Saturday, 30 November 2013

Golf, Henry Longhurst, and my gravestone

My Dad became a keen golfer when living in Southampton during the 1960s, and he played for the Inland Revenue all over Hampshire and Dorset, as far afield as Weymouth. He had just become a District Inspector, in charge of one of the several hundred local tax offices that served (and no irony is meant by 'serve') their local communities. It was a 'captain-of-your-own-ship' type of job, with myriad responsibilities, but not necessarily highly stressful. Most well-organised DIs outside London could contrive an afternoon off during the week. And when they did, golf was a popular activity for those hours of leisure, and naturally one talked shop while walking around the course. So all this was officially winked at. Participation in real golfing competitions was in any case encouraged.

Dad became a member of two golf clubs for weekend play. The first, while still working, was the Dunwood Manor Golf Club, near Romsey (which closed in 2012). Then, after retirement in 1981, it was the Hindhead Golf Club, near Haslemere (see He played on until arthritis got to his knees. Eventually he had a double knee-replacement operation in 1993, when aged 73. By then, he'd given up the game but he still followed it on TV, just as he always had. The SKY Sports package was a very good monthly investment for Dad!

His watching of golf on TV had begun back in the late 1960s, just after the BBC launched its first colour TV service on BBC2. It was one of those sports that looked very good in colour - just as snooker did - but with the additional advantage (lacking in a snooker table) that many golf courses were beautiful places with a bit of golfing history attached to them. The fairways and greens and bunkers and other hazards, plus the challenge of a brisk wind, all made the game interesting to watch, even for a non-player. I was myself hooked to the extent of learning the basics while at school with a local pro, and certainly making it a family ritual to sit down for an hour with Dad to watch the Big Three of the day go round together on a famous course.

I wonder if your memory stretches back to those BBC2 programmes? They featured Arnold Palmer (1929-), Gary Player (1935-) and Jack Nicklaus (1940-), accompanied by Henry Longhurst (1909-1978), who looked like a fatherly Oldest Member, and who provided the knowledgeable commentary. It was basically a grand tour, week after week, of all the most iconic courses of the land, especially Scottish courses, showcasing three world-class players. It must have been watched by millions. If you want to read a little about these people's careers, look at:

Just north of Brighton, along the north side of the South Downs, is a string of villages. One of them is Keymer. And in the churchyard there, in sight of the Jack and Jill windmills up on the Downs (which he used to own), I found the grave of Henry Longhurst. Here it is:

The gravestone says this:

Writer & Broadcaster
18 March 1909-21 July 1978

and his loving wife
née SIER
18 Dec. 1908-3 Dec. 1992

Late of Clayton Windmills
Beloved parents of Susan & Oliver

Now that's what I call a gravestone full of relevant genealogical material! When erected, presumably in 1978 and then again (after Mrs Longhurst died) in 1992, it must have been a very handsome stone indeed. Sadly, wind and rain and lichen are starting to diminish its whiteness and legibility. I imagine however that this is Keymer's most 'famous' burial.

I did like Henry Longhurst. He seemed the epitome of gentle-voiced good nature, and his devotion to golf was part of his very soul. However, I have never read any of his books. Perhaps I should. Secondhand bookshops will still have them. I firmly believe that a good writer - someone who knows their subject inside out, and has the writing skill to express their profound knowledge and enthusiasm - is always worth reading, even if he or she writes about something that is no part of your own life. I would expect to be enthralled and entertained by Mr Longhurst, just as I enjoyed a book on 1940s poaching by the huntin', shootin' and fishin' country sports writer Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald.

But there is sadness here. We must all die, and for all his renown Henry Longhurst left the world 35 years ago. He must be largely forgotten now, except by his family. One day I too will die. Will I get a gravestone like his? Probably not. It might be prohibitively expensive to be buried, or cremation - or even some kind of recycling - might be mandatory by then. But one can still play with the epitaph that could be written on one's stone, if there is one. Now let me see. What about this:

Writer and photographer
6 July 1952 - whenever

She was a very special kind of woman

Yup. That should do it!

1 comment:

  1. I can identify with one of Henry Longhurst's quotations on Wikipedia: “They say 'practice makes perfect.' Of course, it doesn't. For the vast majority of golfers it merely consolidates imperfection.” Quite right. The harder I practiced, the worse I seemed to get. Occasionally I'd amaze myself by hitting a cracker from the long 6th at Radnor, but mostly I spent my time searching for my ball in the adjacent field.

    Henry Longhurst was indeed entertaining, but my favourite is Peter Alliss. You could fill a blog with his witticisms.


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