14 Jul 17
Former PGA captain and Open Champion Sir Henry Cotton has become the first professional golfer to be recognised by English Heritage.
The charity manages more than 400 of England’s historic building and, in partnership with the Golf Foundation, Aquarius Golf Club and Alleyn’s School, has unveiled a ‘blue plaque’ to commemorate one of Sir Henry’s boyhood homes in East Dulwich.
The ceremony took place at 47 Crystal Palace Road amid the type of summer showers that Sir Henry Cotton (right) would have brushed off many times while winning three Open Championships and playing in three Ryder Cup matches during a career interrupted by the Second World War.
Sir Henry, PGA captain in 1948/49, repaid the sport he had loved all his life by becoming a leading founder of the Golf Foundation in 1952, a charity that today thrives in encouraging young people from all backgrounds and circumstances to enjoy the playing and personal benefits of golf.
It was during his teenage years that Sir Henry took up golf in preference to cricket after his family moved from Cheshire to London and he was a pupil at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich.
Rupert Hambro, English Heritage Blue Plaques panel member explained that Sir Henry moved to the modest house on Crystal Palace Road aged 15 with his parents and brother Leslie (who would also become a pro golfer) in 1922. Young Henry would practise his golf swing in the back garden and in adjacent garages that have subsequently been demolished.
Dennis Lomas, chairman of the Edward Alleyn Golf Society, informed the audience that a row at the school erupted when Sir Henry, an outstanding cricketer and Surrey batting prospect, along with three other boys, refused to keep carrying the kit bag for the prefects.
Refusing the cane for this action, Sir Henry never padded up for the school again and instead golf became his primary obsession; he and Leslie becoming a fixture at nearby Aquarius Golf Club in Honor Oak, where a celebratory lunch party was held
Other speakers at the unveiling included the Mayor of Southwark, Cllr Charlie Smith, and Jim Halliday, Secretary of Aquarius Golf Club, who said: “Our historical connection with Henry Cotton remains an integral part of the heritage of this club.”
The plaque was unveiled by Peter Alliss, another former PGA captain, Ryder Cup player and BBC broadcaster, who knew Sir Henry.
“I still cherish the letter that Henry wrote to me, congratulating me on my first win in the Assistants’ Championship,” said Alliss (pictured left with Brendon Pyle).
“I am sure this plaque for Sir Henry will create great interest in this local area and for golfers and other members of the public who see it when passing by.”
Brendon Pyle, chief executive of the Golf Foundation, added: “Sir Henry Cotton was a vital figure in this charity’s beginnings and growth back in the early fifties and we are thrilled to be here today.
"When starting the Foundation with his friends he summed it up so well when he said ‘we should give the game, without compromise, without intimidation, without prejudice, to as many as we possibly could’.
“The Golf Foundation works hard to help youngsters from all backgrounds to secure a pathway from golf in schools to enjoying life as a junior player at club level, and we hope Sir Henry would be impressed with our reach and impact as a charity today, while our values still correspond closely with those of the great man.”
Pyle added that in this very area of South London, a partnership with Crystal Palace Football Club (the Palace for Life Foundation) and the Premier League had helped many young people from a traditionally football community experience golf in schools with the opportunity to take their sport further.
Interestingly, the Golf Foundation is 65 this year, a fact pointed out by a few at the ceremony as they remembered the ‘Dunlop 65’ golf ball, named after Cotton’s epic 65 in the 1934 Open at Royal St George’s, a championship record that stood for 43 years!
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