Beyond Golf

British general who played in the very first Masters was no slacker

By Don Rhodes

“Gentlemen, you are soldiers now. Don’t forget it. I don’t care what you were in civilian life — share pushers, lawyers, plumbers, piano salesmen — by God you’re soldiers now! Anyone who slacks, anyone who malingers will go back to his unit with no flowers by request! On parade and off parade — it makes no difference. I’ll stand for no slacking!”

– British Brig. Gen.
Alfred Cecil Critchley

Readers of The Augusta Chronicle on the morning of Thursday, March 22, 1934, saw the main headline reading:  STARS PRIMED FOR GOLF CLASSIC.

Even though the “Masters Invitation Golf Tournament” had not even been played, it already was being called a
“golf classic” because of its high-power list of invited players that included Augusta
National Golf Club co-founder Bobby Jones.

The top half of the Chronicle that morning published the first list of the first-ever day of pairings with Ralph Stonehouse and John Kinder due to tee off at 10 a.m.

Going down the names, some readers might have been puzzled to see that an Army officer listed as “Brig. Gen. A.C. Critchley” was paired to tee off at 1:12 p.m. with Charles Lacey, a professional golfer and native of Burnham, England, who had immigrated at 20 to the United States.

For three of the four days of the tournament (he didn’t play on Sunday), the Canadian-born Critchley would continue to be listed with the officer rank he had earned with the British Royal Flying Corps as an air commodore.

“Critch,” as he was known, teed off on the second day of the tournament, again with Lacey, at 11:38 a.m. and with Bayard Mitchell of Philadelphia at 10:14 a.m. in the third coupling on the third day.

Instead of having their assigned numbers on their golf bags, the 60 professionals and 12 amateurs in that first Masters wore their numbers on their sweaters!

Critchley was assigned No. 2.  The bearer of No. 1 was Sam Perry of Birmingham, Ala.  The great Jones (listed in the pairings respectfully as Robert T. Jones Jr.) wore No. 16, and the eventual champion, Horton Smith, wore lucky No. 7.

Most golf fans today have never heard of Critchley, who died in 1963.

But he and the other international players in 1934 paved the way for the long list of foreign Masters competitors and champions who would follow including future champions Gary Player of South Africa, Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal of Spain, Nick Faldo of England and Bernhard Langer of Germany.

Their participation was not lost on the Chronicle reporters covering the event as noted in this social item published on Monday, March 19, 1934:

“C. Ross Somerville of London, Ontario, the 1932 National Amateur Champion, checked in (to the Bon Air-Vanderbilt Hotel) yesterday.  He with Brigadier General Critchley of London, England, have given this first masters championship an international flavor by their entries.”

Besides Critchley and Lacey, that first Masters also included these international entries:

Samuel Henry “Errie” Ball:  This native of Bangor, Wales, at 15 played in the British Open in 1926.  He lived longer than any of the other players from that first tournament; he died at 103 in 2014. 

• George Sargent:  Born in Dorking, England, he already had won the U.S. Open and Canadian Open.  He served five years as president of the U.S. PGA.  Two years before the first Masters, Jones himself brought Sargent to Atlanta’s East Lake Country Club, where he served as head golf
professional for 15 years. 

• Harry Cooper:  Born in Leatherhead, England, he came to America as a boy.  He withdrew before the final round of the 1934 tournament.  Cooper would place second in the 1936 and 1938 Masters.

• Cyril Walker:  Born in Manchester, England, Walker won the U.S. Open in 1924, 10 years before the first Masters, beating Jones.  His battles with alcohol left him penniless and homeless.  He came into the Hackensack, N.J., police station on the rainy night of Aug., 5, 1948, asking to sleep in a cell as a place to stay.  He was found dead the next morning.  The 55-year-old once-great golfer, according to online reports, was buried in a potter’s field without a gravestone.

C. Ross “Sandy” Somerville:  Ranked as the top Canadian golfer of the first half of the 20th Century, Somerville was from London, Ontario, and would be the first to tee off on the fourth and final day of the 1934 tournament. His winning the 1932 U.S. Amateur was a first for a foreign golfer and proved Canada was a force on the international golf scene. He won six
Canadian Amateurs between 1926 and 1937 and served as president of the Royal Canadian Golf Association in 1957.

• C.G. Stevens:  He was an amateur from London and withdrew, for whatever reason, after two days of play. Very little can be found about him either online or in the Chronicle archives.

• Capt. C.T. Wilson:  Strangely, this golfer from London was listed in the last two days pairings in The Augusta Chronicle but not in the first two days.  Wilson and the ill-fated Walker, according to the fourth-day published pairings, were the last two golfers to play in the 1934 tournament.

Three months after Critchley played in Augusta, he became a member of Parliament in London, entering the House of Commons in June 1934 as a conservative representing Twickenham, England.

He would only serve a year as MP, but it would be another impressive notch on his amazing resume.

Born in Calgary, Canada, in the Northwest Territories (later Alberta) on Feb. 23, 1890, Critchley’s family moved to England when he was 9. He became the youngest general in the British Army at 28 and served in charge of basic training of new Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force soldiers in both World War I and World War II.

Beverly Baxter, writing about Critchley in Maclean’s magazine in August 1953, recalled that Critchley was twice wounded in World War I while fighting with the First Canadian Division.

He also recounts being a lieutenant trained by Critchley at the Bexhill-on-Sea school Critchley had opened in England for “smartening up the newly arrived junior Canadian officers.”

As Baxter wrote, “at some ungodly hour in the morning,” he and the other trainees were lined up for inspection by the then-lieutenant colonel, who then proceeded to tell the new recruits:

“Gentlemen, you are soldiers now. Don’t forget it. I don’t care what you were in civilian life — share pushers, lawyers, plumbers, piano salesmen — by God you’re soldiers now! Anyone who slacks, anyone who malingers will go back to his unit with no flowers by request! On parade and off parade — it makes no difference. I’ll stand for no slacking!”

No one possibly could accuse Critchley himself of slacking either in civilian or military life with much of his exploits described in his 1961 biography, Critch! The Memoirs of Brigadier General A.C. Critchley.

Simon Furnell, writing online in 2004 for “Other Great War Chat,” posted that Critchley in 1926 joined “a retired police constable” and an American businessman to raise 20,000 pounds each to build Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester, England, and formed the Greyhound Racing Association, introducing greyhound racing to the United Kingdom.

Furnell said that their investment was more than worthwhile, with Belle Vue Stadium being sold for 270 million pounds.

Three years before he built Belle Vue Stadium, Critchley had joined the board of directors of the Associated and British Portland Cement Corp. of Great Britain.

As an all-around athlete, Critchley won several amateur boxing events, raced in bobsled competitions and played lawn tennis as well as golf and polo for Western Canada. 

“He had a house at Wimbledon, a house in town, a house at Sandwich on the sea, and he became so fine a golfer that he began to win tournaments,” wrote his longtime friend Baxter in Maclean’s.

“He never had the shots of a really top ranking golfer, but he possessed a courage that simply would not admit defeat.”

Critchley was married three times. One of his sons was killed in Libya in the early part of World War II.

His third wife, Diana Fishwick, whom he married in 1938, was a championship golfer in England herself, including winning the 1930 British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship.

After World War II, Critchley was director general of the British Overseas Airways Corp. from 1943 to 1946.  He spent other years engaged in cement and air charter businesses.

Around 1953, Critchley developed an irritating boil in his nose but ignored it until it burst.  It brought on a thrombosis that led to an infection near his eyes.  He survived the medical problem, but it caused him to go blind.

He would live another 10 years before dying at 72 in February 1963.

In a strange twist of fate, his son, Bruce Fishwick Critchley, by his third wife, became a famous U.K. television broadcaster for the BBC, including with the Sky Sports golf broadcasting team.

Guess what Bruce was assigned to cover for more than two decades?  The Masters Tournament, of course.

He walked the same beautiful course that his father did while playing in that very first competition of 60 professionals and 12
amateurs in 1934.

In 2015, posted online Bruce Critchley’s reflections as he prepared to celebrate 25 years of attending Augusta’s pride and joy on Washington Road.

Here is how the younger Critchley ended those memories:

“The mind still boggles that after drenching rain they can get the greens back up to speed by sucking out the moisture from underneath; and when it has been a cold spring they can turn on the central heating under flowers and greens to get them just right for the first full week of April.

“Whatever Augusta has, there are a million other clubs that just wish they could bottle it and have some for themselves, but they can’t. There’s only one Augusta and their Masters is unlike any other tournament. That is why even non-golfers tune in for that one week and speak knowingly on things such as Amen Corner and Magnolia Lane.

“As always it will be a pleasure and a privilege to be there.”

It’s a pretty safe bet that his father ─ one of the tournament’s very first international competitors ─ would have said the same thing.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Appears in the April 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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