THE HALFORD HEWITT CUP and the OSBGS
Some years ago now, Alec MacCaig was asked to pen his reminisces regarding St Bees’ involvement in the ‘Hewitt’ (see below). Alec was everything one could want as a foursomes partner: calm, keen to win and with a hickory-shafted
brass-headed putter, very good on the links greens of Kent; added to which he was a true ‘gentle man’.
Sadly Alec passed away at the end of 2016 and in his memory members of the Society donated nearly £4000 to help keep the St Bees School Golf Club in good order. There is still time to contribute. Please contact Michael Coffey: Michael@golfclubsec.co.uk.
The Halford Hewitt Cup, which was founded in 1924 in quite a modest way and played originally at Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club (Deal), has for many years now brought together 64 teams of the past pupils of UK schools to play against one another in teams of ten, playing foursomes matches in knock-out format over four days annually in March or April. In 1950 the competition had become so popular that it became necessary to use two courses and to limit the number of schools entering to 64, and fortunately Royal St Georges Golf Club (Sandwich) were kind enough to make their course available, so both courses have been used ever since.
Tom Sharp and Alec MacCaig were very fortunate, in 1948, when they were 18 and 19 respectively, to be invited to play for St Bees in this competition and subsequently enjoyed numerous return visits to Kent to play in it, but their first visit in 1948 had such an impact on their subsequent lives that they both felt they ought to try to record some of the details of that first visit. Alec left St Bees School in July 1946 and Tom left in 1947 and they both achieved low single figure handicaps early in 1948, so they were invited by Dick Harrison, joint founder and first Secretary of the OSB Golfing Society, to join the OSB Team of ten in April 1948. In the period immediately after the end of the Second World War, when everything was still either rationed or in short supply, this turned out to be a life-changing experience for both of them.
They joined up with Col W. Vivian Jones, another member of the team, in Manchester and travelled by train to London Euston and then took a taxi to the Dorchester Hotel where the team was meeting for lunch. The host of the lunch was Brigadier General A. C. Critchley CMG, CBE, DSO, (known to everyone as ‘Critch’) an Old St Beghian and the other Joint Founder of the OSB Golfing Society. The other team members who were gathered there for this lunch were John Akam, Harry Baker, Tom Dent, Teddy Browne and Willie Halstead. Browne and Halstead both won Golf Blues at Cambridge in the late 1930s.
After lunch the whole team were transported from the Dorchester Hotel, with all of their golf clubs and luggage, down to Sandwich in Kent in Critch’s very luxurious motor caravan with his batman Titch driving it, and of course drinks were available on the way if we wanted them. After a very comfortable journey, we reached the Guildford Hotel in Sandwich Bay, which was jointly owned by Critch and one of his friends by the name of Bridgeman. The Guildford Hotel was an imposing building, beautifully situated midway between Deal and Sandwich within 50 yards of the sea and our whole team were to be Critch’s guests for the duration of their stay! During the competition the hotel also accommodated a number of other school teams including Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, Winchester, Clifton and Wellington. It was a superb hotel and guests were required to dress for dinner in the evenings, so the atmosphere in the dining room in the evenings was certainly a ’new’ experience for two teenagers fresh from St Bees! We found ourselves rubbing shoulders with Willie Whitelaw, Gerald Micklem. Laddie Lucas, Philip Scrutton, Leonard Crawley and many other well-known personalities of that time.
St Bees were drawn to play Eton in the first round at Deal that year and they beat us 4/1. Tom and Alec played together in the third pairing and put up a reasonable fight on their first appearance but did not manage a win. They did however return home with the most remarkable memories of the camaraderie of the Halford Hewitt Competition, of this incredible man Critch, of his lovely hotel and his hospitality, and of their newly acquired OSB golfing team mates and friends who would remain very good friends for many years to come.
After the team returned home from that 1953 Competition we all sadly learned that Critch, who had played in our team, had felt unwell whilst driving home and gone straight to bed on arrival. He then spent four or five days in a state of semi consciousness, at the end of which he found that he was blind.
This personal tragedy, which struck Critch at the age of 63, also meant that we had to find other accommodation whilst playing in the Halford Hewitt in subsequent years.
Initially the team stayed in a small pub in Sandwich for many years and then tried hotels in Ramsgate and Dover before taking two adjacent houses on the sea front at Deal, owned by cordon bleu chef Jane Forbes, where the team enjoyed many very happy years. Alec played last in 2003, at Royal St George’s against Watsons, a span of 56 years from start to finish.
For many years now Adrian Peckitt has organised excellent accommodation at Knowlton Court, inland from Sandwich and close to The Griffin Head (thank goodness), which gives us plentiful accommodation in a Lodge and nearby apartments and enables us to eat together enjoying ourselves and our company.
The Halford Hewitt Competition which started over 90 years ago is something which every keen OSB golfer should experience and there can be no better year than 2017. We have plentiful accommodation as well as the opportunity to play some of the UK’s finest links (for a week!), so PLEASE get in touch with Adrian at email@example.com and join in.
There is a degree of debate surrounding how the event came to be started but, according to that great golf writer and TV commentator, Henry Longhurst, it was dreamt up during a lunch which John Beck had with G.L. "Susie" Mellin at The Addington Club in Surrey some time during the summer of 1923. Certainly, later that year, representatives from six schools, namely Eton, Charterhouse, Highgate, The Leys, Malvern and Winchester met up to finalise the first tournament and they were joined in the inaugural draw by four others, Mill Hill, Rugby, Beaumont and Radley although, ultimately, during that first year, Beaumont scratched and Radley failed to raise a team.
Mellin, an old Malvernian, and Beck, an old Carthusian who later went on to Captain the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup side in 1938, were both outstanding golfers, Mellin good enough to reach the semi finals of The Amateur Championship in 1920, and both were determined to instigate an inter Public Schools golf tournament along similar lines to an existing football tournament, the Arthur Dunn Cup. Both were also traditionalists, members of the old school in more ways than one, so it came as no surprise that they selected foursomes as the official format for the tournament.
Foursomes then, unlike now, was the obvious choice, the preferred form of golf for amateur golfers used to competing in the likes of Sunningdale and Addington Foursomes, the Worplesdon Mixed Foursomes and the London Amateur Foursomes, and it was also the speediest format, an important consideration which allowed the first few Hewitts to be contested over a single weekend, thereby ensuring that none of the competitors had to take valuable time off work in order to compete.
Foursomes was confirmed as the official format right from the outset, at that lunch at The Addington, and it seems that the decision to call it The Halford Hewitt was finalised then, too.
According to Longhurst, who seldom got things wrong, Mellin and Beck had decided on the tournament details and were wondering which ‘bloody fool’ they could inveigle into putting up a trophy when, quite by chance, Halford Hewitt walked into the room and was promptly pounced on.