Club class

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 45, Winter 2015

Page 32

Club class

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 45, Winter 2015

Page 32

An extremely rare iron headed putter  circa 1780

Club class

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 45, Winter 2015

Page 32

As the finest golf painting in the world is offered for sale, Peter Alliss hails its subject – and his celebrated club

It is not often that a world-famous piece of golfing memorabilia comes on the open market, but such is the case with the portrait of one Henry Callender, an early member of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in South East London. Royal Blackheath has its own wonderful part in the history of the game. There are so many stories: whether all of these are true, I'm not in a position to say. But it is said that James VI of Scotland and his courtiers would have taken their golf clubs with them to London when he became James I of England in 1603, and would have played at Greenwich Palace. Royal Blackheath says that it was 'instituted' in 1608, though the origin of this date is not known for certain. The first evidence of activity is a silver club presented in 1766. In its early years, the course was five holes, extended to seven in 1844. At the end of the 19th century, it was unable to expand on the Heath, which was common ground, and in 1923 the Royal Blackheath Golf Club merged with Eltham Golf Club and moved to their course over the road from Eltham Palace.

The painting of Callender, which is to be offered in the Old Masters Sale at Bonhams in December, is truly splendid. It shows Callender in his full glory, wearing a red coat, satin britches and the epaulets indicating he was the 'Captain General' of Royal Blackheath Golf Club. I'm sure you're wondering what on earth that title means. It was honorary, and it was – and, indeed, still is – bestowed upon a member of good standing who is part chairman, secretary, president, law maker, and someone whose opinion is asked on any matters that might arise about the workings of Royal Blackheath Golf Club. This title is unique.

Most of the famous paintings that hang in various golf clubs in the world are either of early members of the Royal Family, who enjoyed the game, or different figures of either gender who became pillars of the game – players, adjudicators, administrators, you name them. Although Henry Callender was not renowned for winning championships or, indeed, participating in any of the early laws of the game, he was thrice Captain at Royal Blackheath Golf Club and secretary for ten years. But it all happened long ago, many records have been lost, so it is hard to know where fact, fiction and romantic storytelling begins and ends.

One thing is for sure, it's a bold painting, depicting a gentleman of the day at leisure, posing as if he is about to join the club's celebrated dinner. For those of us who enjoy – dare I say love – the game, it will be fascinating to see where this famous painting of a gentleman golfer from the earliest days of the game ends up. I wish it could hang in my front room.

Peter Alliss is a former English professional golfer, and a BBC television presenter and commentator, regarded by many as the 'voice of British golf'.

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