by Wing Commander Allan Bruce
Much has been written about Colonel Duncan and his contribution to the game of golf in Wales and, in particular, to Southerndown Golf Club. His knowledge, enthusiasm and meticulous attitude to detail, when he inaugurated the Duncan Putter competition in 1959, have assured its continued success for over 40 years.
Writing in The Western Mail in 1959, John Moody commented that Tony Duncan, assisted by Albert Evans, the Welsh Team Captain, and Ivor Nichols, the WGU Vice President, arranged the event with the full support of the Union, who had a valid reason for not organising the event themselves. He did not say why! The main point made by John Moody was that there would at last be a quality 72 hole stroke play competition in Wales, and all credit for this should go to Colonel Duncan.
The tournament derives its name from the trophy presented to the winner - a putter which once belonged to Colonel Duncan’s father, John Duncan, himself a great Welsh golfer.
In 1959 entries to the competition were by invitation and limited to just 44 competitors, who all played on both days. The entries were divided into four categories, 16 established Welsh Internationals, 16 promising Welsh players, 6 middle-aged worthies, and 6 players from outside Wales. Prizes were to be solid silver medals, one each to the winner, second and third placed players, with a fourth to the Welsh under-25 player with the best 72 hole total. In addition a prize would be awarded for the best scratch score of each round, although medal winners would be excluded from these awards.
Clearly Colonel Duncan left nothing to chance. Apart from taking sole responsibility for the administration of the event, he set the pin positions for each of the two days, issued score cards and maintained both the scoreboard and the leader board. Such was the success of his organisation, accomplished with military precision, that the format remained unchanged for 40 years.
From the very beginning, the tournament had great prestige. No fewer than three Walker Cup captains were present at the inaugural event. Tony Williams remembers, with some embarrassment, his contact with one of them. “I was in the changing room," he said, “helping our Secretary to check some lockers, when he noticed someone was practising on the eighteenth green. He asked me to go down and tell Raymond that it was not allowed. Who’s Raymond, I thought to myself as I descended the stairs? Then it hit: it’s R H Oppenheimer. A few minutes earlier I had watched him gliding silently up the clubhouse hill in his Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. It was well known at the time that he was a member of the richest family in the world, with their gold and diamond mining interests in South Africa. Would you fancy, today, telling Bill Gates of Microsoft that he couldn’t do a simple thing like having a few putts on our last green? In the event, Raymond Oppenheimer was charmingly polite and thanked me for telling him. “I’d hate to have a black mark," was the comment, with a smile."
Previous weeks of heavy rain had left the course playing its full length and with high winds on Saturday scoring became very difficult. Iestyn Tucker, the Welsh International, led after two rounds with a score of 148, five strokes ahead of H C Squirrell from Cardiff and G R Bristowe from Surrey on 153.
On Sunday there was a marked deterioration in the weather, driving rain accompanying the high winds in the morning and the scores reflected those conditions. W I Tucker fell away with a score of 82, while H C Squirrell took the overall lead with a fine 75. Meanwhile Gordon Huddy, a Yorkshire county player and twice winner of the Oxford & Cambridge Golfing Society President’s Putter, moved into second place with a remarkable 72. In the final round, played in slight better weather, C D Lawrie was first away returning a creditable 72. Huddy, chipping and putting like a man possessed, was out in 36 and back in 36, finishing with a four yard putt on the 17th and a 10 yard putt on the last. W I Tucker, playing behind, needed a 4 and a 3 at the last two holes to tie. He got his four at the 17th but was bunkered for 2 at the last and with a five finished second with P Lawrie, the Scottish International.
In 1960, the weather conditions, unlike the previous year, were perfect. Iestyn Tucker dominated the tournament from start to finish. He broke the course record with a 68 in the first round and followed that with a 73 to take an eight shot lead into the final day. Playing confidently, he never gave his pursuers the slightest possible chance of catching him, his final margin of victory being ten clear shots. Gordon Clay and Tony Williams from Southerndown finished in 14th and 22nd places respectively.
Huddy and Tucker shared the Putter in 1961 ahead of a field which included two men who subsequently made their name in different spheres of golf: journalist John Moody and architect Donald Steel.
1962 was a golden year for Southerndown with Ted Davies becoming the first and, to date, only Southerndown member to win the Putter, after Gordon Clay had led the field in the first round. Both players went on to represent their country later in the year.
Iestyn Tucker won again in 1963, in conditions which were described as absolutely atrocious with high winds and driving rain. These conditions made his rounds of 75, 75, 73, 73 (296) all the more remarkable and it was described as his best performance ever. It was the quality of his golf that prompted John Moody, the Western Mail golf correspondent, to query why Iestyn had never achieved the fame in British golf that he so richly deserved.
The second Duncan Putter, 1960, was won by Iestyn Tucker, front left. Ann Duncan is second from the left in the front row and her mother-in-law, Margery Duncan, third from the left. John Parry-Jones the winner of the under-25 medal, completes the front row, and is seated in front of Tony Duncan.
Iestyn Tucker is presented with the Welsh Amateur Championship Trophy in 1963 by Mr.R.L.Edwards, Captain of Southerndown Golf Club.
The 1969 weather was kinder than usual with sunshine throughout both days. A strong easterly wind, however, made scoring very difficult and in addition the greens were lightning fast, making a strong nerve and a gentle touch essential for success. “No praise can be too high for Tucker," wrote Colonel Duncan, in describing Iestyn’s remarkable fourth win in this event. After a steady opening round he drew up to second position after 36 holes, took the lead in the vital 3rd round and left the field trailing with a superb final round.
The worst weather in the history of the tournament greeted players on the first day of the 1972 competition. Fog, rain and wind persisted throughout Saturday and caused play to be reduced to one round. On Sunday the fog lifted, the rain departed but the wind was gale force from the north. The final round was a battle between Peter Berry, Peter Moody, Iestyn Tucker and Simon Cox. With eagles at the 6th and 13th, Berry survived the pressure, to finish two strokes ahead of Tucker with Simon Cox a further two strokes back.
In 1974 Simon Cox achieved his first major success as an amateur, defeating Huw Squirrell, Clive Brown and England & Walker Cup International Michael King, all of whom finished tied for second place with scores of 304. Simon had, at the age of 19, finished runner up in the Welsh Stroke Play and reached the semi finals of the Matchplay in 1971 and in 1973 was third in the Welsh Strokeplay. Thus, in 1974, he gained the success he so richly deserved.
“Since 1964 when I was first a member of the Club I have had tremendous pleasure playing a wonderful course which is a challenge to all. It will always be one of my real favourites." John Jermine
1975 saw another first when John Jermine swept to his first major win in Welsh golf when he won The Putter by a record total of eleven strokes. He had previously finished tied second with Peter Oosterhuis in 1968.
The favourite to win had undoubtedly been Sandy Lyle, even though this was his first visit to Southerndown. He had been paired for the first two rounds with the “Old Maestro” of the tournament, Iestyn Tucker. Unfortunately the young 17-year-old Sandy Lyle had difficulties with the greens and in judging distances, his 79 and 78 virtually putting him out of contention.
1976 will be remembered as the year that the 18-year-old Nick Faldo was supposed to compete, but his decision to turn professional three days before the tournament was undoubtedly a disappointment. It did not, however, detract from the excitement of the competition or the quality of the field which included the young Ian Woosnam, captain of the previous year’s Junior Welsh Team. After an absorbing two-day battle, during which they were paired together throughout the 72 holes, Iestyn Tucker and Hogan Stott, the young Lancashire County player, tied with aggregate scores of 268. Ian Woosnam, who finished sixth, recorded a 67 in his final round and won the under 25 medal with a total of 300.
Peter McEvoy, holder of the British Title, outclassed the field in 1978, winning by a record breaking 13 stroke margin, with an aggregate score of 295. He alone mastered the difficult conditions of strong winds throughout and squalls of driving hail. McEvoy began with an outstanding 71, dominating the first round and had a five shot lead over David Stevens and Hugh Evans. The afternoon round produced the highest scores in the history of the tournament, hail storms added to the high winds and players were content just to hang on and avoid disaster. There were only five scores under 80 of which the lowest was a fine 78 by Eldon Bowden from Southerndown. McEvoy managed a creditable 79 and with rounds of 72 and 73 on the final day completed a notable win. His success was founded on long straight driving, superb control of low flighted second shots into wind and impeccable putting. His was an object lesson to all young golfers on how to control the ball in high winds.
The 1979 tournament was without Peter McEvoy who opted to compete in the US Masters, his second appearance. Of the other competitors Gordon Brand was considered to be the favourite. But it was to be the year of the youngsters. Hugh Evans (Langland Bay) led the way with a total of 292, five strokes ahead of Mark Mouland (Glamorganshire), with Jonathan Morrow (Porthmadog) in third place.
McEvoy returned to the fray in 1980, having become the first British Amateur to make the cut in the US Masters. He was also the leading amateur in the 1979 Open Championship. He deservedly won the Putter with a score of 296 departing immediately afterwards to compete in the Masters for the third consecutive year. Phillip Parkin made his debut, but after sharing the lead after the first round slipped back in subsequent rounds finally finishing in 10th place. Roger Chapman, the English Champion, chased McEvoy, who was losing ground with putting problems and hooked shots, in the final round. However the 18th proved to be Chapman’s downfall, while McEvoy had hit his approach through the green, Chapman pushed his second into the ha-ha in front of the clubhouse. His eventual 8 cost him dearly and he finished fourth. McEvoy meanwhile had putted back and settled for a five. Welsh successes included Nigel Evans from Southerndown who finished in 6th place.
It was during the 1983 playing of the tournament that Colonel Duncan made the announcement that this would be the last time he organised the event. After 25 years he had decided that the time had arrived for someone else to shoulder the burden. The event itself saw John Jermine regain the trophy he had first won in 1975.
The Club Committee decided to circulate the members and ascertain whether or not they were willing for the tournament to continue in its present form. Of those who responded to the questionnaire there was an overwhelming majority in favour. The problem the Committee faced was to find a member who was capable and willing to take on the onerous task. They were fortunate in their search when Wing Commander Ken Cooper agreed to take over the role. A past secretary of the club and an accomplished golfer, he proved to be an ideal replacement.
It was not without some controversy that the 1984 event got under way. In the past few, if any, had dared to comment on the selection of players. But in 1984 it was different. Ken Cooper had heard good reports about a young player from Pontypridd, so when a vacancy occurred at the last minute he decided to phone him with an invitation. The young lad’s father answered. After giving him the details, Ken asked if Philip would be able to get to Southerndown for an 8.15 tee-off time. “He’ll be there, even if he has to start walking at three in the morning!" came the reply. Ken knew immediately that he had made the right decision - as events were to prove when Phil Price became the youngest winner of the Duncan Putter. Another young player who distinguished himself that year was Southerndown’s own John Peters who finished runner-up.
Phil Price, aged 17
Sixty players competed for the Putter in 1987. These included all the players from the Welsh Golfing Union’s Squad, together with those selected by the organiser. Everyone must have been delighted with the first day’s performances when the best scores ever in the event were recorded. Peter McEvoy led with two rounds of 68 and 69, closely followed by John Peters and Neil Roderick with rounds of 69 and 71. But it was Peter McEvoy who sustained the excellence, leading from start to finish. His four round total of 278 was not only two under par, it bettered the previous record held by David McClean by five strokes and remained the record score until 2004.
1988 brought victory for Stephen Dodd not only in the Duncan Putter but also in the British Amateur at Royal Birkdale. This earned him selection for the Walker Cup Team which famously beat the Americans at Peachtree.
Easter was early in 1989 and the field for the Duncan Putter was, consequently, reduced to 48. Neil Roderick, the 23-year-old Welsh International from Pontardawe, made a dream start to the Walker Cup year by storming to success. He recorded a four round total of 280, level par, for a five-stroke victory. Before the start of the Sunday rounds, a telephone call was received from one of the contestants offering apologies for not being able to compete. Asked why, he replied “I’m in jail". Apparently he had been arrested the previous evening for disorderly behaviour and held in custody for the night.
Ken Cooper, Tony Duncan and Allan Bruce
1991 heralded another change in management. Ken Cooper, who had taken over the organisation in 1984, decided to call it a day and the committee asked Wing Commander Allan Bruce, a past captain, to take over the mantle. Another momentous change also occurred. Following discussions with the Secretary of the WGU it transpired that if the club wished the tournament to qualify for points in the Order of Merit, the WGU would insist on the event ceasing to be “invitational” and made open. The competition’s founder, Colonel Duncan, had definite ideas on such a change but eventually agreed to the alterations. A strong field of competitors applied for entry. Some were eventually disappointed at being balloted out on the handicap, the standard finally being set at 1.4.
The winner in 1993 entered the competition by chance. While on business in the area some two months before the event, he had called into the club and only then realised the competition was an open event. Thus it was that Martyn Thompson, the Dorset County player, captured top honours with an aggregate of 289, beating Lee Westwood into second place by two strokes.
Welsh Champion and Walker Cup star, Bradley Dredge, seemed poised to challenge for top honours in 1994, when torrential rain flooded the course and forced the organisers to restrict the tournament to just three rounds. He finished his third round on 228 just two strokes behind the leader Gary Wolstenholme. It was evident that the course would never recover in the time remaining so Dredge was denied the opportunity to go for gold.
Bradley Dredge showed remarkable character in winning the 1995 Duncan Putter when he pulled back a deficit of 12 strokes after two rounds to win by one stroke in one of the most exciting finishes witnessed for some years.
Mark Pilkington edged his way to victory in 1997 with a par at the 18th hole. For the first time in many years the weather was almost idyllic for both days and the scores reflected that unusual spell of fine weather. Pilkington, from Pwllhelli, posted his intentions from the very first round when he equalled the course record with a 66. This included four birdies and an eagle two at the difficult twelfth hole.
This was the first time that a cut was made after 36 holes, eliminating players with scores above 155. Only 38 competitors were left to compete on the Sunday. The greatest regret was the absence of Colonel Tony Duncan. It was only the second time in thirty-five years that he had been unable to attend and this great match was the last to be played in his lifetime.
This was also the last Putter to be organised by Allan Bruce. Computer technology meant that it was easier to organise the competition and process the scores from the office. Chief Executive, Alan Hughes, duly took over the organisation in 1998.
That year an ambitious attempt at a birdie putt on the final hole resulted in a bogey for Mark Pilkington. As a result he surrendered his title to English International, Matthew King.
1999 saw Gary Wolstenholme achieve deserved success in the Duncan Putter. This outstanding amateur golfer, 17 times Walker Cup player and Amateur Champion in 1991 and 2003, always relished the early season challenge of Southerndown. As well as making his own bid for the Putter he used to encourage Walker Cup hopefuls to compete in the hope of making an early impression on the selectors.
Jamie Donaldson led from start to finish to win the Putter in the year 2000, his opening rounds of 66 and 68 ensuring that he was never really challenged from then on. He faltered slightly in the final round with a 78, giving his chasing opponents, Nigel Edwards and Craig Williams, some hope that he could be caught. His lead had been reduced to two strokes as he stood on the eighteenth tee and his first shot seemed to disappear into the gorse. Fortunately it was just playable and he hit a seven iron over the sea of gorse to the green, finishing some twenty feet from the pin. He two putted to become the first winner of the tournament in the new Millennium, with a total of 285. Craig Williams and Nigel Edwards shared second place with very consistent rounds of 71, 71, 71, 74 and 71, 70, 74, 72 respectively, for totals of 287. It was a rare result with Welsh players finishing in the top three places.
Nigel Edwards showed the way in 2001 with a well-deserved victory after a series of top three finishes. The weather again played a significant part and for the first time the 79 tournament was reduced to two rounds. Nigel’s rounds of 71 and 69 gave him a fivestroke advantage over his nearest rival, Matthew Griffiths from Woodlake Park.
Joint winners in 2002 were Stuart Manley (Mountain Ash) and Neil Oakley (St Mellons) with scores of 286. With rounds of 71, 70, 70 Manley was three strokes ahead of Oakley going into the final round, but by the final hole he was two strokes behind. Manley finished with a regulation par, but Oakley took a double bogey six, missing a six-foot putt for an outright win.
Nigel Edwards (Whitchurch) a winner in 2001, played some remarkable golf to win again in 2004 with rounds of 66, 68, 72, 70. He succeeded in breaking the Tournament record of 278 set by Peter McEvoy in 1987 by 2 strokes
An event such as the Duncan Putter highlights the enormous value of voluntary help in a members’ club like Southerndown. It simply cannot be run successfully without hours of hard work by the small team involved. For example, for over twenty years Colonel Duncan’s wife Ann collected the cards from the players as they left the last green, with words of congratulations or sympathy on seeing the score! This pencilslim lady seemed oblivious to the icy winds whistling around the verandah as she subsequently, after the cards had been checked, filled in the scoreboards.
Course records will undoubtedly be bettered in the years to come but it seems extremely unlikely that Iestyn Tucker’s record of five wins, six second places, one third, one fourth and five top ten finishes in twenty four appearances will ever be beaten. Whatever happens, whilst The Duncan Putter continues to be contested each year, the name of Colonel Tony Duncan, who achieved so much for Welsh golf and for Southerndown Golf Club, will remain as a cherished memory to all those who knew him and who play the game.
Southerndown Golf Club
Ogmore by Sea