The Welsh Team Championships, one of the most prestigious amateur golf competitions, was first played in 1895 soon after the founding of The Welsh Golfing Union of which The Glamorganshire Golf Club was a founding member. The Glamorganshire were runners up on that occasion and this was repeated in 1897. However, with the influx of top flight golfers, including John Duncan (senior member of a dynasty of an outstanding golfing family) and the legendary Henry Howell (the most prodigious Welsh Amateur Champion of all time) the Club set about dominating the Championships for the first four decades of the Twentieth Century. It won the Championships a record 14 times and was runner up 7 times. To date no other club has approached this level of dominance.
From the outbreak of the Second World War this golfing giant appears to have fallen into a deep sleep until the weekend of the 14th to the 16th August. A call to arms was sounded when the Club was given the honour of hosting the Championships during the 125th Anniversary of it’s founding.
32 teams from all corners of The Principality qualified for the final stages. Few gave The Glamorganshire much chance of making it beyond round1, such had been the relative mediocrity of their first team’s success rate this year.
The course was set up magnificently by Mike Williams and his fellow greens staff. It drew rapturous compliments from players and officials. If azaleas had been growing on the course then, such was it’s pristine state, one might have been excused for believing it was Augusta National.
The first day’s play was delayed for 3 hours due to a deluge of rain. Some teams were unable to conclude their games due to failing light and were obliged to return the following morning to finish them. The Royal Porthcawl team was the only one to suffer as a result. One of their number, a consultant radiologist, had booked himself in for appointments and was unable to play. Fortunately their team won their match against Bargoed but weren’t so fortunate in their following match against Radyr. Royal Porthcawl had called up their reserve to play but his car broke down en route. Without his services Radyr quickly put them to the sword. Porthcawl members have a saying: “There is a right way, a wrong way and a Porthcawl way.” In this case the Porthcawl way was found wanting!
The Glamorganshire had been drawn against Clays from Wrexham in the 1st round. The home team secured a comfortable win. Their 2nd round opponents were local rivals, The Vale of Glamorgan. Into the team came one of the Club’s ancient warhorses, Simon Curle, who had been a mainstay of the first team since being a boy wonder in the 1970’s. As he soon discovered, time stands still for no golfer. A number of low raking hooks persuaded Simon to rest himself for the next round.
It was another old stager of the team, Martin Price, who showed his true worth in this game. He had just celebrated his 50th birthday and had been heavily involved in being South Wales Coast Captain and Chairman of The Glamorgan Golfing Union over the past year. This, apart from filling a few extra teeth to make ends meet, meant that he had little spare time to concentrate on competitive golf. However, he was the captain’s pick for this tournament. Many, including Martin, were surprised at the choice but it proved to be a master stroke.
Martin had been drawn to play one of The Vale’s young guns. He was old enough to be ‘young gun’s’ grandfather and his handicap was 7 strokes worse. Against all the heavy betting placed on his opponent, Martin was 3 holes up at the turn and went on to finish off ‘young gun’ on the 17th. It was a feat that he was to repeat in the next 2 rounds.
The Glamorganshire’s victory over The Vale was a great scalp and propelled the team into the quarter finals. Better was to follow in their next match against one of the major favourites, Neath. Neath were reigning Glamorgan Premier League Champions with an awesome reputation. They could bully opponents in the same way as the brutish Brian Thomas had done for Neath RFC. The confrontation was built up as a total mismatch. Dwarfs versus giants or to put it more starkly, The Bluebirds against The Swans.
Up to inspire his team came ‘Captain Marvel’, Jordan, who was pitted against Neath’s most formidable player. Someone whose golfing prowess was feared by all comers. Jordan stood up to the plate and as David had done to Goliath so ‘Captain Marvel’ slew his opponent with a dazzling exhibition of golf. It was a signal to his teammates behind to follow his lead and they dutifully obliged.
The Glamorganshire had not featured in a semi final since 1988. Another keen local rival, Radyr, were waiting in the wings to take them on. Word got out to The Glamorganshire members that something special was happening and urging them to come and support the boys the following morning. They did so in substantial numbers which added to the drama which was about to unfold. The match was to be nail biting stuff right through to the very last putt.
‘Captain Marvel’ again led from the front and won his game. Pat Welch and Dan ‘Spud’ Reid stumbled in their games to narrow losses, leaving it to the old heads, Brian Rigby and Martin Price, to try and turn the match round. The omens weren’t looking good as they faced going down the 18th. They were both 1 down but miraculously were able to win the hole resulting in a sudden death down extra holes.
Going down the first extra hole, the par 4 1st, Brian hit a storming drive and struck his second shot into the middle of the green. His opponent was on the green in 3. Brian put him out of his misery with a superb 15 foot putt which was accompanied by an outburst of joy from his supporters.
By now the crowds had really built up along the 1st fairway. Martin and his opponent both hit the green in 2 with Martin slightly closer to the hole. The Radyr man just missed his putt and Martin lipped out with his. Both putts were then conceded.
The second extra hole was the tricky par 3 2nd. The hole was positioned in the jaws of 2 bunkers at the front of the green. It was the narrowest part of the green, only some 18 feet across with the green sloping up to the bunkers. Martin struck a lovely shot which came to rest 10 feet short of the pin. His opponent’s ball ended up some 12 feet diagonally above the hole and close to a bunker. The Radyr player failed to take full account of the borrow and his putt sailed by the hole. Although The Glamorganshire members wouldn’t normally wish ill on an opponent, it was clear from the expression on their faces what they were hoping as they watched the progress of that putt.
There was a deathly hush and a great intake of breath by the crowd as Martin stepped up to take his putt. It wasn’t a simple one but there was no major borrow in it’s path and provided it was struck well there shouldn’t be any real problem. Time seemed to stand still and it felt like an eternity before the ball fell into the cup. The crowd immediately erupted, orchestrated by Martin uncharacteristically doing a Woosie whoop and pose. It was accompanied by Martin being engulfed in rapturous embraces by teammates and supporters. You would have thought that the team had just won The Ryder Cup such was the outbreak of unparalleled joy.
The whole occasion had certainly been emotionally draining and the team had little recovery time before facing Parc Golf Club in the final. The Glamorganshire hadn’t reached this stage in the competition for 78 years, over 50 years before their opponent club was founded!
Jordan again led off, followed by Brian, Martin, Pat and Dan. Captain Marvel continued with his very impressive run of form and chalked up his 5th successive victory. Those behind him were clearly feeling the pressure from the magnitude of the occasion. The sheer exhaustion, both physically and mentally, from playing so many rounds of intensely competitive golf was beginning to taken it’s toll. Brian, who had been remarkably steady in previous rounds, found his game falling apart and he lost quite heavily. Martin, who had been up at the turn in his game, tired during the back 9 and eventually fell at the 16th. Pat, who had again been winning at the turn eventually lost 3 holes in a row to lose his game on the 17th and with it the match.
Although not the fairy tale ending The Glamorganshire team and members had been hoping it had been a Herculean effort. To get so far in the tournament had been totally unexpected. Nevertheless, the team had played it’s best and most consistent golf for some considerable time.
There might well have been stronger teams representing the Club since the 1930’s but for sheer tenacity and grit this team takes all the honours and were very worthy finalists. If nothing else it is to be hoped that their outstanding achievements will put The Glamorganshire back at the golfing top table where it belongs and inspire youngsters to emulate the heroes of 2015.