"Golf is the only game in which a precise knowledge of the rules can earn one a reputation for bad sportsmanship." Patrick Campbell
Lord Glenavy ( b. 6 June 1913 – d. 9 November 1980 ) started as a journalist for the Irish Times under the tutelage of Robert Smyllie, the larger than life editor of the newspaper, his right of passage was a thousand word article on the zoo which appeared in its entirety on the 23 August 1932. In his own words, “I’d stumbled into the only job that required no degrees, no diplomas, no training and no specialised knowledge of any kind……journalism might have been designed for my special benefit.”
While his body of eclectic writings is interminably vast, this article concentrates on his golf related exploits, short stories and books many of which have been received to great acclaim. A master seanchai or storyteller with a knack for self-deprecation, good-hearted derision and an ability to take the banal and mould it to his own advantage with a liberal application of humour and lateral vision. His ability at self-derision is very noticeable in his golf articles where at all times it should be borne in mind that he played off a handicap of plus two and whom Bernard Darwin had described as, “the big man with the velvet putting touch’.
In his articles for the Irish Times which were reprinted in book form entitled Round Ireland with a Golf Bag he would recount his travails as he circumnavigated the island in his ‘red fire engine’ during which he would take in the West of Ireland Championship, as a player, and represented “one of the dead bodies over which the probable winner [John Burke] of the West of Ireland title 1936, had to pick his way”. Early in the articles he relates the troubles he’s having with the fire engine which all seems at odds with it sweeping by one of the new 100 mile an hour Bentleys with a roar until he explains in his own inimitable way: “If he had been going in the same direction as ourselves we might have given him quite a race.”
Between 1945-1947 Campbell wrote An Irishman’s Diary, for The Irish Times under the name Quidnunc and recalled an incident with a caddie, at Baltray whom Campbell referred to as the original Old Man of the Sea whose philosophy on the game Campbell precised into: “Golf to him was a monumentally silly game and golfers, by extension, madmen” and by the end of the article, if not the game, he felt the caddie’s view was, perhaps, not without merit.
Campbell’s progression in the 1949 Amateur Championship at Portmarnock is well chronicled in his short story, “The Big, Big Time” which was reprinted in the 1991 Walker Cup programme and appears in both of his own golf books and Ulick O’Connor’s book together with the compendium of stories in the Donald Steel edited, The Golfer’s Bedside Book. After taking his biggest scalp, Billy O’Sullivan, he proceeds to get “sloshed” in order to lose to his next opponent and, presumably, appease his own sense of natural justice by ending his involvement in the tournament.
Campbell’s career progressed as a writer from the Irish Times, the Sunday Dispatch, the Spectator, Liliput and on to the Sunday Times to become as one reviewer described him: ‘the funniest displaced Dublin journalist at large in Fleet Street today’. For, the Times, he wrote a story entitled The Small, Trembling Voice describing a trip to Sunningdale to play in the Bowmaker Golf Tournament where he would meet the cream of the golfing and entertainment world (the “most socially glittering” of the pro-amateur tournaments) and while he talked his game up, a little voice was telling him to get to the practice fairway before he does someone a serious injury.
In 1963 he published his classic “How To Become A Scratch Golfer” which when reprinted by the Classics of Golf they stated: “This famous Irish humorist produced a rarity in golf literature: a genuinely funny book”. Part of the ‘How to become’ series of books, a bluffer’s guide if you will, unlikely to fulfil the promise of its title still contains witty insights into the journey. “Don’t attempt to find out how to do it by yourself, or you’ll build loops, lurches and ..contortions..that will remain with you to your grave.” ..Where to buy your clubs …”left unreservedly in the hands of the club professional” otherwise his opinion of them “is liable to be so low” as to compromise the teacher/pupil relationship. Advice from using ghost-written instructional, the fultility of offering swing tips to the older generation, how to look like a scratch golfer (for which he provides twelve useful tips) and the excuses to use to keep the ruse believable. A free-handed, open-shouldered golfer should not take instruction from purist golfers whose “paucity of effort” is there to keep the golf ball on the course, the height of their ambition. All this together with the the restraint required when practising golf and being too dogmatic while espousing the rules of the game are all backed up with plausible case studies even if some of the characters stretch credulity but there a more than a smidgen of truth in his writings in fact with my limited knowledge of the subject I believe it is fact laced with truisms. So much so that Joe Carr who was playing in Killarney at the time (presumably adding another Close championship to his trophy cabinet) wrote in his Irish Times review that: “You have no option but to laugh your way through it – I was still chuckling long after my normal times for lights out during the week at Killarney.” The final chapter details his own venture into the “The Big, Big Time” playing in the 1949 Amateur Championship at Portmarnock.
Patrick Campbell achieved even more fame than his books afforded him when in 1962 he delved into the world of television, with one programme, “Call My Bluff”, making him a household name in Great Britain and Ireland, a part he played until not long before his death.
In 1968 Paddy Campbell moved with his second wife Vivienne Knight to the South of France and old farmhouse in Grasse but would continue to write for the Sunday Times for a further decade. On the 9th November 1980 he died after contracting pneumonia in University College Hospital in London while reportedly joking with his nurse. So he probably died laughing or least while he was making someone else laugh.
More information available at thePeerage.com.
Patrick Campbell: My Life and Easy Times  – Patrick Campbell: How to become a Scratch Golfer [1963 – Anthony Blond] – Patrick Campbell: Patrick Campbell’s Golfing Book [1972 – Blond & Briggs] – Ulick O’Connor (edited): The Campbell Companion  – The Irish Times Archive.
Books by Patrick Campbell
- Books by Patrick Campbell
- The P-P-Penguin Patrick Campbell
- 35 years on the job; The best of Patrick Campbell, 1937-1973
- Patrick Campbell: My Life and Easy Times
- Feast of True Fandangles
- All ways on Sundays
- The Campbell Companion
- Patrick Campbell’s Golfing Book
- How to Become a Scratch Golfer
- Brewing Up in the Basement
- Life In Thin Slices
- Gullible travels
- Call my bluff: Frank Muir versus Patrick Campbell
- A Short Trot with a Cultured Mind
- A Long Drink of Cold Water
- Waving all excuses
- A Bunch of New Roses
- Rough Husbandry