stretches of Scottish shore in which stands that holy of holies, The Royal and Ancient. Absurd claims by such Dutch persons that a game known as spel metten kolve or "play with club" practised at some place called Loenan aan de Vecht in Holland in 1296 was the forerunner of our golf (or
gouff), are regarded by the Scots in more or less the same light as the Sunnis regard the validity of the Shi'ites' interpretation of the Koran.


Well, now I am about to throw the proverbial cat among the pigeons, as I have chanced upon irrefutable evidence which establishes the antiquity of golf to be of a time in history that makes even 1296 seem like yesterday.



The evidence I speak of was born out of my looking at the famous statue of the Venus de Milo in the Louvre - armless as we are all accustomed to seeing her.



It started me thinking about what she was doing with her arms in the sculptor's original work. The answer came to me in a blinding flash. Startling obvious, when I thought about it. She was originally portrayed just at the very moment of having executed a perfect wedge shot.



If any doubts exist about this theory, they can surely be dispelled by studying her demeanour. The steady gaze reveals in every line of her features her satisfaction at the successful outcome of her shot. Clearly, the ball has come to rest a mere pace from the pin. Maybe the position of the left leg in not quite what the purists of today would regard as orthodox, but notwithstanding this, one glance at those handsome womanly proportions reveals that this was the Laura Davies of her day - and observe too, the excellent balance.



Carried forward by the thrill of my "find", I began to research other mutilated statuary and relics of that bygone golden era, and I was truly amazed to find examples in abundance to prove that the origins of our noble and ancient game are even more noble than any of us can ever have imagined... and you will be delighted to know that I am about to share my discoveries with you.



So next I came upon this delightful bronze figure of Aphrodite, c 400 EC. My reconstruction here shows that the artist has captured her just after the moment of impact - a lovely pose. Superb extension, a copybook shoulder turn and the head absolutely still in a way that the late Henry Cotton himself would have approved of. But again we see the "dancing" left leg in evidence. Although the word "technique" is derived directly from the Greek, it is clear from this action pose that slavish adherence to a technique had little place in the way the ancient Greeks played the game. They clearly went in more for rhythm and fluency of movement, rather than for the contrived mechanics of the modern golf swing - just revelling in giving the ball a good whack. It matched their life style.



This figure shows Apoxyomenos (350 BC) displaying the two handed grip popular at that time. Here, he is taking a practice swing - one senses that he naturally swings the club in a rather flattish arc with a marked tendency to pull the ball to the left. But the supple strength in the torso betokens a tremendous release of power at impact. I guess he played just inside single figures and hit the ball a country mile - not always straight.



The marble of Apollo (435 BC) here, reveals the most sickeningly handsome of the gods warming up, employing exactly the same exercise you see being practised by your low handicap acquaintances on the 1st tee any Sunday morning while you are all waiting your turn to tee off. You can perceive immediately from his lofty and disdainful expression that you are in the presence of an amateur who plays off scratch (I find, incidentally, that professionals playing off Plus 2 or Plus 4 seldom wear that supercilious look).



Here again is the same Apollo Scratchman demonstrating that the method of holding the putter vertical and squinting at it through one eye (supposedly to read the break of the hole) was not born with the advent of televised golf. What a tiresome fellow Apollo Scratchman must have been!



This is the youth Idolino, a contemporary of Apollo. When this was sculpted he was a junior member new to the game and had a long handicap. He is shown in the act of collecting his 5 drachma winnings, having just beaten a tiger 6 and 4 (One can only hope it was Apollo Scratchman!). The apologetic expression he affects at his presumption is, of course, quite bogus, only just masking his inner glee. I do hope he never got down to scratch - he would have been quite insufferable.



I went back as far as 1600 BC to find the earliest example of Golf in the ancient world. This is the Earth Goddess of Knossos in Mnoan Crete. Historians
would have us believe that she is grasping a snake in each hand. But that is a hypothesis I totally reject. They have failed to realise that what she is in fact holding are the two halves of a snake-shaped putter which in her temper at missing a "tiddler" she has snapped in two. As you can see she is literally "bursting" with rage at the frustration of the moment.



Club throwing in ancient Greece was the prerogative of only the mightiest. Here is Zeus himself letting go. The smouldering fury on his countenance tells it all. He has just driven a third ball out of bounds off the 16th tee in a medal round when he was 4 under par up to that point. Thunderbolts followed, the course almost immediately became waterlogged and play was abandoned.



You may have wondered, incidentally, what kind of ball was used in ancient Greece. As you know the Greeks were really into marble and this super hard mineral - capable of being fashioned into almost any shape - was an ideal material for the purpose. In fact the Greeks learned to carve various patterns of incisions, dimples - pentagonal, hexagonal etc and all manner of spin-imparting designs on their marble balls, many centuries before the ingenuities of Dunlop, Titleist and others of that ilk had
hit our pockets. Pythagorus was a prominent ball designer and his IIQ+ remained top of the range for more than 100 years. You may not have realised that one of our present day catch phrases was actually coined following Zeus's club throwing tantrum. At the time of the incident I related, the father of the gods was becoming increasingly irascible and eccentric and that happening seemed finally to push him over the edge. From then on he went so markedly nuttier that they referred to it thereafter as "the day old Zeus lost his marbles".



You will have observed from most of the illustrations that in those ambrosia-filled days not a great deal was spent on golf gear. The climate on Mount Olympus being extremely temperate, clothing of any description was not regarded as essential. To be free of the encumbrances of thermal underwear, shoes, sweaters (3) waterproof gear, deer stalkers, mufflers, umbrella, left-handed gloves, fur mittens, velvet-covered hand warmers, course planners etc which the modern British Golfer seems to find
indispensable could only have heightened the liberating experience of a round in those times - while not doing much for the prosperity of the Club Pro, unfortunately.


And in the relaxed atmosphere, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that the mixed foursome competition was a form of the game that then commanded a good deal more enthusiastic support than it does today.


"Is that your new foursomes partner trying to attract your attention Hermione? "


"No it is not Emily. That person is not even a member!"



I know this is an old joke but I thought it would amuse you served up in a new guise.



Anyway, I hope that as you play your way around Woburn this year you will feel better in the knowledge that you walk in the footsteps of the ancient Golfing gods as well as the modern ones who trod here a couple of weeks ago in the British Masters . . .

Our programme of events and format for the day will generally be "the mixture as before" - one that I hope you have come to enjoy. Meanwhile the air here is filled with my muttered invocations to the gods - ancient or modern - who deal out the weather, to be kind to us.

Yours

 

Reg

Past Captains of the Society
1934
1935
1936
1937
1938
1939
1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949
1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957

G.A.E. Marshall
G.A.E. Marshall
G.A.E. Marshall
F.C. Guildford
Capt. E. Downer
Capt. E. Downer






Capt. E. Downer
J.H.S. Ryman
A.M. Hichison
R. Straker
G. Batchelor
L.G. Fowler
W.A.G. Morgan
F. Ramsden
W.R. Garment
D.C. Spicer
E.C. Ellington
C.H. Vince
1958
1959
1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969
1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980
1981
J.D. Ryman
L.R. Scott
A. Coughtrey
G.A. Young
G.A. Young
H.N. Ryman
T.H. Rowney
B.G. Townsend
G. Stanyer
J. Nicholson
A. Wylie
E. Hagger
M.L.D. Gillot
E.C. Ellington
G. Young
J.R. Neller
B.G. Townsend
B.G. Townsend
B.G. Townsend
D.H. Rouse
G.A. Young
A.R. Eustace
J.G. Imray
D.J. Morgan
)
)
) No Captaincy
) during this period
)
)
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
R.J. Osborne
J.A. Young
L.R. Scott
A.C.Wiseman
G. Lamb
R.T. Conlon
R.B. Broderick
P. Mines
P.M. Tilley
E.C. Smith
A. Phillips
M.N. Tollit
B.G. Tolley
D.R. Stride
G.P. Fowler
N. Emery
C. Anderson
M. Leech
R. Johns
G. Clark
C. Phillips
P. Heath
D. Littlechild
A. Beverley
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
A. J. Wood
Judith Smith
D. Cox
C. Lee
H. Sear
G. Betts
G. Christiansen
J. Astrop
P. Jones
D. James
E.C. Smith
M. Bender
D. Littlechild




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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