Eagles and air shots

In a profession where reputations are prized and seniority is an obsession, the Annual Tournament of the Bar Golfing Society is a great leveller. Simon Goldstone and Guy Williams explain.

The Bar Golfing Society has just played its Annual Tournament at Royal St. George’s, Sandwich. The tournament was won by HHJ Richard Bromilow (handicap of 5) 110 years after the first tournament was played down the ancient highway at Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club (Deal). This year’s Final was a particularly close affair, Bromilow beating Jonathan Furness QC on the 19th hole. The golf improved along with the weather as the week progressed. Taking place annually in Whit week, the tournament rotates between Sandwich, Deal, and Rye, with occasional forays to Hunstanton and Royal Birkdale. The standard of golf course is therefore uniformly high, each tournament contested on one of the best England can offer, and at substantially discounted rates. The standard of golf is considerably more mixed. Every entrant believes he or she has a genuine chance of winning; golfers of all standards are warmly welcomed; the tournament expects to see eagles and air shots equally.

The tournament itself is a singles matchplay knockout competition. Victory is coveted by all who attend; those who are knocked out will enjoy as much social golf as they can manage. Ordinarily, the victor will have won seven matches, so a steady hand and mind is required, as well as the rub of the green. The field narrows quickly, so that by Friday morning the field (84 this year) is down to the last 16. To the victors the spoils, and to the losers, the subsidiary competitions. First-round losers enter the Tuesday Tankards; all enter the Captain’s Prize – a foursomes competition for a generous prize donated by the Captain (this year Douglas Herbert).

Another key element of the tournament week is supporting the Bar Benevolent Association. A competition is run throughout the week where members donate a fee to the BBA. There are more coercive measures of support at the tournament dinner where any faux pas (golfing, social, or sartorial) will result in a ‘fine’. Fines are assessed by reference to the seriousness of the offence and the ability of the offender to pay and this year over £2400 was raised. Also, fiercely contested is the Pinks Cup – awarded to the player with the reddest face by the end of the week, whether as a result of blood pressure, sun, or gross over-indulgence. No handicap applies so one can carry good form and training into the competition.

The real joy of the Society is the bonhomie that exists throughout the week. In a profession where reputations are prized and seniority is an obsession the tournament is a great leveller. Courtesy and due deference remain a sensible precaution, but it is easier to tug a forelock while saying – “An eight is very respectable in these conditions, Judge” – while tapping in for a four.

Matches are played throughout the year at excellent clubs both within a short drive of London, such as Woking, Walton Heath and the Berkshire, and in the North West and Scotland. There are over 30 fixtures with opposition such as the Wine Trade, the Circuit Judges, and the Stock Exchange and in most years, international tours.

The high turn-out during the week is evidence of the Society’s good health. At present we have around 350 members ranging from pupils to a Justice of the Supreme Court. The Society welcomes new members of any age and ability. The number of female members remains low and it would be fabulous to see this change. It is not necessary to have an official club handicap to join. The society offers a great opportunity to play golf at very good golf courses in a friendly, competitive spirit. New members are generously subsidised. All the relevant details are on the BGS website: www.bargolf.org.uk. The annual subscription for the BGS is only £25.

A closing thought: To sit enjoying a drink in the members’ bar at Royal St George’s, during the tournament, is a great pleasure. The room is glorious, looking out towards the course and the sea beyond. Golfing history adorns the walls. A fabulous lunch is prospect. The papers are laid out, the bitter is served in silver tankards, and there is the tangible sensation that the room has been occupied by golf’s greatest champions, such as Darren Clarke who won the Open here last year. It is hard to think of any modern golfer who has not sat down and looked out over the first wondering which way the wind would turn that afternoon. But the added joy is to nurse one’s drink and listen to the chatter in the background – overblown, Betjeman-style boasts about 300 yard drives (“a glorious, sailing, bounding drive that made me glad I was alive”), rants about putts not-given (and missed), apologies to High Court Judges for the one-sided nature of the match, arrangements for whether the Dover Sole is available at Dunkerley’s, and a fair amount of ribbing.

Anyone interested in joining the Society should visit the website or email the Secretary, Simon Goldstone or the Assistant Secretary, Guy Williams at bar.golf@yahoo.co.uk.

Simon Goldstone 4, Pump Court and Guy Williams Landmark Chambers

 

Fifth Hole, Royal St. George’s: A caddy’s view of the Final

The final of this year’s tournament sums up the best of Bar Golf. It was contested between HHJ Richard Bromilow and Jonathan Furness QC. It was still, chilly and damp on the links of Royal St. George’s. We played the full championship course according to the true card as a par 70. Richard (5 handicap) gave 12 shots to Jonathan (17). It was a battle of two different methods. I never saw W.G. Grace bat but I imagine something similar to the golf action of blaster Furness with his 19-degree Taylor-Made burner. As for Bromilow, I imagine Roger Wethered’s elegant but powerful swing. The Blaster versus the Swinger; Wales versus England. What a match!

Standing on the fourteenth tee, Furness was 3 up. Here the Sandwich links begins the final exacting test. Who can finish well? The fourteenth turns the corner, near the old Princes clubhouse. Dreaded white posts along the right side mark the boundary of the neighbouring course and a deep ditch cuts across the middle of the fairway. Into the ditch went a rare duff from Furness but he recovered and the hole was halved with the shot.

Sir Guy Campbell selected the fifteenth at Sandwich in an eclectic eighteen drawn from British Championship links. He says that standing behind the green watching the hole played by experts, “is one of the supreme thrills in golf”. Here Bromilow showed his expertise by creaming his second over the cross bunker to cling onto the narrowest of greens. This classy shot decided the hole. No high handicapper could conceivably hit that shot, ever. Furness was now only 2 up. Next was the short sixteenth. Both competitors hit similar shots close to the right edge of the green but Furness was bunkered. He thinned his way out across to the rough beyond the opposite edge of the green. Bromilow took the hole.

The seventeenth was time for the Blaster to compose himself, which he did. Okay drives by both competitors were followed by excellent approaches. Jonathan’s 7 iron second shot from light rough down in below the big right hand bunker was a monster. The hole was halved in four.

So we walked to the eighteenth tee with Furness one up and a shot to come. It is a wonderful finishing hole with all of its features laid out before the golfer standing on the elevated tee. It takes two excellent shots to get up in two but doing just that put Bromilow in par position. Furness was on the right hand side of the fairway with his second. He hit a marvellous full sand wedge landing close to Bromilow’s ball. Now just two putts each (shot gone) for a halved hole and a Furness victory. But the Furness ball did not rest on the sloping green. It ran down into Duncan’s hollow and out of two-putt territory. The match was all square after 18 holes and so the first became their nineteenth. Another shot hole for Furness. His solid drive landed in the rough to the right. Bromilow continued his impeccable run and was on the green in two. Meanwhile a kindly spectator had apparently found Jonathan’s ball and stood by to point it out. A blast out of the rough took him to a spot beside the green with a steep up hill put for a likely two putt. Bending over his ball Jonathan realised his error. It was not his ball. With that, regrettably, he conceded the match.

Ian Glen QC, 5KBW

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