Professional golf is probably squeaky clean nowadays, perhaps because there are TV cameras with zoom lenses everywhere and eagle-eyed commentators like Peter Alliss ready to pounce, but in the old days you had to keep a watch out – particularly for your opponent’s caddy.
Right up to the late 1940s, there were no discs to mark your balls on the green if you did not want to putt out; pros would get out a tee and mark a single line in the grass away from the ball. For some reason the line was always drawn at right angles to the hole, so it would be very easy to replace the ball at the other end of the mark if this gave any advantage.
Of course, by the end of the day, the grass around the holes would be etched with a mass of lines. Nowadays if you even touch the surface with anything other than a disc you are penalised, because you are deemed to be testing the condition of the green.
In the 1940s and 1950s there was a professional golfer who earned himself the nicname of ‘jumping bean,’ because his opponents became increasingly doubtful that he was replacing the ball on the correct mark.
Dai Rees warned me about this before we were due to play a practice round with this pro at St. Andrews before a tournament. Ken Bousefield made up the four, and we had some money on the outcome.
Having been alerted by Dai, I kept an eye open. On the 5th we were all on the green and jumping bean was 25 yards from the flag. But on those big St. Andrews greens he was not the first to putt, and picked up his ball to clean it.
I looked along his line to the flag and noticed that there was a prominent mark no more than 15 yards from the flag. I was nearest to the hole and kept an eagle eye on it.
Sure enough, when it was jumping bean’s turn to putt, he bent down to replace his ball on the nearer mark.
“Hey!” I shouted at the top of my voice. “You put your ball back where your mark is.”
He jerked up, as if stung, but did as I said and gave us no trouble for the rest of the round.
Soon after this the rule was changed because of all the marks making a mess of the greens. But this did not stop the problem with caddies.
Rogue ball dropped
In a foursomes tournament at Wentworth, I was playing with a partner (whose name I forget) with the Hunt brothers Bernard and Geoffrey, both very good golfers and honourable men. Geoff had this short, dark-haired caddie who seemed to me to walk like Charlie Chaplin.
On the 9th hole, which runs along the railway line, my partner and I were on the green but one of the brothers had pushed his second into the trees on the right of the green.
I was due to putt and did not go down to help in the search but sat on a bank by the green, watching. There were few people about.
After about a minute of searching, I saw Geoff’s caddie come out of the shrubbery and walk along a path between the trees, away from the green. As he walked, I saw a ball drop out of his hand on to the path, with a clear line to the green. The caddy kept on walking as if nothing had happened and disappeared round a corner.
Quick as a flash, I dashed down, pocketed the ball and returned to the green. The caddie, presumably, was mystified not to hear a shout from someone behind him finding the ball so clearly lying out in the open.
I thought about it and decided it would be very unfair to tell Bernard and Geoff on the course because it would have put them off their games.
In the event, my partner and I lost the match and I was in a dilemma. If I told them about the incident, it might seem like sour grapes, but I decided it was more important to let Geoff know about his caddie. The next time that the caddie tried the trick it might have serious consequences for Geoff.
While we were having a buffet lunch in the clubhouse, I got the ball out (which was a Penfold; I played Dunlop) and told Geoff and Bernard that I had seen his caddie drop the ball on a path by the wood at the 9th.
They were both terribly upset but I told them to forget it. The incident hadn’t bothered me and hadn’t affected the outcome of the match.
Football in the rough
On another occasion, during a tournament or alliance meeting at Sundridge Park soon after the war, I remember walking down one side of a fairway and seeing one of the caddies on the other side in the semi-rough walking along and booting the ball a good 20 yards forwards because it flew quite high in the air. I warned my opponent to watch his caddie.
On the next hole, which was a dog leg, we were walking after our drives when we both saw this same caddie bending over the ball and quite clearly throwing away bits of twig and improving the lie.
“Hey!” we both shouted, “Get away from that ball.”
This particular caddie I knew was a tough customer, who had been in the pioneer corps in France during the war. There was no question that these caddies were doing it because the pro might slip them some money; they just did it for the devil of it.