The Press Golfing Society began when six journalists instituted the London Press Golfing Society in the Press Club at Wine Office Court, Fleet Street on 21 October 1904.
These six: Emsley Carr, Lincoln Springfield, SJ Southerton, Henry Leach (editor of Golf Illustrated), JE Fowler-Dixon and Arthur Porrit, co-opted Dr. TJ MacNamara (a Liberal MP) and Hartley Aspden, and formed a provisional committee. By the following year there were 78 members. Our first captain was News of the World editor Emsley (later Sir Emsley) Carr whose name adorns our yearly matchplay knock- out trophy.
The committee was strengthened by the addition of Gloucester and England cricketer Gilbert “The Croucher” Jessop, “as ferocious a hitter at golf as he had been at cricket” who achieved a scratch handicap by 1911. JE Fowler-Dixon, our first secretary, a moustachioed Lord Lucan look-alike, was a notable amateur athlete- long distance walk and middle distance runner – who attended every Olympic from Athens in 1896 to Paris in 1924, last competing at the age of 55 at the intercalated Athens Olympics of 1906.
He was succeeded by his son SW Fowler-Dixon who held the secretaryship till 1945.
In 1907 Emsley Carr was succeeded as captain by George Riddell (handicap 8), afterwards Lord Riddell, whose cup we also play for. Riddell, who introduced his friends Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to golf, was the business brains behind the once near bankrupt NoW’s meteoric rise in circulation in the early part of the century from a piffling 51,000 to 4,000,000, by the time of his death in 1934. Riddell was also a great golf enthusiast who acquired Walton Heath for his paper.
As a result the Society has had a long and happy association with that club- as late as 1970 we were paying just 1.25 a head for lunch, two rounds of golf and tea! Bill Needham, the legendary advertising director of the Daily Express, recalls an even more favourable pre- war deal at Walton Heath. Green fees were never charged to PGS members and if the barman heard Lord Riddell (who lived just by the club) say “Good morning” to you, your bar bill was also paid for.
Those were the days.
In 1911 that great golf writer Bernard Darwin became our captain (handicap plus 4).
There followed such illustrious golfing names as golf artist and scratch player Harry Rountree, parliamentary correspondent Guy L’Estrange, Sir Frank Newnes of the publishing empire, golf international and writer CB Macfarlane (plus 3), the Hon JJ Astor, Sir Emsley Carr (again in 1932), Sir Neville Pearson, Henry Longhurst (plus 2) and Harry Ainsworth.
In 1945 we dropped the London from our title to widen the scope of membership. Reg Hinder took over as secretary after World War II, a post he held for 20 years, combining it with PR work for the Gas Board.
Our long and happy association with the News of the World continued with Sir William Carr serving as our President for a total of 14 years till 1971. In fact, from 1967 to 1969, the affairs of the society were organised from Bouverie Street, where Sir Bill’s PA Roger Hall became secretary and allowed the PGS to use his office.
Sir Bill’s Fleet Street connection ended when his paper was acquired by Rupert Murdoch who, having no interest in golf (a missed opportunity for Sky?) sold Walton Heath to the members. John Gordon, editor of the Sunday Express in its four-million circulation heyday and pungent columnist with his Current Affairs, followed Sir William as President. and we play for his Golden Putter for the season’s top competitor.
The late Viscount Rothermere, as the Hon Vere Harmsworth, took over as President from 1975.
He was followed by Lord Matthews of the Express in 1985. He quit when United Newspapers took over his Express group to be followed by Lord “Bill” Deedes, an exceptionally active President, whose speeches were full of whimsical charm on his golf day and at dinners,from 1986 to 1994.
His successor the Hon Vyvyan Harmsworth made his President’s Day at Walton Heath one of the highlights of our year. Much appreciated was his bonhomie at the annual Wryter Cup match against the French press, started in 1990 as the brainchild of honorary PGS member Francis Lesur, then President of Hardelot GC to foster closer links between French and British journalists..
Mention must also be made of Vyvyan’s wife Alexandra, enthusiastic supporter at our events. Together they hosted our splendid centenary dinner at Claridge’s in 2004 before Vyvyan handed the Presidency over to Lord Deedes’s son Jeremy Deedes also of the Daily Telegraph. With Jeremy then passing the Presidency to Sir Nicholas Lloyd in 2009.
In 1965 Geoffrey White, now a PGS Vice-President, joined the committee and served for 24 years, almost a decade as secretary. Jeremy Chapman was then Secretary for seven years, followewd by David Hamilton for four years. He was succeeded by Ian Doran in 1990, who handed the baton over to Paolo Minoli in 2000, after firmly putting the Society in the ascendant.
Famous sportsmen with journalistic connections have played a prominent part in the PGS including 1966 captain Walley Barnes, the Arsenal centre-half and Sir Len Hutton, first professional captain of an England Test team and a doughty single figure golfer. England cricketers Ted Dexter and Ken Barrington battled for the Sir Emsley Carr trophy in 1970 with Barrington winning at the 37th. Snooker legend, Joe Davis was also a member.
We had two Battle of Britain pilots as members, Walker Cup star PB “Laddie” Lucas (plus 2) and Brian Considine, one of only eight Irishmen among The Few, and a capable 3-handicapper in his prime.
Arthur Christiansen who built the Daily Express to a four million plus circulation was our President in 1955.
More recent national newspaper editors have included the late Michael Christiansen, who built the Sunday Mirror to formidable heights in the 1970’s, Kelvin MacKenzie (ex-Sun), Piers Morgan (ex-Daily Mirror) and centenary captain Sir Nicholas Lloyd who edited the Daily Express for a decade till 1995.
The Daily Telegraph sports editor the late Kingsley Wright was an innovative captain in 1978 and 1983 captain Norman Dixon, a Vice- President, was for thirty years the stalwart of the Daily Express sports desk.
For years the PGS had just one honorary woman member, the great golfer Cecil Leitch who never came to meetings, and as late as the 1980’s opposition to the admission of ordinary women members was fierce, though no-one then realised that as early as 1921 the committee had decided that women journalists could be admitted.
Indeed one was, a Miss Hogg of the Evening Standard in 1932. But when our minute books till 1960 went missing (only to turn up at a golf memorabilia auction in 2000) all this was forgotten.
However, thanks to the persistent efforts of golf writer Liz Kahn, she and other women journalists were finally admitted, and Liz became our first woman PGS committee member and the first woman to be captain in 1994. Philippa Kennedy, Captain in 2002, is the second woman to hold the honour.
The Vic Woodman Memorial Trophy was put up for the best British Wryter Cup player each year, in memory of Vic, 30 years a member, who sadly died too young in 2001.
We do battle against the Golf Club Secretaries Association. Many of the secretaries are from clubs we play at.
The society owes much to the newspaper industry which has always been warmly supportive, so by way of return we hold a charity auction in aid of the Newspaper Press Fund under the expert gavel of Vice- President Monty Court. Since 1977 Monty has managed to hammer out of us over £120,000 for the Journalists’ Charity. Well done Monty, and all who contribute.