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The long drive kings 1-Before the steel shaft.

The long drive series Part 1

For the second entry of this series The long drive kings and the steel shaft, click here.

Edward Blackwell-a legendary long hitter, before and after the turn of the century

Who are the longest hitters in the history of the game? Were we always so fascinated with length, and finally where is it all going?

The fascination of driving a golf ball big distances has been with us since golf began. The documented long-hitting feats can be found in various records, old golf magazines, and folklore myths. Many of the stories may have been exaggerated tales based on half-truths, and some may be total nonsense or "fake news."

Capt Rowe. Acrylic on canvas 100 x 100cm

That is why the following accounts about the men who were known for their superpower throughout golfing history are restricted to factual accounts ( with a little bit of fun). Unfortunately, accounts of special one-off feats must be ignored:

Douglas Rolland- The Stone Mason

The story of Douglas Rolland is one of my favorites, it`s the stuff for an adventure film. Today his exploits would make him a candidate for a long NetFlix series.

According to Bernard Darwin Douglas Rolland was "one of the most famous uncrowned kings."

Douglas Rolland was one of the longest-hitting professionals of his age. Born in Kilconquhar, Fife in 1861 he began his career as a stonemason. Each hand on Rolland was the size of a spade and hard, with broad fingers and nails as thick and ridged. Being cousin to James Braid and living near the Elie course meant Rolland was introduced to the game of golf at an early age.

Douglas first came to prominence as a golfer in 1884 when he and Jack Simpson (also from Elie), challenged and beat Horace Hutchinson and Leslie Balfour with Rolland according to Hutchinson later, "hitting the ball to places he had never seen hit before."

John Ball

It was not long after this event that Rolland was pitted against the great amateur champion John Ball (Open winner in 1890) in a series of matches to be played at Hoylake (Ball`s home course) and the opponent's regular course.

The match took place and Rolland thrashed John Ball, who was as equally stunned by Rolland`s driving length as the old champion Horace Hutchinson.

In the same year of 1884, Rolland took part in his first Open Championship at Prestwick and was unlucky to finish runner-up to surprise winner Jack Simpson. Simpson had teed off early in both rounds and had avoided the gale-force winds that swept up in the afternoon when Rolland began.

Darwin described Rolland as:

"a grand figure of a man, well over six feet, upright as a dart, broad in the chest, and strikingly handsome. Everyone liked him and he liked everyone." Darwin continued "He had a splendid constitution on which he could and did presume, and a hopelessly irresponsible gaiety which nothing could curb."

The attributes that Darwin described made Rolland a popular figure, especially amongst the ladies. Unfortunately, it led to problems with angry husbands and eventually to a paternity suit.

Rolland deemed it advisable not to remain in the land of his forbears and left for England to escape the punitive laws now bearing down on him.

He, therefore, didn`t play in an Open again until 1894 when it was held in Sandwich.

Rolland seemed to have some energy going over the border as he took himself past London and near the southern coastland of England.

The funeral procession of Old Tom Morris at ST. Andrews cathedral.

Unfortunately, it would be the last time Rolland would see Scotland until 1908 he made a brief visit to pay last respects to the memory of old Tom Morris at the funeral. He kept a low profile and traveled back across the border shortly after.

He became the home professional at Limpsfield golf club, Oxted where he soon gained a reputation for his playing prowess. Many stories were documented in the past annuals of the club. One such story states that Douglas Rolland could drive over the seventh hole (a distance of 227 yards carry) off the tee (50 yards longer than most other golfing professionals).

Less openly recorded is that the Scotsman would often drink too much alcohol. He would often turn up on the tee having had more than "one too many," and needing to borrow clubs having left his at home. In fact, Rolland was unusually indifferent to what clubs he was playing with. Sometimes he would appear with a set held together with string. One famous story reported in the golfing annual of 1894 was how Rolland broke his favorite driver in the first round and didn`t bother to replace it until a replacement was pushed in his hands between the rounds. After that, his scoring improved dramatically.

Along with many of his playing colleagues, although unconfirmed many say that Douglas traveled to America in the hope of finding fortune. Unfortunately, his best years were now behind him and he returned without success.

He died on the 8th of August 1914 of alcohol-related illnesses.

Edward Blackwell - The farmer
Edward Blackwell achieved noteriety and fame throughout the world for his driving feats.

Edward Blackwell, the son of an army surgeon came from a different `breeding stock` as Douglas Rolland.

Blackwell would never leave the amateur ranks or cut the greens on an early Saturday morning.

He was born in St Andrews on the 21st of July 1866. Edward Blackwell's father was a friend of professor Peter Guthrie Tait, father of Freddie Guthrie Tait (British Amateur champion twice).

Freddie and Edward would become friends and enjoy many matches together at St.Andrews.

With Edward's three brothers he and Freddie would spend most summer evenings and out-of-school days on the local course, St Andrews.

Frederick Guthrie Tate(A long hitter himself). Born 1870 and died in the Boer war at the age of just 30.

Accounts tell of the boys being more interested in who could send the ball the furthest rather than the final score.

Edward was a natural sportsman and excelled in all other sports. At school, he was made the captain of both the soccer and cricket teams.

By the time he was eighteen he was a scratch player and was attracting much local attention. Pitted against a number of other players of renown Edward more often than not came out as the victor.

Unfortunately, when he reached twenty Edward was sent off to California for six years and would not be needing any golf clubs to accompany him.

Farming added muscle and weight to an already strong body. The farm work was better and more effective than most modern fitness programs. Edward was literally as strong as an ox.

Equipment had improved in Edward's absence, he commented on how much better the new modern `bulger` heads and perfectly round balls were. It was in this year, eighteen ninety-two, that Edward Blackwell was entered in the record books for long driving distances.

It still stands in books today that Edward Blackwell drove a gutty ball 366 yards on the old course seventeenth of St. Andrews. In the same round, he reached the fifth green of 520 yards in two shots. On the returning half (so wind assistance can be ignored) he achieved similar feats, with the 18th as the crowning glory, where he drove the ball from the tee to the steps of the clubhouse (again about 370 yards).

It can almost definitely be said that Edward Blackwell was the longest hitter of the gutty golf ball in history.

Harold Hilton, two-time Open winner, Amateur champion four times.

In an article printed in 1914 in Golf Illustrated, the great amateur champion Harold Hilton (at 5ft 6inch Hilton was never a candidate) claimed both Blackwell and Rolland were the longest hitters of the gutty ball in history. He was also unequivocal about the change to the two-piece ball in 1902 being the cause of the two great men's demise. With the newly popular balls that bounced it was now possible to hit lower rolling shots that were at least as long as a high carry shot (The ball carried the nickname bounding billy when it first appeared due to its liveliness after landing).

The film above compares the two great long hitters as accurately as possible given the facts available.

Ted Ray-"Hit it a site harder."

"If you want to hit the ball further then hit it a bloody site harder."

That was the reply Ted Ray gave to an admiring fan asking for advice on how to gain more length.

Ted at 21. A dashing young man with a sense of humour

Ted Ray, played at the highest level in the early twentieth century but was not seen as one of the elite group of Professionals known as the Triumvirate. A group that dominated the hickory shaft period before the great war.

Ted Ray was born on 6 April 1877 and died on 26 August 1943 in Jersey.

The great Triumvirate, the group that dominated golf at the turn of the century golf. Ted Ray would occasionlly break the party up, but these three virtually owned the Open at this time.

Ray learned his golf on the Grouville Links on the Isle of Jersey, as one of a large number of local boys who later became professional golfers which included Harry Vardon, his brother Tom, the Gaudin brothers, the Boomer brothers, and the Renouf brothers

Ted Ray`s father was a hard-working fisherman who was sympathetic to his son`s dreams of being a famous golfer. Money was very tight and they could not afford to buy a golf club; so father built him one. Using hedge branches as shafts and shaped pieces of tree father Ray made his son a golf club. His fisherman knowledge was used to create a pin to hold the head and shaft together, grip was unimportant.

Ted tees off. Fred Robson is on the left. James Braid is in the middle. Braid was also known for his length, although he would be 40 yards behind Ted if the fairway were wet.

Long driving competitions are nothing new in golf and it was customary to hold a challenge event before the tournament itself.

Most challenges were inevitably won by Ted Ray with an average driving length of over 250 yards

The film shows Ted Ray in full flow

His swing seems to contain too much effort and the inevitable balance problems that result.

A well-known boxing expert of the time remarked, "isn`t his footwork splendid."

Interestingly Ray was an excellent putter and an expert at cutting the ball up to stop it quickly on the greens (comparisons with John Daly here).

It was the great Bobby Jones that wrote in his memoirs that Ted Ray had produced one of the best shots he had ever seen as he remembered Ted`s way of playing the pitch. With both feet and shoulders deliberately opened to the target he `cut` the ball into the green direction.

"To think when we ought to play is madness,”

"Golf is a fascinating game, it has taken me 40 years to discover I can`t play it ".

"Bionic Golfingman" Acrylic-120 x 160cm

Click the link for part two and the longer driving steel shafted effects on the game

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3 Kommentare

John Mule'
John Mule'
08. Jan. 2022

Bill - This is brilliant stuff. The research alone must have been intensive. Tough to wrap my mind around the distances they achieved with the gutty. I am assuming the Boomer brothers referenced are Aubrey and Percy - correct? Percy has a special place in my golfing history as I learned how to play using his great book 'On Learning Golf'. I believe it was originally published in 1942 and has never been out of print!

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William Knowles
William Knowles
09. Jan. 2022
Antwort an

Yes it is the Boomer brothers, and `On Learning Golf` is in my opinion an absolute classic.

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