As we approach the Rio Olympics and golf makes its return to the Games, many references are appearing to it being the first tournament under the five rings symbol since 1904 and St Louis.
Actually, there was a little-known tournament that took place around the notorious 1936 Games in Berlin – sanctioned by no less a figure than Adolf Hitler himself.
The Fuhrer, curiously, agreed to back a bid to have golf in his showpiece Games even though he deemed it an elitist sport played by a section of German society he despised. In fact, he was no sports fan but took the counsel of his Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels, who convinced Hitler of the Games’ value in promoting Nazism. And golf could be shown as accessible to the average man and woman…
The International Olympic Committee of the day, disappointed by the lack of interest from the game’s governing bodies in golf being in previous Games, refused to include golf in the Berlin programme, declaring the application had been submitted too late. Neither Herr Hitler nor the man he deputed to organise the tournament, his Foreign Minister to be, Joachim von Ribbentrop.
It took place in the delightful spa town of Baden-Baden some two weeks after the Games themselves. Invitations were sent to 36 nations.
Following the events in Berlin, the world amazed by the organisation of the Games but disturbed by the naked promotion of Nazism and the Fuhrer’s open displeasure at Jesse Owens’s four gold medals denting his notion of Aryan supremacy, nation after nation declined to participate. Eventually, just seven, including the host nation, contested four rounds of stroke play over two days.
Day 1 saw Germany take the lead, prompting Ribbentrop to inform the Furher that it might be worth his while to journey to Baden-Baden to present the trophy.
Here is where legend and fact become blurred. And here is where the detailed research and skilful writing touch of author Alan Fraser comes into its own in his new book The Hitler Trophy: Golf and the Olympic Games, described by Sam Torrance as “intriguing and fascinating.”
Fraser is perfectly placed to tell the tale, both of Baden-Baden and golf at the Games. As a fine national newspaper sports writer for The Independent and the Daily Mail, he covered all four majors and every Open Championship from 1978 to 2014. He has also covered the last six Olympic Games.
His account of how a Lancastrian Arnold Bentley and a Yorkshireman Tommy Thirsk, representing England – not Great Britain – snatched the trophy away from the Germans is riveting, as is his search for the truth about whether Hitler really did turn back his Mercedes on hearing the news and refused to present the ornate silver-gilt trophy studded with amber stones, the conclusion not reached until a clever final chapter.
Fraser also doggedly follows the trail of what became of the trophy itself as there almost followed embarrassment at the Englishmen winning it, given subsequent events and the outbreak of the Second World War three years later.
Coupled with the remarkable tales of golf at the Paris Olympics of 1900 and St Louis 1904, the emergence of the International Golf Federation and how it brought golf back into the Olympic fold, as well as a preview of Rio, The Hitler Trophy represents a revealing look at golf and its role in the Games.
And given the controversy besetting the sport in Brazil, tales of withdrawals and IOC displeasure might just hit a nerve. To coin a phrase in the official language of the Olympic movement: plus ca change…
* THE HITLER TROPHY: Golf and the Olympic Games is published by Floodlit Dreams and is available to order from book shops or www.amazon.co.uk (or amazon.com), priced £9.99.