A New Englander's Take on Golf
July 17, 2024
After playing in the 1959 Open Championship, famed South African golfer Bobby Locke traveled around New England and his presence was trumpeted by the Bangor Daily News.

Nothing ignites a nostalgic mood quite like The Open Championship. That’s a byproduct of being the oldest and the most flavorful of all our major championships, the one that is certainly not like others.

If going out for a twilight stroll of 18 holes at about 7:30 p.m. doesn’t appeal to you, then alas, there’s probably nothing about hitting backward out of a pot bunker or putting from 65 yards out will tickle your fancy, either.

We could toss in the joys of a bacon bap to get your day kick-started or an ice cream cone with a double dose of chocolate flakes to rejuvenate your afternoon. But likely, the point has been made. From this seat, The Open Championship marvels in every way.

So imagine the intrigue that blanketed me to stumble upon how one of the great Open champions in history spent his summer holiday after the 1959 championship at Royal Troon? By taking a little golf holiday in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, that’s how.

Arthur D’Arcy “Bobby” Locke is renowned as one of the icons of The Open, a four-time winner and only Harry Vardon (six), James Braid, Peter Thomson, and Tom Watson (five each) have triumphed more. But there are so many other layers to the legendary South African – from his service in WWII, to the way in which he crushed Sam Snead in a series of celebrity matches, to the 1947-50 PGA Tour run when he won 11 times in 41 tournaments, to the way his career in the U.S. came to a mysterious end (did players refuse him because he won so much, did he play within the rules, or did he just not get along), to the heartache that were the final chapters of his life (more on that later).

But it’s that swing through northern New England and the fact that what is listed as the final victory on Locke’s career resume is the New Hampshire Open that is the focal point here.

Having finished T-29 at Royal Troon in 1959, Locke journeyed back to the U.S. and set down in Rutland, Vt., the hometown of his wife, Mary Elizabeth (Fenton). Locke had met Mary in 1947 during a golf exhibition in Burlington, Vt., and asked if she could patiently wait for him.

The daughter of a Vermont judge and a graduate of Wellesley College, Mary apparently had a reservoir of patience, because Locke returned years later and the couple were married in 1958.

By then, Locke was 40 and his prime playing days were behind him. Still, he was a huge attraction and newspaper accounts made note of the fact he posted a course-record 62 at Rutland CC. When Locke entered the New Hampshire Open at Manchester CC, stories were written about this four-time Open Champion with the “ancient, hickory-shafted putter” and how no one could roll in birdie putts quite like the South African.

Thousands of spectators came out to watch the 1959 N.H. Open, which was played on a Monday and Tuesday in early August. Connecticut native Don Hoenig opened with 70 to lead Locke by one, but with a closing 68 – 139, the South African prevailed by two over Bob Crowley (71-71 – 142), a dominant NEPGA member from Massachusetts.

Crowley died at 81 in 2008, but often reminisced about those New England tournaments where they were surprised to see Locke. “We knew of him but didn’t know he was going to play. But why not? We had a chance to test our game against a British Open champion,” said Crowley, who confirmed one great legend about the South African.

“He would hook his putts and was a demon. Most uncanny thing I ever saw.”

During the New Hampshire Open, word circulated that Locke was not through with his summer golf swing through New England. “Bobby Locke enters Paul Bunyan Open,” screamed a headline in the Bangor Daily News Aug. 3.

Officially the Paul Bunyan Maine Open, in 1959 it was played at Penobscot Valley CC in Orono, just 17 miles from Bangor, which that year was commemorating its 125th anniversary. So, yeah, it was a happening time and the golf tournament and Locke was not the only notable entrant. Jim Turnesa, Tony Manero, Jimmy Thompson, Bill Ezinicki, and Tex McReynolds also made the trip, as did Bob Toski, the small but powerful hitter from the Berkshires.

“This was a big catch for the upcoming $7,500 Maine golf championship,” wrote the Daily News’ Bud Leavitt. “But with Locke’s sweet touch for prize money, receipt of his application comes as no surprise.”

Tournament officials put out a field of 171 players, teed off in six-minute intervals, and again thousands of spectators came to see Locke. Not that the four-time Open champion disappointed – he shot 67-73-69-72 – 282 – it’s just that Locke couldn’t stay in step with Toski, who fired 64-69-69-72 to win by eight.

Locke graciously found solace in his second-place reward. “This is better than being kicked by a donkey,” he laughed with reporters after accepting a $1,012.50 check.

This stretch of golf in New England – from Rutland to Manchester to Orono – would never be included in any discussion of Locke’s splendid career. Not when his World Golf Hall of Fame resume of 94 professional wins included four Open Championships; national Opens in Ireland, France, and Australia; 11 on the PGA Tour; and 50 in his native South Africa.

Ah, but the Summer of ’59 was a feel-good swing for Locke, perhaps the last joyful one he had.

Not all stories of success end positively and this one surely did not. Starting in 1960, life never went smoothly for Locke. He got in a terrible car accident that year, while driving to the hospital to see Mary, who had just given birth to their daughter, Carolyn.

Badly injured, Locke at the age of 43 was pretty much through as a competitive golfer and while he invested in real estate opportunities, he faced rough times for various reasons – argumentative, excessive drinking, run-ins with the police, and the dramatic decline of value in his block of apartments.

In March of 1987 the four-time Open Champion died of meningitis at the age of 69. Broken-hearted, Mary (Fenton) Locke remained in Johannesburg, virtually a recluse in one of the buildings her late husband owned. Attempts to sell the property consistently failed and life never improved much for Mary and Carolyn.

After a failed marriage, Carolyn in 1993 sold her father’s Open Championship medals. It was a testament to how far she and her mother had fallen. At 80 and 40, respectively, Mary and Carolyn were found dead in their apartment in 2000, lying hand-in-hand in bed. They had consumed champagne laced with poison.

Hardly was it the sort of epilogue anyone could have envisioned for Bobby Locke and his family, as for years they had had known success and comfortable travels.

But this is where one should do as the Hollywood directors would do – let the moment fade to scenes of better days. There was the glory of that first Open Championship in 1949, then of a successful defense in 1950, and in their prime of their careers, Locke outplayed Peter Thomson in ’52 and ’57.

Oh, and that 1959 New Hampshire Open win during an unheralded and hugely entertaining swing through northern New England. By all means, it’s part of the legacy.


I have a passion for playing golf that is surpassed only by my passion for writing about people who have a passion for playing golf, for working in golf, for living their lives around golf. Chasing the best professional golfers around the world for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and the PGA Tour for more than 20 years was a blessing for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I’ve been left with precious memories of golf at its very best, but here is a takeaway that rates even more valuable – the game belongs to everyone who loves it. “Power Fades” is a weekly tribute with that in mind, a digital production to celebrate a game that many of us embrace. If you share a passion for golf, sign up down below for a free subscription and join the ride. Should you have suggestions, thoughts, critiques, or general comments, pass them along. And if you’d like to support “Power Fades” with contributing sponsorships or advertisements, you can contact me. Jim@powerfades.com

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