AS THE world of golf looks forward to a return to the Olympic arena in 2016, a link with the sport’s inclusion at the most notorious Games in history is now residing on Merseyside.
Golf made its last appearance at the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin when Hitler’s regime attempted to hi-jack the event for their own propaganda purposes.
Carl Diem, Secretary General of the Organising Committee, actually devised the idea of the Torch Relay from Greece to the Olympic venue as part of an event organised under the guidance of Joseph Goebbels.
The Germans also thought a golf event would give them a platform for scoring another publicity coup – only to be undone by a Yorkshireman and his teammate from Hesketh Golf Club in Southport.
Now the club has been able to restore its connection to a remarkable golfing story by purchasing the Hitler Trophy at an auction in Chester.
Nazi officials had turned to golf in a bid to restore their sporting pride after the success of Jesse Owens did so much to scupper their propaganda hopes. And so it was that the Great Golf Prize of Nations was contested in Baden-Baden.
It was a two-man team event for an impressive silver-gilt salver inlaid with eight large amber discs, donated by Hitler. England were represented by Hesketh’s Arnold Bentley and Tommy Thirsk from Bridlington.
Thirty-six countries had been invited to Baden-Baden but only seven were to compete for the ‘Great Prize’.
Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Italy were the other countries taking part – with Hitler fully expecting to hand over his prize to the successful home team.
After three rounds the German team – 19-year-old Leonard von Beckerath and C A Hellmers – enjoyed a three-stroke lead.
Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, who was representing Hitler at the championship, rashly notified him of an imminent home victory.
Hitler immediately set out for Baden-Baden to enjoy the German triumph and to present his trophy to two of his ‘master race.’
The English pair had other ideas, however, and in the afternoon Thirsk returned a record 65 and although Bentley struggled to a 75, it was still enough to the win the trophy by four strokes from France, with Germany relegated to third place, 12 shots adrift.
Ribbentrop raced off by car to intercept Hitler and to convey the bad tidings. Hitler was furious at being denied the opportunity to celebrate a German victory and ordered his chauffeur to return to Berlin, leaving Dr Karl Henkell to present the trophy.
Says former Hesketh club captain David Harrison: “The English pairing had achieved the distinction of turning back Hitler in his own country!
“The outcome of Hitler’s ‘Great Golf Prize of Nations’ tournament was not what the promoters had hoped for and records of the event appear to have been air-brushed out.
“Professor Dr. Dietrich Quanz from Cologne, who has carried out considerable research into 1936 Olympic Games with particular reference to the golf, was not able to find any records whatsoever in the German archives relating to that famous victory – or that infamous defeat!”
The trophy was an impressive sight, created by Berlin goldsmith Professor Lettrei.
Adds Harrison: “Amber was selected by the jeweller as it was recognised as a true German stone, found primarily along the southern shores of the Baltic.”
As Thirsk and Bentley were representing the England, the salver became the property of the English Golf Union, but that was just the start of its journey. It was presented to the Golfers Club in 1955, but after that was closed down in 1996 it turned up in Glasgow before going on display at the British Golf Museum, St Andrews. But Hesketh members had long believed that their clubhouse was probably the most appropriate destination for it and when the club’s treasurer made a successful bid of £15,000 at the Chester auction, there were sighs of relief and elation.
Adds Harrison: “Hesketh members had responded magnificently to club President Derek Holden’s appeal for donations to fund the purchase.”
It now takes pride of place in the club’s Bentley Room along with the other silverware donated to the club by Arnold’s son Robert.
It was also on show when Hesketh met Ganton on Sunday – the two clubs play home and away fixtures every Olympic year to commemorate the 1936 event.