I was in Stoke yesterday for the memorial service of Geoffrey Conway (Geoff) Marks, who was quite a golfer and an even better man. He was a stalwart of Trentham Golf Club – it’ll take quite a while for the members to get used to the fact that Geoff is not at his usual table for lunch, setting the world to rights – and Staffordshire, wearing his skills so lightly that many people had no idea how good he was.
He played for England, and beyond, was a member of the Great Britain and Ireland team that won the Walker Cup at St Andrews in 1971 after years of despair and was captain of GB and I when they won the Walker Cup for the first time in America, in 1989, at Peachtree, Georgia. The visitors nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory but Geoff’s calmness in the face of disintegration and humiliation (always hovering menacingly where golf is involved) helped calm enough of his players to dredge up the 1 1/2 points required from the eight singles matches.
Geoff was a cricketer who batted left-handed but bowled right, was a left back (mostly) at hockey who barely seemed to move because he read the game so well that he was Bobby Moore-ish in his positioning, almost always in the right place and a devoted golfer who travelled miles and competed fiercely, all in the name of playing for fun. He earned his living as an architect, met his wife Joanne on a green at Harlech clad in an eye-catching, life-changing pale blue cashmere sweater – thanks to the resounding Reverend Geoffrey Eze for that revelation – and introduced her to a life in which golf loomed large, first as a player then as an administrator.
I was too young, honest, to see Geoff in his prime but I learned about him, David Marsh, Trevor Homer, Rodney James, Martin Poxon, Peter McEvoy (our best man) and numerous others from Dai, my husband, whose parishioners they were when he worked for The Birmingham Post. I felt I knew them, even thought I didn’t, really, but I did get to know them a bit over the years, read about their exploits and absorbed their love of the game, the joy they had in playing and competing, sharing the triumphs and defeats and enjoying each other’s company.
Yesterday, there were memorials to Geoff from his brother Christopher, eight years younger but a double-take lookalike; Frank Botham, a hockey mate whose golfing ineptitude tested even Geoff’s famed equanimity; David Marsh, whose 2-iron (I think) to the heart of the infamous 17th, the Road Hole, at St Andrews, sealed that Walker Cup triumph in 1971; and Keith Hodgkinson, a Staffordshire man through and through whose golf, and life, were transformed and enriched by GC Marks. It was a lovely, sad, emotional occasion.
Back at a packed Trentham for the wake, Mr Homer assumed I was a dispenser of tea (the smart grey and black outfit is now on its way out!) but I still deemed him worthy of the latest treasure I’d unearthed during my never-ending de-cluttering. I didn’t think to photograph it for blog purposes, so it isn’t here but it was a fully-filled-in (by Dai) draw sheet, running to several pages, of the Amateur Championship at Muirfield in 1974. In the 5th round, Marks was beaten by Poxon, who lost in the semi-final to Jim Gabrielsen of the United States, who was beaten by Homer in the final.
It’s always great to find the right home for things and Trevor was chuffed, not least because he’s going to be playing at Muirfield soon, for the first time since that win in 1974, a Christmas present from one of his sons. Muirfield, reputation notwithstanding, is a warm-hearted place (admittedly, they do seem to pride themselves on keeping that quiet!) and I’m sure they’ll welcome the Homers whole-heartedly, whatever the current quality, or lack thereof, of their golf.
Also back to pay tribute to a friend, mentor and inspiration were Lisa Hall (nee Hackney, nicknamed Hackers cos she wasn’t one at all) and her husband Martin, who’d flown in, shivering, from Florida. Lisa, who grew up at Trentham and became a Solheim Cup player, couldn’t remember not knowing Geoff and Martin, now one of the best-respected teachers in the world of golf, spent hours playing with Geoff and talking golf, golf, golf and, probably, life.
Geoffrey Conway Marks is a sad loss but, like all the best people, he’s still here, living on in his family and friends, making us all laugh, cry, try harder.