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The Ryder Cup: from small acorns
Despite its illustrious and well-chronicled heritage, some facts about the Ryder Cup are little known

Don't worry, it won't be long before Ryder Cup fever hits us again. After the last disappointing results, the next event takes on an even greater importance, although it’s a matter of conjecture how everything will work out in South Wales in October 2010.

Over the years, the beginnings of the Ryder Cup have been very well documented. Or have they? For a long time now, I have been in correspondence with Peter Fry, a golfing historian who lives in Weymouth. Over the years he’s made many studies of golf in Dorset and the West Country, and indeed many other aspects of this weird and wonderful game. His research unearthed the fact that Samuel Ryder (the man whom many people think put the RyderCup together single-handedly) used to spend his summer holidays in Weymouth and played golf at the Came Down Golf Club with the then professional, Ernest Whitcombe, one of the celebrated Whitcombe brothers.

Peter spent hours searching through old newspapers and magazines, especially the Herts Advertiser, based in St Albans. He also struck up correspondence with Marjorie, Sam Ryder’s eldest daughter. In those far-off days, not everything was written down or recorded as it is today, but there is no doubt he has found much interesting data and it would appear that the Came Down Golf Club was the actual birthplace of the Ryder Cup.

Samuel Ryder played a lot of golf with the Whitcombe brothers - here he is seen bidding farewell to Charles Whitcombe (captain) and the GB&I team as they prepare to sail for the 1931 matches in Columbus, Ohio

“How can that be?” you ask. Well, Sam Ryder was struck by the fine play of Ernest Whitcombe and asked him if he ever played in tournaments, such as the Open Championship. The reply was no, it was far too expensive, he had no money and if he was away from the club he wasn’t earning any, so although he was a very fine striker of the ball, his chances of getting away from Came Down to make an international name for himself were very slight.

Well, one thing led to another. Ryder then discovered the other brothers, Reggie (who would win the Open in 1938) and Charlie Whitcombe, and was even more astounded at their golfing skills. He consulted his friends, Abe Mitchell and George Duncan, both of whom had already made names for themselves in the golfing world, and the three of them discussed the question of the poor support in general for British golf professionals and, more pertinently, what they could do about it.

Somehow or other, during these various conversations, the genesis of an idea was born – the idea of a match played between Great Britain and America. Ryder provided a beautiful, simple gold cup, with a figure on the top which was based, it is said, on a photograph of Abe Mitchell’s swing in full flow.

The timetable of these facts and figures is very interesting. There’s no doubt that between 1910 and the early 1920s Sam Ryder took his family to Weymouth for their annual summer holidays, and that he played a lot of golf at Came Down with the Whitcombe brothers. Marjorie Ryder published a booklet in 1979, after an earlier letter to the Daily Telegraph, which gave great credence to the fact that the germ of the idea of the Ryder Cup was indeed planted in Weymouth.

In the middle of 1924, the Herts Advertiser had publicly announced that Messrs Heath and Heather (Sam Ryder’s company) were contemplating challenging the Americans to a match. A month later, a competition took place at St George’s Hill and Oxhey between George Duncan and Abe Mitchell,who played the mighty American players, Walter Hagen and Macdonald Smith. A year later there was another ‘preliminary’ test, this time the players being Duncan and Mitchell versus Ernest and Charlie Whitcombe.

In July 1925, amatch took place at the Verulam Golf Club, St Albans, between Mitchell and Jim Barnes, the Cornishman who had emigrated to the United States and won their PGA Championship the first two times it was played. In 1926, an international match between Great Britain and the USA did take place, atWentworth, which caused a great deal of interest. But this was not declared an official Ryder Cup match because of the uncertain economic times. For example, the General Strike was looming.

It was then decided there would be an official match between the professionals of both countries the following year in America. The actual Ryder Cup was seen for the first time at the Verulam Golf Club on May 18, 1927, where Mrs Helen Ryder handed it over to the PGA for safekeeping. George Gadd, the PGA chairman at the time, received it and the following month the first official Ryder Cup matches took place at the Worcester Golf & Country Club in Massachusetts. The rest, of course, is history.

And what a history it has led to. Although the tied match of 1969 – yes, 40 years ago – generated much publicity and many headlines surrounding Jack Nicklaus’s concession of that putt to Tony Jacklin, even as recently as that no one could have imagined the Ryder Cup would become as big as it is today. And I must say that I find it fascinating that there appear to be these “loose ends” surrounding the inauguration of thematches. These may not be on the same scale as the theories of Charles Darwin versus the ecclesiastical teachings of the world, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

April 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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