The Hitler Trophy: Golf and the Olympic Games by Alan Fraser, published by Floodlit Dreams.
This is stirring stuff, a book that rattles along covering all sorts of ground as it examines the history of golf in and (mostly) out of the Olympic Games and traces the sometimes tortuous journey of a unique trophy, which is now proudly displayed in the Bentley Room at Hesketh Golf Club in Southport, Lancashire. The detective work involved is impressive and the characters involved, both ancient and modern, are compelling.
Alan Fraser, the author, is a Scot who has written about sport, golf in particular, for many years, covering every Open Championship from 1978 – 2014 and the Olympics in Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London. He sets the stage for golf’s return to the Olympics in Rio this summer and perhaps the only new thing under the sun is the stringent drug testing that the golfers will have to undergo. Rows, withdrawals, worries about half-completed venues, they’re an Olympic staple.
This year, viruses permitting, there will be 60 men and 60 women competing, separately, in a 72-hole individual event. The likes of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett will be trying to emulate Charles Sands, of Yonkers, New York, who won the gold medal in Paris (the course was at Compiegne) in 1900 over 36 holes and George Lyon, of Canada, who won in 1904 in St Louis. He turned up to defend his title in London in 1908 but no other golfers pitched up and Lyon declined to accept the gold medal by default.
In 1900, Peggy Abbott, an American socialite who played at the Chicago Golf Club and had spent time in Paris studying art with Degas and Rodin, won the 9-hole women’s event. The medals, however, were awarded retrospectively and she died in 1955 not even knowing that she was an Olympian let alone the first American woman to win a gold medal!
In 1904, the women were banned altogether and Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games, was vehemently against any female participation, calling it “incorrect, unpractical, uninteresting and unaesthetic”. Wonderful stuff.
The Hitler Trophy, more correctly the Golfpreis der Nationen, Gegeben Vom Fuhrer und Reichskanzler (donated by the Fuhrer and Chancellor of the Reich, Adolf Hitler), was contested in Baden-Baden in 1936, just after the Olympics in Berlin. Seven two-man teams played 72 holes of strokeplay over two days, lowest combined total to win.
England, represented by Tom Thirsk, a Yorkshireman who played at Bridlington and Ganton and Arnold Bentley, a Lancastrian from Hesketh, were the winners. France were second and Germany were third. The hosts had been doing well enough for Hitler, allegedly, to set off for Baden-Baden to present the trophy but he was headed off and, allegedly, huffed his way home!
Read the book to learn more about Thirsk and Bentley, both fascinating characters, the Hitler Tree and how Derek Holden, pictured below, photo by Alex Ridley, helped secure the trophy for Hesketh.