My first trip to Cairo in 1949 proved to be more lively than I wanted. John Jacobs was pro at the Gezira club at the time and there were five of us in our party: myself, Jimmy Adams, 1936 Open Champion Alf Padgham and the Italian pros Ugo Grappasoni and Alfonso Angelini. Alfonso was a fine player but hampered by a limp; he had spent two years in a Russian prisoner of war camp and one foot had been frost-bitten.
This was in the days before Nasser came to power and took control of the Suez Canal. King Farouk was still the head of state but there was plenty of civil unrest.
As we drove in from the airport we could see that the Shepherds Hotel, Egypt’s finest, had been burnt to the ground. We stayed the first week at the Mena House Hotel, close to the Pyramids.
On the first morning, one of the Gezira members collected us for a practice round. As we drove over the Nile, groups of arabs were pulling drivers out of cars.
“The troubles are starting again,” he said ominously, and put his foot down.
The club was on the outskirts of the city, but nothing was happening when we got there. We met up with Eric Brown and Dai Rees in the clubhouse and had to sit there doing nothing. There were no officials about and the waiters refused to serve us anything and just stood there watching us.
Dai soon got fed up. “I’m going to have a practice,” he said. But when he went out, thirty caddies began to follow him to the practice ground and he soon came back.
We had nothing to eat or drink all day and could hear the odd rifle shot coming from the city. Otherwise Cairo was completely silent: there was no traffic at all. None of us had any idea what was going on.
We were still at the club when it got dark. Eric Brown said he knew an Englishman who lived in some flats about 500 yards away. We decided to take a chance and walk there. Anything was better than being marooned at the club for the night.
There was a deathly silence as we set out. When we came to a main road, Eric ran across first and then waved us on. We kept close to the wall as we walked. I remember at one stage hearing some arabs talking in a house as we crept by.
The flats had some steps in the front and we were up these like a shot. Eric knocked on his friend’s door and had to say who it was before the door was opened. But we were given a warm welcome and plied with tea, coffee and sandwiches.
At 11pm, all of a sudden, the Cairo traffic started again.
“That’s better,” Eric’s friend said. “You’ll be all right now.” And he got us a taxi back to the hotel.