In 1949 I reckoned I had a good chance of achieving my main golfing ambition – winning the Open. It was being held at Royal St George’s at Sandwich and to give myself every chance I decided to practice on the course for two weeks before the Championship.
I drove my small Ford down to the course, parked in the club car park and walked into the clubhouse with a small grip.
The secretary spotted me. “What do you want?” he said.
“I would like a few days practice before the Open and I’ve come to change,” I replied.
“Well I’m sorry but you are not allowed in here,” he said. “You go to the professional’s shop and I am sure that Mr. Whiting will look after you.”
So out I had to go. By that time my family even owned a golf course. My father, the professional Gus Faulkner, was so convinced that I would win the Open and was so incensed by the continuing battles I had with club secretaries to get time off to play in tournaments that he somehow managed to find the cash in 1947 to buy Selsey Golf Course on the south coast.
Albert Whiting confirmed that no pros were allowed in to the clubhouse and gave me all the help I wanted. I would play 18 holes and hit practice shots every day but I would have to change in his workshop with all the dust and cobwebs. When I came in I would have to drive back to my ‘digs’ (the prevailing word for a rented out room in someone’s house) for a cup of tea if I could not get one in the pro’s shop.
These attitudes are almost incomprehensible today. But it has to be borne in mind that the difference simply reflects the change which has take place in the British class structure. It was not that long ago that the “Gentlemen versus Players” cricket match came to an end due to the shortage of gentlemen and abundance of players.
In my young days there were many “Bertie Wooster” amateurs who had plenty of money without doing a stroke of work. As far as I could work out, they spent their week in London clubs and then went off for country house weekends.
But you would be making a mistake if you wrote these off as being chinless wonders. Many of them were damn fine golfers and could give their local pro a pasting.
Henry Cotton was largely responsible for the change in attitudes in Britain. He had been educated at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, and began to be made an honorary member of different clubs once he won his first Open (in 1934).
At first the other pros resented the fact that Henry was allowed in and they would have to change elsewhere, but it was not long before all pros became honorary members.
Revolt at Spanish Open
The class problem was a hundred times more severe in Spain. I have always enjoyed playing there and won the Spanish Open three times in the 1950s.
You would not believe the snobbery and discrimination which existed in Spanish clubs. There were not many courses there after the war and most of them were exclusively private clubs run for smart millionaire members who wore monocles and used long cigarette holders. It was worse than Victorian England.
Professional golfers were regarded as glorified caddies and were not allowed near the clubhouses. When we British pros first travelled over there to compete in the Spanish Open, in 1952 when I was reigning Open Champion, we got a dose of it ourselves.
At the Puerta de Hierro club near Madrid, we found that the changing rooms were reserved for the members and we had been allocated a hut which was about 60 yards away from the clubhouse.
We had to walk down 40 or 50 wide steps to get to it. Every time we wanted a meal or even a coffee, we had to walk down these steps to put on a tie and a jacket and then walk all the way back.
We soon got fed up with this and Dai Rees got us all together to decide what we could do about it. The outcome was that we asked to see the Captain of the club and I remember us meeting him on the grass outside the clubhouse.
Dai told the Captain that we were not prepared to use the changing rooms allocated to us and that, if we could not use the club changing rooms, the British professionals would fly home without competing in the tournament.
The Captain was not all that impressed with this until Dai said that most of us had been made honorary members of our own clubs in Britain.This seemed to make a difference.
The Captain told us to wait while he talked with a few of his committee members. While he relented over the changing rooms, I remember that we were not granted some of the other requests we had made.
While we all stayed on for the tournament, most of my pals were upset at the treatment we had got and said that they would not return the following year.
But I told them: “They don’t understand the game here yet.” I felt particularly sorry for the Spanish professionals and vowed to return in 1953.
My verdict might have been coloured by the fact that I won the Championship that year and in fact won it again the following year, when they made me an honorary member of the club. I liked playing in Spain and Portugal, winning the Spanish Open again in 1957.
In the late summer of 1968, when I was 52 and had that year won the Seniors Championship, my manager Derek Pillage had arranged a week of golf in Spain prior to playing in the Portuguese Open. Among the party were the actor Sean Connery, the comedian Bruce Forsythe and singer Glen Mason.
We played golf virtually every day and I was playing out of my skin, beating all the young pros in the party (Brian Barnes, Craig de Foy and John Garner). On one day I remember completing the first seven holes in level threes and promptly picked up my ball and walked in, not wanting to break the spell.
My form held at the Portuguese Open. I led by one shot with 135 after two rounds but had to play two rounds in the heat on the final day. By lunch I had increased the lead to two shots, on 204, but was being chased by the young Spaniard Angel Gallardo. Despite a wobble on the 18th, both of us scored 69 so I was 273 to Gallardo’s 275.
I became the oldest winner of an Open Championship in the history of the game.