The President’s Putter

A perfect English January day for golf at Rye Golf Club (photo from

This is not what you think-The Donald has nothing to do with this.

Actually this is probably one of the most authentic golf competitions in history.  It is  an eccentric annual affair between alumni of Cambridge and Oxford that has been going on since 1920 at The Rye Golf Club in Rye, East Sussex every January.  Those eligible to play are current and former alumni of the universities thus the golfers are usually amateurs and ages may vary between 20 and 70 years. It is as much a reunion as a golf competition.

The tournament is played by scratch match play and the winner receives a silver medal in exchange for their winning ball.  Over it’s storied 90 years, this event has attracted some of the greatest amateur golfers in Britain.  Past winners include five time tournament winner Roger Wethered, Cyril Tolley and Charlie Rotheroe.   The famous golf writer Bernard Darwin won the fifth Putter in 1924 and was a regular in this event into the late 1950’s.  Donald Steel, a famous British golf course architect and writer, is one of only three guys who have won the President’s Putter three times since World War II.

You are probably wondering why anyone would hold such a championship in the balmy weather of January in England.  Donald Steel says, “The tournament is probably best known for defying the elements but that is overdone. It is a genuine match play competition in which no effort is spared. My successes were based on a love of Rye, a good blood circulation and the ability to improvise. Otherwise, the playing attributes are no different to those in any other form of competitive golf. Good driving and a nifty short game were certainly no hindrance.”

A rarity occurred in 2010 and that was that the playing of President’s Putter was delayed a few weeks due to weather. (Photo from

They did manage to get the tournament played in 2010, albeit the third week in February, but they got it in.

This competition is “serious fun” and it adheres to the true spirit of the game says Steel, “You play hard. You play fast. But above all, you play to have fun”.

If you own a copy of “Following Through-Herbert Warren Wind on Golf” you can read his wonderful essay “An Entirely Different World: The President’s Putter” which he wrote after witnessing the event for the first time in 1971.  Typical Herbert Wind genius, he captures the unique flavor of the event and the hearty character of those who make this such an interesting tradition.  He says of their determination to play this event in the coldest, most inhospitable time of the year, “Because they are English, by and large, born eccentrics……..In no other people do you find that streak of masochism which sneers at the uncomfortable and revels in the hazardous”.

For more on this incredible annual event click to check out this GolfClubAtlas article about The Presidents Putter by David Normoyle.

July, 2018

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