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Golfing Greats from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

For Ryder Cup weekend, the Oxford DNB has chosen 18 British makers of modern golf—from Edinburgh pioneer, William St Clair (d.1778), to Alister Mackenzie (d.1934), the Yorkshire architect who designed over 100 courses in the United States, including Cypress Point and Augusta. The eighteen—chosen from the Oxford DNB’s 55,000 lives—also include some famous women golfers, plus one or two club-house surprises.

In addition to St Clair and Mackenzie, the ODNB’s selection includes:

Thomas Mathison (bap. 1721, d. 1760), who is best known as the author of “The Goff”, an Heroi-Comical Poem (1743), the first printed book devoted entirely to golf. A poem of more than 300 lines, “The Goff” recounts with irony and satire a game on the shores of the Firth of Forth. This was a match between Castalio (an Edinburgh bookseller, Alexander Dunning) and Pygmalion (Mathison himself) who was described as being ‘skilled in Goffing art’.

Joyce Wethered (1901–1997) entered twelve British ladies’ championships, winning nine, and coming second in two in the 1920s and 30s. It was reputed that she did not hear an express train roaring behind her back while putting for the match at her first English championship in 1920. Wethered also captained the first British Curtis cup team against the United States in 1932.

George Glennie (1818–1886),
originally from Montrose in Scotland, Glennie became a leading player at the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, near London—the English society which claims to trace its origins to the late sixteenth century. In the words of a contemporary, Glennie ‘played every stroke as if it were the stroke of the match. Exactness was … second nature; he could not afford to foozle.’

Edward [Ted] Ray (1877–1943), is one of only three Britons to win Open championships on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1926 Ray captained a British Isles team which played an American side in a precursor of the Ryder Cup; he also played three times in the Ryder Cup itself. A huge, lumbering man, Ray was outgoing and ebullient. Once, when teaching, he was asked by a young player how to gain more distance: ‘hit it a bloody sight harder, mate!’ was his response.

Continue reading the Oxford DNB’s Ryder Cup selection.

In addition to its golfers, the Oxford DNB also offers a free ‘Life of the Day’ sent daily to your in-box, plus a range of topical lives in our free monthly Reading Room.

Thank you Philip Carter for compiling this post.

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