Archie Compston used to frighten the life out of me when I first started playing tournaments. Not only was he 6 feet 6 inches in height, he also had a tough-looking face and was aggressive with it. His voice would boom around the dressing room. It would be “Boy” this and “Boy” that.
My father was the only pro who would stand up to him. I have heard him giving Archie a bollocking.
Archie was the reason for the Berkshire Golf Club losing the title ‘Royal Berkshire.’ He played a round there with the Prince of Wales (subsequently King Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor following his abdication). After the round the prince invited Archie to have lunch with him in the clubhouse, but the secretary refused to allow Archie in.
To his credit, the Prince was incensed and took Archie elsewhere for lunch, subsequently writing to the club and commanding them to remove the word ‘Royal’ from their name.
At the 1936 Open at Hoylake during one of the practice days I was playing round with two other young pros when we came to the short 4th which is out of bounds over a bank at the back of the green. Archie was on the green with three or four balls, practicing his putting.
When he saw us on the tee he bellowed: “I’m going to stand in the only safe place.” And he stood right by the flag.
We didn’t know what to do at first until I said: “Dammit, we’ll try and hit him.” But Archie was right, he was standing in the safest place.
Putter off the tee
During a tournament at St Andrews in the 1930s I was drawn with him for one of the rounds. When we walked on to the tee of the short 11th he pulled out his putter.
“This is the way to play this hole,” he said.
He teed up his ball and belted it with his putter. The ball rolled and rolled, finishing up on the edge of the green.
At the 15th during the same round he holed out before me and then stretched his enormous frame flat out on the green with his hands behind his head while I was putting.
I could see him out of the corner of my eye and it was putting me off. I don’t know why he did it because it was very bad etiquette but I was too terrified to ask him to move out of the way.
Ken Bousefield was in the marines during the war and took part in the Anzio landings, but I don’t think he was any better than me in dealing with Archie. Ken’s first job before the war was assistant to Archie at Sandy Lodge and he told me what it was like.
“Good morning Mr. Compston,” he would say as Archie walked in to the shop.
“What’s good about it?” Archie would reply in his gruff voice.
“Get my practice bag out and come and pick up some balls for me,” he would command, if he was in the mood for hitting a few shots. And Ken would have to go and stand on the practice ground picking up balls.
Importance of daily bowel action
Ken gave me a copy of Archie’s hand-written letter to his parents, dated August 14, 1935, at the time of Ken’s appointment. This is a verbatim copy:
In reply to your letter of 12th I agree with what you say regarding suitable lodgings for this boy. I suppose the lodging will cost you about 25 shillings per week. We might be able to get something cheaper but I cannot say at the moment. I am going to have an advert put in the paper so it may be a fortnight before I find a suitable place.
You must impress upon this boy when he comes here that he will not be allowed to smoke, have anything to do with any girl or take any intoxicants. He must on no account talk to the caddies or mix with any low-grade individual. He must not go loafing about the streets at night and will have to go to bed at 9 o’clock. He will hear a lot of swearing on the golf course but he must not cultivate that habit on any account.
You must impress upon him the great importance of a bowel action every day. If I want him to carry my clubs or get up at 7 o’clock in the morning before breakfast to practice a certain shot he will have to jump to it and no excuses.
To make a success of anything in this life you need lots of guts and if your boy wants to quit he had better quit now because it means a lot of hard work having a cut at beating the world.
On no account must you advertise the fact that he is taking up a position in my shop. You can say he is down here learning to play golf. If he is as good as you say he is I might enter him for the amateur championship next year and any remarks of the above nature might injure his amateur status. Hope and trust you agree with the remarks in this letter.
Mr. Archie Compston.
Challenge match victory by 18 and 17
Archie was in his prime in the 1920s but never won the Open. He was better at match play than stroke play and took part in several of the challenge matches which were the vogue at that time.
In 1928 he took on twice Open Champion and twice US Open Champion Walter Hagen over 72 holes at Moor Park for a stake of £500. After 36 holes, Compston was 14 holes up and eventually won by the record margin of 18 and 17.
Hagen shrugged this off, saying that he would go on and win the Open again at Sandwich. And he was right.
Archie was selected for the Ryder Cup four times and his best moment was beating Gene Sarazen by 6 and 4 in the 1929 match at Moortown. He also won the “News of the World” Matchplay tournament in 1925 and 1927 and was a semi-finalist twice.
He had a lovely swing but I think it was too long and the clubhead almost seemed to slow up as it reached the ball. There was no wallop at the bottom of his swing. As a result he was not as long as he ought to have been, given his height.