BEN NICHOLLS - HIS EUROPEAN EXPERIENCE (1)
The Philadelphia Public Ledger published in 1916 a serie of papers by Ben Nicholls, an English pro.
Born in Dover, England in 1877 Ben Nicholls was the brother of Gill. He designed golf courses in Europe and Africa and he worked as a golf professional all over the world. At the age of 17 he was hired to design a course in France. He was the professional at the Philadelphia Country Club in 1899 and the Whitemarsh Valley Country Club in 1912 and 1913. He was at the Wilmington Country Club with his brother Gil in 1914. In 1915 and 1916 he was the head professional at the LuLu Country Club. As the professional at LuLu he attended the December 1915 meeting of Philadelphia area golf professionals who had met to form a Philadelphia Professional Golfers’ Association. He had six top ten finishes in the U.S. Open and tied for tenth in the 1909 British Open. In early 1900 Harry Vardon was in the states for an exhibition tour during which he only lost two head to head matches and both were to Ben Nicholls. In early 1916 he wrote ten articles about his career that were printed in the Philadelphia Public Ledger’s Sunday editions.
In order not make it readble, we split it into 3 different pages. This is the first one. Notice that pictures illustrating this page are NOT from the Ledger.
Foreword : Have the royalty of Europe learned to play golf and the intricacies that an Englishman encountered on the Continent in designing and laying out links are graphically told in a series of ten articles by Ben Nicholls who has been labeled by the press of Europe and America as the most traveled golf professional living. The series is replete with incidents which could only be gathered by Nicholls himself in going over the various courses with the crowned heads of Europe, teaching them the royal and ancient game.
February 13, 1916. [...] I remember playing over the course of the club in Cannes, France with his Imperial Highness, the Grand Duke Michael of Russia who was a pupil of mine for years. Each day he would appear for a quiet round, accompanied by his wife, the Countess Torby, the late King Edward, the Grand Duke Mecklenberg and a host of nobility. Our gallery frequently numbered many rich Americans – James Gordon Bennett, William K. Vanderbilt, Mr. Havermeyer and others.
The Grand Duc Michel playing on the links at La Napoule (Cannes).
February 20, 1916.In the year 1894, at the age of 17, I was called to France to lay out the first golf course in Paris, which was but a miniature affair on an island situated in the Seine. In connection with this work I became acquainted with the Viscomte de Janze, one of the oldest leaders of golf in the district of Paris and the man who is responsible for the excellent course of La Boulie, Chantilly, as well as for several others.
Vicomte Leon de Janze, founder of the Societe de Sport de Puteaux in 1886.
Viscomte de Janze cabled for me to return to France. The commission he had for me was to lay our a course at a town called Aix-les-Bains, on the eastern frontier.
In my arrival there I met a Monsieur le Docteur Brachie, the leading physician and multimillionaire of the place. It was a fine task he had fixed for me ! “Nicholls” he said “I want a golf course in Aix-les-Basin The race track is vacant only a certain portion of the time, and during the season that golf is played it is under water due to the fact that we are in the lowlands, surrounded by mountains. However, far up on the mountain side I have a piece of land. After breakfast we will take the mules and look over this property with a view to building a course there.”
We had some difficulty looking that land over owing to the fact that it was heavily wooded. I say some beautiful olive and fig trees, but more important, I also say 60 husky Italian laborers equipped and ready to work. After threading our way through this mountainous woodland and taking another look at the 60 huskies, I promised to give Monsieur Le Docteur a golf course in six weeks.
“Nicholls, if you can do that the Bank of France is open to you. Moreover, I will have King Leopold of the Belgians and King George of Greece present for the grand opening.”
February 27, 1916.To the traveler who has journeyed through sunny Italy any time during the last five years the well laid out golf courses were a delight to the eye. At present there are some ten or twelve beautiful stretches of land which beckon the golfer – the tees are as fascinating, the greens are as tantalizing as any to be found in our own country. It is indeed hard to realize that in 1894 the driver and the mashie were totally unknown in this land of sunshine and laughter.
Such was the case, however. It was my good fortune to be afforded the first opportunity of carrying clubs in Italy – it was my privilege to build the first course and to introduce the ancient and royal game to the Latins. I might even say that the honors were thrust upon me, for his Majesty the late King Humbert ordered the thing done. The consequences of disobeying a royal command my or may not be serious – I don’t know. I submit that if all kings always commanded such attractive things done as King Humbert did on this occasion, nobody would ever experience the royal displeasure for nobody would ever disobey.
[...]On reaching San Remo the authorities appointed by the King to show me the property on which the course was to be built were ready to receive me. The ground was at a little place called Bordighera, one station nearer the French frontier that San Remo, and was so thickly wooded that I had no opportunity of using my balls and clubs.
March 5, 1916.It was not given me to lay out the first golf course within the borders of Spain. At San Sebastian is one of the most popular golfing resorts of Europe, it was created by a number of English gentlemen and to them must go the honor of giving Spain its first links.
However, it was my privilege to lay out the course on the Island of La Toka, belonging to Spain and situated in the Bay of Arosa, some 35 miles from Vigo, which, I might add, boasts the second finest harbor in the world. It is said that it is capable of accommodating the combined navies of the world.
It was by royal command of his Majesty King Alphonse that I undertook the work.
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