No account of Southerndown Golf Club would be complete without mentioning the Duncan family - not one but several massively important figures who helped shape the future of Southerndown Golf Club and of Welsh golf as a whole.
The Centenary Book of the Welsh Golfing Union opens with a dedication:
To the Duncan family, without whose enormous efforts in administration and playing the Welsh Golfing Union might not have survived to the present day. And in particular to the family’s most senior active survivor, Lt Col. A.A. (Tony) Duncan. If it had not been for his chocolate cake, tea and seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of Welsh Golf, this book might never have been finished. (John Hopkins, London 1994.)
The family’s background was in journalism. John Duncan was the managing director of a newspaper firm which published the South Wales News and The Echo. Tony would probably have become a journalist had not his father sold the firm in the mid-1920s. Following this the family moved to Southerndown in 1929.
John’s sister Blanche dominated the Welsh Women Amateur Championship between 1905 and 1912, winning the title on five occasions while his wife Margery took the title three times. In 1909 Blanche and John became the only brother and sister to win the Welsh Championships in the same year. It is unlikely that the feat will ever be beaten. Yet that is only one achievement in a golfing dynasty that has never yet been bettered.
And the dynasty did not stop there. John Duncan’s brother Hugh reached the semi final of the Welsh Amateur Championships two years in succession in the first decade of the twentieth century. His sister Ethel played for South Wales and Glamorgan, while brother Eric led the Southerndown team to the Welsh Team Championships in 1921.
John Duncan was involved with Southerndown Golf Club from the early days. He was club champion in 1921, 1922 and 1931. Welsh Amateur Champion in 1905 and 1909, he captained Wales in their first international match against Ireland just before the First World War. He was Glamorgan County Champion and, as well as Southerndown, claimed the club championships at Glamorganshire and Royal Porthcawl on a number of occasions.
At the time of his death in 1952 John Duncan was Chairman of the Welsh Golfing Union and President of Glamorgan County Golf Union. A talented journalist, he also played rugby for Cardiff.
Lt Colonel Tony Duncan began his golfing career by trailing around after his parents at Southerndown. As he often said, he was indebted to the club for turning a blind eye to the sight of himself and his brothers playing across the course before they were old enough to become junior members. It was not long before he was winning accolades:
“Congratulations to Miss Barbara Pyman and Mr A.A.Duncan for the honour they had brought to the club. It was very pleasant to think that both the Welsh Ladies' and Gentlemen's reigning Welsh Champions were members of Southerndown.
Tony Duncan (right) about to be presented by Bernard Darwin with the President’s Putter at Rye after his victory over Gerald Micklem.
He played for his country on 51 separate occasions and twice won the President’s Putter.
Tony Duncan during the Walker Cup trials at St Andrews in 1938.
Army Champion on seven occasions, Tony Duncan was Runner up in the British Amateur Championships in 1939. He was club champion at Royal Porthcawl and at Southerndown. He reached the final of five Welsh championships, losing only once, and was the first Welshman to Captain the Walker Cup team.
Good sportsmanship was displayed by the British Walker Cup team during their match with the United States in 1953. The American James Jackson was found to have 16 clubs in his bag, which called for immediate disqualification. The British Team captained by Tony Duncan, refused to accept such a victory and modified the penalty to a loss of two holes. America went on to win. The headline in the press the following morning read: “Britannia Waives the Rules!"
Tony’s brother George was a semi finalist in the Welsh Amateur in 1956 while his uncle Douglas was Captain of Royal Porthcawl and Glamorganshire. In 1956 George won the President’s Putter at his first attempt - thus ensuring that he and Tony became the first brothers ever to win the event.
The Duncan family name will always be associated with amateur golf - and, in particular, with Southerndown Golf Club - due to the staging of the Duncan Putter each spring. The hickory-shafted putter used to belong to John Duncan and was presented for the competition by his son Tony and his wife Ann.
Stories about the Duncans are far too numerous to recount. However, one tale related by Ted Dexter and printed in Tony’s obituary after his death in 1998 is worth telling -
“On the first tee I saw this old duffer in plus fours with a small bag and a funny swing and I thought to myself “Poor bugger. What chance has he got against the great Dexter?" Off we went. He would go “pop” and hit the ball with that jerky swing of his. Then he would line up his putt and “plop” in they would go. He beat me by one hole."
That match was in the Cambridge and Worplesdon game. Tony Duncan may have had an unorthodox swing but it had been learned on the links at Southerndown and was ideal for coping with blustery conditions.
Tony Duncan v Jack Nicklaus
In 1966 Tony Duncan was referee in the Piccadilly World Golf Championships at Wentworth. The final was between Nicklaus and Gary Player.
“On the ninth," said Duncan, “Jack hit an enormous hook that would have been out of bounds if there hadn’t been a ditch along the out of bounds. He finished in the ditch."
Tony Duncan allowed Nicklaus to drop two club lengths inside the out of bounds line under penalty of one stroke. This, the American proceeded to do. Then, however, he saw - some 50 yards ahead - an advertising sign and immediately asked for relief under line of sight rule. Tony Duncan stood behind Nicklaus’ ball and decided that the sign was not in line between the ball and the pin and so refused to allow a drop.
As they went to the next tee Jack Nicklaus told Tony Duncan that his decision had been wrong. Duncan believed that Nicklaus’ drop had gone into a bad lie and that the line of sight request was nothing more than an excuse to re-drop the ball. Hence the refusal.
There were acrimonious letters between the two men following the championship, each of them clearly sticking to their guns. For people like Henry Cotton, however, Duncan’s decision was the correct one - “I wish there were more referees like Tony Duncan," he said, “as fair, as knowledgeable and as experienced."
Tony Duncan and Jack Nicklaus never met or spoke again.
Southerndown Golf Club
Ogmore by Sea