George Oldham, my friend, NCG Top 100s panellist and freelance travel writer, who died earlier this week, would neither have asked for nor expected something like this.
But one of his qualities that I most admired was the combination of simultaneously articulating strongly held, well-constructed arguments and being open to the possibility of modifying them in the light of new evidence.
I came to think that George vied with Miguel Angel Jimenez for the moniker of ‘the most interesting man in golf’.
He came to the sport from his professional background as an architect. But, George being George, he had merged the disciplines and could accurately describe himself as a golf course architect too, courtesy of his work at Hexham (pictured above).
Put simply, he was a man who could turn his skills to many things, only one of which was writing about golf courses and golf resorts.
With his boyish enthusiasm, curious mind and general love of life, George was one of those people who asks lots of questions. There was a danger of coming away from time in his company knowing less about him than he did about you, which would have been a terrific shame for the simple reason that his life and stories were much more interesting than your own. Or so I found anyway.
The one element of George’s belief system I could not reconcile surrounded putting. He simply didn’t respect the discipline and would often ruin a hitherto well-played hole by rushing up and hockeying the ball around the hole. It was uncharacteristically irrational, in my opinion, but I couldn’t convince him otherwise.
Needless to say, we talked a lot about golf courses. He once described me, not without accuracy, as a “links fundamentalist”. He thought I, and other panellists, were seduced by the old classics and too sniffy about newer courses. He definitely had a point. There is a real danger when assembling a panel that it becomes staffed with people whose views are the same as your own. What’s the point of that? George was always prepared to take the opposite view – but not to be contrary, just to express what he believed.
The best thing about discussions on any topic with George was that it was a genuine exchange of views with both parties – I hope – on receive mode as much as transmit. And, needless to say, it was always civil, if occasionally cutting (see above).
Curious George was similarly strident in his views on politics – spoiler alert: he was rarely complimentary about the SNP – and short emails would often become lengthy exchanges. I don’t regret a minute of the time I spent willingly engaging in them.
His favourite golf course was Turnberry. The fact that the Ailsa combined lifelong memories and a celebrated heritage with the very best of contemporary design following Martin Ebert’s reimagining says much about George and his rounded view of life.
I shall miss him greatly and I only hope that he would have forgiven me for publishing this little piece in his memory.
Thanks, George – apart from watching you putt, the pleasure was all mine.