From the Archives

Sir Henry Cotton at Roehampton Club in 1940

At the time that Henry Cotton made his appearance at Roehampton Club, he was highly regarded as one of the best golfers in the world having won the Open Championship on two occasions and an impressive run of major tournament wins across Europe in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

He won the Belgian Open on no less than three occasions and repeated this impressive record of triple successes in the German Open – the last of which took place shortly before the start of the Second World War in 1939. The conflict could not have happened at such a worse time for a player at the peak of his powers.

Thomas Henry Cotton was born in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire on the 26th January 1907. At the age of 17, he took on the role of Assistant Professional at Fulwell for a year before moving to the South of France at the age of 19 to take up a similar role at Cannes. Within a year, he was appointed as the Professional for the Langley Park Golf Club in Beckenham where he stayed until 1933. He then moved to the Waterloo Club in Brussels where he stayed until 1936.

His next appointment as Head Professional was at Ashridge Golf Club in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.

In his last major domestic competition event in April 1939, Henry Cotton reached the final of the Daily Mail Tournament held at Queens Park, Bournemouth where he beat Archie Compston, Head Professional at Coombe Hill to win prize money equivalent to £33,000 in today’s money.

Putting aside his obvious disappointment and his inability to continue his winning streak at the highest level of world golf, he decided to make his contribution to the war effort by mobilising the leading professional golfers in the UK to undertake a series of exhibition matches across the country to raise money for the Red Cross.

When Cotton decided he would support the war effort, he was reliant on his professional relationships with other players such as Compston to put together challenge matches with the host clubs taking entrance money to donate to the Red Cross. The standard entry fee for these events became 2s/6d in old money which equates to nearly £16.50 today.

Cotton used his status and his connections to find suitable clubs to host these challenge matches and so it was that the first match in what was to become an incredible story of sporting benevolence started at the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club in September 1939 with a return match of 36 holes with Archie Compston.

Other matches soon followed with each Club finding different ways to add to the entrance money by auctioning the golf balls used by the players or betting on the holing out of a long putt. Clubs hosting the event would generally decide to involve their own professional or create a qualifying event to determine who plays with Henry Cotton and his invited partner. These secondary events were also used to raise money for the Red Cross or other worthy causes. The matches were covered regularly in the newspapers at the time with references to the competitive nature of the fund raising between clubs and which Club would hold the record amount raised on the day. In one account, a certain newspaper reports a golf ball being auctioned for a world record of £106 which translates to nearly £7,000 today.

Over the course of more than 100 exhibition matches involving Henry Cotton from 1939 to 1945, the total amount of money raised for the Red Cross was approximately £2m using inflation from 1939 to date.

Against this background, Roehampton Club used a Ladies Competition in the Spring of 1940 for the winners to participate in a special match at Roehampton at the end of July with Henry Cotton and another Open Champion Alfred Padgham from Sundridge Park Golf Club in Bromley. The event at Roehampton Club proved to be a rare occasion for a mixed golf match during the fundraising campaign. Henry Cotton wrote about the match in his regular feature in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. He partnered 18- year-old Maureen Ruttle at Roehampton Club in an 18-hole four-ball match against Alfred Padgham and Joan Pemberton – two-time winner of the Girls Championship. Cotton and his partner won the match 5&4.

Cotton was impressed with Maureen and rightly so as she went on to become an accomplished Amateur player and President of the Ladies Golf Union from 1982- 1984. In his article, Henry Cotton was complimentary towards the course saying that he had not played Roehampton for nine years and in the sequence of the holes and new greens adding extra yards to some of the holes makes the course a much better test. He goes on to say that the course measures just over 6,000 yards and now calls for all the shots in the bag.

His time at Roehampton Club proved to be well supported by the Members raising £350 (equivalent to approximately £20,000 today) for the War Comforts Fund of the Daily Sketch.

Steve Riedlinger | Club Archivist