Golf: Tragedy overshadows over-80s competition: Tim Glover reports from Moortown on the fortitude of senior

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The Independent Online
THERE are inherent and obvious risks in staging a tournament for octogenarians. Yesterday a competitor collapsed and died during the inaugural Lawrence Batley Over-80s Championship here, casting a cloud over what had been an enthusiastically supported event for those in the autumn of their lives.

Frank Hart, 83, a member of the Ilkley Club, collapsed by the fourth green. In case their worst fears were realised, the organisers had a nurse, in plain clothes, on duty at the tournament. One of Mr Hart's playing partners was a retired doctor. An ambulance was called and efforts were made to revive Mr Hart on the course. Finally, a police helicopter landed by the fourth green and took Mr Hart to St James's Hospital in Leeds where he was later pronounced dead.

The clubhouse of this moorland course near Leeds was full of players, exchanging stories of the day's rounds. Through the huge bay windows they were made aware of the traumatic events unfolding; first the ambulance racing down the fairway and then the arrival of the helicopter. Nothing, however, was going to stop the championship.

It is the baby of Lawrence Batley, an 82-year-old former tonic wine salesman who made his fortune by pioneering cash and carry in the north of England in the 1950s. 'What happened is sad but life goes on,' Batley said, instructing the tournament organiser not to change an iota of the schedule. 'When you have so many people of this age group assembled together something like this is only to be expected. We musn't be hypocritical about it. One of my best friends who entered to play in this tournament died last week.'

The show, indeed, went on. Those who had finished their round retired to the bar while others continued their, for the most part, pedestrian progress around a pedigree course in a Stableford format: one point for par, two for a birdie, three for an eagle.

George Nunn, at 90 years of age the oldest of 93 competitors, scored 23 points. 'I'm ashamed of it,' Nunn, of the Hallowes Club, near Sheffield, said. At Moortown in 1943, off a handicap of three, he won the Lord Harewood Trophy with a gross score of 76.

Now he is playing off 19. 'If I'd played to my handicap I would have got about 38 points,' Nunn said yesterday. He stood at the bar, a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other. He did not look a day over 70. He smoked his first cigarette at the age of eight. 'My doctor told me that as I've been smoking 20 a day for 70 years it would probably do me more harm to give them up.'

Nunn was born seven years before Moortown was founded and he was at the course to watch the Ryder Cup match in 1929. 'I'm very lucky to be playing golf at 90,' he said. 'I think this tournament's a great idea.'

Charles Mitchell, who is 80, shot one over his age in compiling an impressive 39 points off a handicap of 12. The leading lady was Cecile Ross, 81, of West Byfleet, with 28 points. They held the prize-giving last night. And toasted absent friends.