Golf / Books for Christmas: Cotton the flamboyant obsessive: Tim Glover on the drive of a great Briton and other memorable golfing tales

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The Independent Online
HENRY COTTON was an awkward customer, snobbish and aristocratic. He looked after number one but he did so with a verve and style that has made the lot of the modern golf professional such a rewarding experience. Cotton's crusade and the legacy it produced is a strong theme of Maestro (Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 14.99), a biography by Peter Dobereiner.

Cotton's philosophy was entrenched early on. 'Always remember,' his father told him, 'that the best is only just good enough for you.' He took the advice to heart. While his brother and sister travelled on penny trams, he would insist on a taxi. He left Alleyn's, the London public school, under a cloud after refusing to be caned for an act of insubordination and became a golf professional at the age of 16, a calling which, on the social ladder, was about one rung removed from a professional poacher.

In the upstairs-downstairs world, Cotton was in the basement. At Fulwell Golf Club he swept the floor, cleaned shoes and sand-papered hickory shafts. Alone of the assistants, Cotton welcomed the last task and he used it as a training exercise. He felt then, as he felt throughout his career, that strong hands and arms were vital to the secret of hitting a golf ball. When he was taken on at Langley Park at 19 he became the youngest head professional in British golf.

He practised obsessively. 'He was the victim of demonic possession,' says Dobereiner. 'Success was not just something he wanted, he needed it to survive.' The same could probably be said today of Nick Faldo. The flamboyant Cotton was making a name for himself and sometimes, when in conflict with the establishment, it was mud. When he was omitted from the Ryder Cup team in 1931 because he would not agree to return to Britain after the match with the rest of the team, he covered the event as a reporter, an act guaranteed to make him enemies in the Professional Golfers' Association.

If the authorities thought Cotton was pushy and arrogant they had not seen anything yet. Enter Senora Isabel-Maria Estanguet de Moss, Toots for short. The daughter of a Buenos Aires beef baron, she received golf lessons from Cotton. In return she would fashion the Cotton industry. The union revolutionised professional golf. As Dobereiner points out, 'Kiss My Ass' would be the perfect title of a biography of the formidable Toots.

Prevented access to clubhouses, the humble pro would have to change in the shop when attending a tournament. Cotton and Toots, with the intention of ridiculing such practices, would hire a Rolls Royce and eat from an exotic hamper in the club car park. Some of the modern professionals make so much money they could afford to buy the club.

Cotton won the Open Championship in 1934, 1937 and 1948. He died five years ago and was buried next to Toots in Penina, Portugal. He once said of the American Walter Hagen: 'He lived like a prince and was treated like one. Pros today should go down on their knees and say a prayer of thanks for what he did for our profession.' The same could be said of Cotton.

His first major triumph was at Royal St George's, Sandwich, the venue in 1905 of a match between the House of Commons and a team of 10 fishermen from Inverallochy, arranged as a way of binding the north and south. After keeping the fishermen waiting on the first tee, the politicians won the match 8-2. It seems an ideal time to resurrect the match which is featured in Golf's Strangest Rounds (Robson Books, pounds 14.95) by Andrew Ward.

Golf also captured the imagination of Mary Queen of Scots, 'whose career was dramatically cut short when she failed to maintain that relationship between head and shoulders which all the game's great teachers have deemed essential.' Lewine Mair has charted One Hundred Years of Women's Golf (Mainstream Publishing, pounds 14.99) and it carries a foreword by the Duke of York which makes a change from Peter Alliss. 'It is a game of equal opportunities,' the Duke writes, 'with discrimination against women becoming a thing of the past.' With the women amateurs of Great Britain and Ireland defeating America in the Curtis Cup and the professionals of Europe winning the Solheim Cup this year, a timely publication.

The Ryder Cup: The Players (Kingswood Press, pounds 18.99) by Malcolm Hamer includes a pen portrait of everybody who has played in the competition since the first match in 1927, from Aaron to Zoeller. The Open Championship 1992 (Transworld Publishers, pounds 14.99) is a good account, from a number of contributors, of Nick Faldo's victory at Muirfield while History of the Open Golf Championship (Fourth Estate, pounds 18.50) is a last day record of the Open as reported in the Guardian from 1920. As such it is a rich compilation, incorporating the work of a succession of heavyweights including the late Pat Ward- Thomas, Dobereiner and David Davies.

There's no stopping Dobereiner. He is also responsible for Golf Rules Explained (David and Charles, pounds 10.99), the eighth edition of a book which should be required reading for officials as well as players. Teams of PGA club professionals have produced Starting Out in Golf ( pounds 14.99) and Putting - the Game Within the Game ( pounds 5.99). Both are published by Collins Willow. As Jack Nicklaus describes putting as 2 per cent technique and 98 per cent inspiration and touch, it is difficult, if not impossible, to teach somebody how to putt.

In Golf: The Great Clubmakers (H F and G Witherby, pounds 25) David Stirk traces the history of the Scottish craftsmen who supplied the world with classic wooden clubs in the 19th century. Some have become works of art. In the Golfer's Book of Days (The Edinburgh Publishing Company, pounds 7.95) Percy Huggins cites the case of an old iron which had been lying in a garden shed in Edinburgh. The owner, a carpenter, took it to a Sotheby's auction five months ago and it went for pounds 92,400 to Jamie Ortiz-Patino, the owner of the Valderrama club in Spain. No shed in Scotland has since been left unturned.

Today's Golfer Companion (Anaya, pounds 15), edited by Bill Robertson, is a practical guide which includes a course directory and the swing techniques of the leading players. More courses are featured in Following the Fairways (Kensington West, pounds 14.95) and it highlights the rise in green fees over the last six years. A round at Sunningdale in 1986, for example, was pounds 29. Now it's pounds 84. Lytham has risen from pounds 19 to pounds 60, Troon from pounds 23 to pounds 65. 'Those developing realistically priced pay and play venues would appear to be sitting on a goldmine,' says Nick Edmund, the editor.