The Halford Hewitt has been described by the golf writer Nick Tremayne as ‘the greatest of all truly amateur tournaments’. Founded in 1924 it is competed for today by the old boys of 64 English and Scottish public schools which each field five foursomes pairs, making 640 competitors in all. The sheer size of the “field” – plus the hundreds of supporters who routinely turn up – is part of what makes the “Hewitt” a unique sporting event. The tournament has a rich history, frequently pits average golfers against famous internationals, and produces moments of golfing pressure simply not experienced by amateur players elsewhere.
Further information on the competition itself can be found at : http://www.halfordhewitt.org/
Colin Callander, former editor of Golf Monthly magazine and now a freelance journalist and a long standing member of the Fettes Halford Hewitt team writes..
The Halford Hewitt is one of Britain’s most competitive golf tournaments, contested between teams of 10 former pupils from the schools which make up the membership of the Public Schools Golfing Society, and it is also one of the game’s most convivial social gatherings, something which is entirely appropriate considering it was conceived during a luncheon meeting at one of England’s finest golf clubs.
There is a degree of debate surrounding how the event came to be started but, according to that great golf writer and TV commentator, Henry Longhurst, it was dreamt up during a lunch which John Beck had with G.L. “Susie” Mellin at The Addington Club in Surrey some time during the summer of 1923. Certainly, later that year, representatives from six schools, namely Eton, Charterhouse, Highgate, The Leys, Malvern and Winchester met up to finalise the first tournament and they were joined in the inaugural draw by four others, Mill Hill, Rugby, Beaumont and Radley although, ultimately, during that first year, Beaumont scratched and Radley failed to raise a team.
Mellin, an old Malvernian, and Beck, an old Carthusian who later went on to Captain the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup side in 1938, were both outstanding golfers, Mellin good enough to reach the semi finals of The Amateur Championship in 1920, and both were determined to instigate an inter Public Schools golf tournament along similar lines to an existing football tournament, the Arthur Dunn Cup. Both were also traditionalists, members of the old school in more ways than one, so it came as no surprise that they selected foursomes as the official format for the tournament.
Foursomes then, unlike now, was the obvious choice, the preferred form of golf for amateur golfers used to competing in the likes of Sunningdale and Addington Foursomes, the Worplesdon Mixed Foursomes and the London Amateur Foursomes, and it was also the speediest format, an important consideration which allowed the first few Hewitts to be contested over a single weekend, thereby ensuring that none of the competitors had to take valuable time off work in order to compete.
Foursomes was confirmed as the official format right from the outset, at that lunch at The Addington, and it seems that the decision to call it The Halford Hewitt was finalised then, too.
According to Longhurst, who seldom got things wrong, Mellin and Beck had decided on the tournament details and were wondering which “bloody fool” they could inveigle into putting up a trophy when, quite by chance, Halford Hewitt walked into the room and was promptly pounced on.
Hewitt’s involvement might have been down to being in the wrong place at the right time, but that should not be construed as meaning he was an unwilling partner in this fledgling venture. Far from it. While never as good a golfer as the other two founders, this formidable old Carthusian adopted the enterprise with relish. Not just the benefactor of the trophy, he was to preside over every tournament until 1938, when ill health interrupted his service and obliged him to go on a cruise instead.
The Hewitt, it seems, did, and still does, attract unswerving loyalty from its adherents. Nowadays, a huge proportion of its competitors still turn out year after year in all sorts of weather and the 64 competing Schools guard their places assiduously knowing full well that failure to raise a team would mean perpetual banishment from the tournament. The last team to suffer that fate was Beaumont, when it was amalgamated with Stoneyhurst in 1968. Glenalmond was the team which was introduced in its place that year but, since then, all other Schools on the waiting list have had to sit and wait, hoping against hope that some other School will either drop out or, otherwise, contravene the Rules in such a manner that they are asked to leave.
So what is it which causes successful former Public schoolboys to be so loyal to the tournament? Why is it that many among that number turn down the chance to go to the concurrent Masters tournament at Augusta National in order to make the annual pilgrimage to Deal and Royal St George’s? And what does it possess which makes it the finest event on the golfing calendar in the eyes of so many people?
As usual, of course, there is no simple answer but, rather, an amalgam of factors which, when put together, make it such an attraction. The first of those is that it enables former pupils to relive their youth by representing their School, something which becomes all the more attractive as middle age beckons. The second is that the tournaments allows you to meet old friends and acquaintances, and also to renew old sporting rivalries on two courses regarded as among the finest links courses in Britain.
Both these are important in explaining the lure of the event but, arguably, its most attractive trait is that, like the FA Cup, success in it means different things to different individuals.
Peter Ryde, writing in his excellent The Halford Hewitt – A Festival Of Foursomes, described the event as a series of little tournaments within a big one and, to a large extent, in that one sentence, he encapsulated what the Hewitt is all about.
For some schools, such as Harrow, Charterhouse, Eton, Malvern, Tonbridge and last year’s winners, George Watson’s, success is represented by nothing other than outright victory. For others, indeed the vast majority of teams which descend on this part of Kent each April, a successful run constitutes getting through two rounds, thereby making the final stages at Deal while, for the rest, rather like a Football Conference side making it into the first round proper of the FA Cup, one single victory is cause for considerable celebration.
Its biggest appeal, then, is that it provides different challenges for each of the teams which take part. That is the reason why each year teams like Bishop’s Stortford, who have won just four matches in 51 attempts, or Trent, who have won just two more in 52 years in the competition, still come to Kent with hopes held high. It is the reason why middling schools such as Fettes, Liverpool, Haileybury and Merchant Taylor all spend much of the rest of the year scouring the country in an attempt to unearth the new blood which might turn them into realistic challengers and it is why defeat at any stage is so hard to bear for Watson’s, Harrow, Charterhouse and their ilk.
A festival of foursomes it is, but it’s also much more besides as all its competitors will openly admit.