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A great loss to golf and many others
The recent death of Alex Hay revived memories the author experienced when another great friend and fellow-commentator, Henry Longhurst, passed away

Many of you will recall the glorious writings of Henry Longhurst. For 25 years, he wrote for the Sunday Times and never missed an edition. He was a wonderful storyteller and lived a full life. He'd try anything once, and if he enjoyed it, he'd do it again - such as going down in a full diver's suit, exploring an old wreck or having a trip down the Cresta Run when not under the influence of alcohol. He was only 69 when he died, far too young.

Some of you may remember an article he wrote while recovering from a cancer operation. For some it was a morbid account of thoughts of suicide - life was becoming tedious, he didn't want to go on, etc. A friendly doctor, much against the rules, had given him a pill that would "end it all".

He wrote the following on the eve of being carried off to hospital. "I took myself to bed with a bottle of Glenmorangie and the pill. I had a plan. I would sip the magic elixir and then, when I felt the time was ripe, take the pill and sink into oblivion." He couldn't bear the thought of tomorrow, all that major surgery, from which, even if he were to recover, life would never be the same.

But fate took a hand. The magnificent Scottish 'wine' took its toll and he fell asleep before he could take the pill. The next thing he knew he was being woken up, carried out of the house and into the hospital for the operation he so dreaded. In the end the operation was as successful as it could be, and although at times he was in great discomfort, it did give him a few more years in the world he loved. I was with him two weeks before he died, when he said, after offering me a glass of Bollinger: "Would you believe it, I've got a house full of wonderful drinks but due to my medication everything tastes like creosote!"

Alex Hay, a great friend of golf and a man without whom Woburn would not have the golf facilities it does today

All these thoughts came back to me when I spoke to Alex Hay on March 7, earlier this year. We enjoyed a long and fruitful friendship and regularly phoned each other just for a chat, generally ending up by putting the world to rights. Halfway through this conversation Alex said: "I've had some bad news."

"What's that?" asked I.

Then he uttered the dreaded word "cancer". Before I could say anything he added: "And it's bad. It's in my pancreas. I have secondaries. I've not got much time left."

Alex went on: "I'm not having any treatment. They can't do anything but they say they can give me medication to control the pain and make what's left of my life more comfortable. I'm seeing my accountant, lawyer, bank manager - I'm getting everything settled and I'm going to enjoy my life as much as I can in the time that's left."

I didn't know what to say. He was so calm. He continued: "I'm 77. [He was 78 when he died in July.] I've had a wonderful life in the world of golf. I've travelled round the world, met kings, queens, princes and villains. So many memories" - which he always said were better than dreams.

The illness progressed, He had no desire to see visitors. As he said, you say goodbye at the door and realise that's it - it really is "goodbye" not "au revoir". The Duke of Bedford came round and paid his respects. Alex had a property in the town, Galloways Restaurant, run by his son David and his wife, Chantal. It's one of Woburn's few freehold buildings, and the Duke wanted to make sure there were no complications regarding ownership when Alex passed on. A handsome gesture, and why not? Alex and the staff he had gathered round him had 'saved' the club and between them all had made Woburn into the fantastic facility it is today.

I continued to call him two or three times a week until the end, with the words of Ann, his dear wife, ringing in my ears. "Peter, my Alex is disappearing before my eyes."

He was a staunch friend and will be missed by many. In my opinion he should never have been retired from the BBC and, much as I tried, I never discovered the full facts of why he was put out to pasture. But things move on, new faces arrive, all of whom are a pleasure to work with. I shall go on for as long as I can or they want me, but I shall always think of Alex and his chuckles off mike, even when my remarks weren't all that funny. He was a dear, dear friend, and a great loss to his family, but the spirit of Alex will continue through his sons and grandchildren and, of course, that splendid Galloways restaurant sitting there right in the middle of Woburn.

One last thing. In one of our chats, I said: "Well, Alex, if you do get there before me, reserve a table in the window overlooking the 18th green, and book us an early starting time." I'm missing him now.

September 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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