My active interest in golf came late in life, largely due to two individuals who ignited an interest that would enable me to enjoy the pleasures of the game so much. Both were professional golfers but of widely different generations; one, the greatest British golfer of his era; the other, a European Tour player. I was privileged to have known them both, albeit in vastly different circumstances.
I was given my very first golf lesson in an Edinburgh hotel car park by a 72 year old, 50 years after he played in the 2nd Ryder Cup at Moortown. Born in 1907, professional at 17, Henry Cotton became renowned as the public schoolboy who changed the face of professional golf. He achieved particular fame during the 1930s and 1940s, with three Open Championship victories (1934, 1937, and 1948), over 25 European titles and four times Ryder Cup player. His coaching stressed the need to build up hand and forearm strength, which he demonstrated by smashing a 2 Iron into a side of a car tyre. Henry had travelled from Portugal with his wife Toots to attend a private lunch I was hosting, an experience I will never forget.
His name remains associated with golf to this day through the “Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award”, made to the European Tour’s most promising newcomer. Introduced in 1960 the Award lists many who went on to become golfing greats, including Jacklin, Torrance, Faldo Olazabal, Montgomerie and Garcia.
But it was the 7th winner of the Award in 1970, Stuart Brown, who was to most influence my golfing interests and abilities. After a string of victories at home and abroad, Stuart’s Tour career was halted by a back injury.
But his involvement in golf continued as a Midlands PGA Official, as 1989 Midlands PGA Captain, and an ever popular and skilful club professional with his own spectacular golf show. He enjoyed a particular successful time at the prestigious Northamptonshire County Golf Club at Church Brampton before moving as Director of Golf to Slaley Hall near Hexham, Northumberland in 1991.
We first met at a corporate golf day in 1986 where we discovered our previous mutual links with Henry Cotton and thereafter became great friends. Thanks to Stuart’s patient coaching skills my interest in golf blossomed from absolute novice to a very handy handicapper. We played on many occasions, the most amusing being a round with Frank Carson, who treated us to an on course four hour cabaret.
Sadly, Stuart died suddenly on December 10, 1995, aged just 49, after collapsing while training for the Seniors Tour. Perhaps ironically Henry Cotton also died in the month of December, 7 years earlier. Sir Henry is buried near his beloved Penina course; Stuart in a quiet corner of Colinton churchyard in Edinburgh not far from Bruntsfield Links where the first recorded game of golf was played in 1456.