Saturday, 24 March 2018

Why golfers should never smoke

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As I recall, Ted Douglas was a softly spoken Scottish gentleman. And he was a pretty good golfer too. Actually that’s an understatement. He won the New Zealand Open on four occasions. In 1913 and 1914; and then again in 1919 and 1921. In 1922 he was employed by the Masterton Golf Club as their resident professional. Later he returned to his homeland where he won a number of major tournaments, though never the British Open, and then came back to Masterton in 1947 to once again take up the role as professional at the Lansdowne course.

He bought a house over the road from where I lived with my parents in Opaki Road and became a firm family friend. He and his wife would often baby-sit my sister and me, though baby-sitting usually involved us going over to their place and staying the night. They spoilt us rotten.

Mr Douglas cut down some clubs and set about teaching me to play golf using our expansive backyard as a practice course. He told my father I had a natural swing and one day would be a champion golfer. Well he got that wrong; though this was due more to my lack of motivation than to his professional coaching skills or misjudged foresight.

My father was a keen golfer and was often prone to bring home his golfing partners for a “spot” after a game. Back then a “spot” meant a drink and was usually whisky or brandy of a generous serving poured over ice in a crystal glass. On one such occasion, late on a Saturday afternoon, he turned up with Ted Douglas and Dr Bill Drake. Dr Drake had been a house surgeon at the Masterton Hospital and later a local GP and was a regular visitor to our home on various social occasions.

It so happened earlier on that afternoon I had decided to doctor a cigarette by putting a star fire cracker in the body. Star crackers were bangers sold exclusively by Chinese greengrocers and went off with such ferocity they were eventually banned.

They were about half the length of a cigarette and slightly smaller in circumference. I simply had to remove some of the tobacco, insert the firework and then pack the tobacco back around it.

My parents didn’t smoke, but it was considered “the thing to do” in those days to always have cigarettes on hand for visitors who did.

Once dad’s friends were seated I came in with the packet of Capstan with the volatile cigarette protruding temptingly and offered these to the guests. I could see that my father was looking on in some admiration as it was uncharacteristic for his son to show such impeccable manners.

Like my father Ted Douglas didn’t smoke and so my only potential victim was Dr Drake, sitting comfortably on the piano stool clutching a double-header brandy. He eagerly accepted my offering. I watched him light up and then went over to my father and whispered in his ear that Dr Drake’s cigarette had a star banger within it.

I’ll never forget the speed with which my father sprung out of his chair. Usain Bolt would have been proud of him. He got halfway across the living room floor heading for the unwary doctor intending to disarm the combustible cigarette when the inevitable happened. The explosion reverberated around the room and shelved ornaments came perilously close to destruction.

Dr Drake’s face was also unforgettable. It was totally blackened except for where the shredded pieces of cigarette paper had become attached to it. The hand, that a split second before had lifted the cigarette to his lips, was also dark-stained. He looked for all the world like a black and white minstrel and was momentarily stunned. There was no expression of annoyance in his eyes; in fact there was no expression at all.

I fled the room followed by a string of epithets from my furious father.

Some twenty years later I was at a function in Hawkes Bay where I ran in to Dr Drake. I took the opportunity to offer my sincere apologies, but time it seems had healed all wounds. He laughed about the episode and allowed that he had dined out on the story on numerous occasions.

I didn’t get to hear Ted Douglas’s response, but I imagine he would have said, “I was trying to teach the lad to play golf, not play the fool.”

If only I had listened.

“He enjoys that perfect peace, that peace beyond all understanding, which comes at its maximum only to the man who has given up golf” - P. G. Wodehouse 


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