Golf may not have been part of the Olympics for more than a century, until Justin Rose grabbed gold in Rio last summer, but in 1936, under the watchful eye of Adolf Hitler at the infamous Nazi games, the sport provided an intriguing sideshow to the main event.
Ten days after the Fuhrer had presided over the official competition, seven two-man teams went head-to-head at Baden-Baden for the Golfpreis Der Nationen – The Great Golf Prize of the Nations.
Even with war still three years away, distaste and mistrust with the German regime was growing and, of the 36 countries sent invitations, only six accepted the entreaties of German Golf Union president Kark Henkell.
At first, it all went swimmingly for the German duo of Leonard von Beckerath and CA Helmers.
Holding a five shot lead going into the final day, it is said the German foreign minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop sent word to Hitler of an imminent home win.
As the dictator drove from Berlin to personally present the prizes to his charges, the English duo – thanks partly to two course-record 65s from Thirsk – surged to victory by four shots.
Where were the Germans? Frankly, who cares? (They were third.)
Folklore has it that Hitler, upon learning of the failure while in passage, furiously ordered his chauffeur to turn the car around. Henkell then conducted the ceremony.
A sideline to this story was that, along with the trophy and two gold medals, both Bentley and Thirsk were presented with another unusual prize – a small fir tree.
I suppose it makes a change from a potted plant, but Bentley’s tree found its way back to Hesketh where it was planted close to the clubhouse.
The tree survives to this day but it had to show incredible fortitude to get through the Second World War.
Nicknamed the ‘Hitler Tree’ by the members, it was frequently used as a urinal, which probably accounts for its rather unusual shape today.
The trophy went missing for many years until it was unearthed in 2004. Hesketh later raised the money – thought to be around £15,000 – to buy it at Bonham’s and it now resides in the clubhouse.
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