Scot’s legacy put many on route to suc­cess in adopted home­land

The Herald - Herald Sport - - ATHLETICS, GOLF - JACK DAVID­SON

SEV­ERAL top Scot­tish golfers in­clud­ing Calum Fyfe, Jamie Sav­age, Sandy Scott, Craig Ross and oth­ers will take part in the San­lam South African Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship from to­mor­row at Ge­orge Golf Club to try to claim the ti­tle won last year by fel­low Scot Daniel Young.

Scot­tish con­nec­tion with this event is strong with Michael Ste­wart and Brian Soutar hav­ing won in 2011 and 2012 re­spec­tively. Highly cred­itable though th­ese achieve­ments are, they do not stand com­par­i­son with the record of lit­tle-known ex­pa­tri­ate Scot James ‘Jimmy’ AW Pren­tice. In the early 1900s he won it four times, and also won the South African Open, the first am­a­teur to do so.

But Pren­tice’s stand­ing in South African golf does not rest on his play­ing suc­cess alone. Ar­guably he made a big­ger and more en­dur­ing con­tri­bu­tion through a pro­vi­sion in his will be­queath­ing money to de­velop the sport among that coun­try’s youth. He added that clause in Novem­ber1914, shortly be­fore re­turn­ing here to en­list for the First World War. Sadly, he was killed in ac­tion in Flan­ders in 1915 but his be­quest paved the way for count­less young­sters to play the game, a num­ber of whom made it to the very top, such as Bobby Locke, Harold Hen­ning, and Gary Player.

Pren­tice was born a son of the manse in the Joppa district of Ed­in­burgh in 1885 and at­tended Ge­orge Wat­son’s Col­lege where he ex­celled at rugby and was school golf cham­pion in his fi­nal two years. At school he played reg­u­larly over the Braid Hills cour­ses while af­ter leav­ing school he played at the Por­to­bello and Royal Mus­sel­burgh cour­ses, as a mem­ber of both clubs.

He worked for the Nor­wich Union In­sur­ance com­pany in their of­fice in Ge­orge Street in Ed­in­burgh. Ac­cord­ing to con­tem­po­rary re­ports, in his late teens he was off a plus-five hand­i­cap and had played in an un­of­fi­cial match for Scot­land against Ire­land.

In 1905 he em­i­grated to South Africa, ini­tially bas­ing him­self in Port El­iz­a­beth where he con­tin­ued work­ing in in­sur­ance and by 1910 had moved to Jo­han­nes­burg where he joined the Com­mer­cial As­sur­ance com­pany. At first he also played rugby, be­fore his golf­ing ca­reer re­ally took off. Be­tween 1907 and 1913 he won the na­tional Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship four times and was twice run­ner-up, achiev­ing his first win in 1908 by nerve­lessly sink­ing a 20-foot putt on the last green.

In 1912 he did not en­ter, in­stead re­turn­ing here in the sum­mer to play. In the Bri­tish Am­a­teur he reached the last 16, los­ing his tie by one hole, but won a num­ber of open com­pe­ti­tions, in­clud­ing two in one week at Cru­den Bay and Peter­head, de­feat­ing his brother Tom in the fi­nal in the lat­ter.

In 1913, at Kim­ber­ley, he be­came the first am­a­teur to win the South African Open with an ex­cel­lent to­tal for the time of 304, a feat that would not be re­peated till 1935 by Bobby Locke. As the Am­a­teur was held con­cur­rently, that counted as his fourth suc­cess.

De­spite be­ing set­tled in South Africa, once war broke out he re­turned here where he joined the 3rd Dra­goon Guards. Al­though re­garded as po­ten­tial of­fi­cer ma­te­rial, he did not wish to de­lay his ar­rival at the front and en­tered the ranks. Soon he saw ac­tion in north­ern France and in early June 1915 was en­gaged in the bat­tle at Hooge in the Ypres salient. De­fend­ing an ob­ser­va­tion post there on June 5 he was in­jured when a shell struck it. Al­though he was in­structed to leave, he in­sisted on stay­ing, stat­ing: “While this is on I must be in it.” He was fur­ther in­jured when an­other shell hit and died from his wounds the next day in hos­pi­tal. He is buried in East­ern Boulogne ceme­tery. A col­league de­scribed him as “A true­hearted friend and the soul of hon­our.”

His be­quest was aimed at en­cour­ag­ing young­sters to play in hand­i­cap com­pe­ti­tions which he in­sisted were open to all young­sters through­out the coun­try. He re­quested th­ese ‘Pren­tice Me­mo­rial’ tour­na­ments, as they be­came known, take place an­nu­ally in South Africa on or about May 29, his birth­day. His rea­sons for mak­ing such a pro­vi­sion in his will were two-fold. Firstly, be­cause of the ‘many kind­nesses’ shown to him as a young golfer in that coun­try, and, se­condly, to give in­cen­tive to young­sters who ‘had not had much in the past’. The first of th­ese tour­na­ments was held at Kim­ber­ley in 1921 and there­after dozens were held through­out the coun­try over many years. ‘Pren­tice’ club mem­ber­ships fol­lowed, at re­duced rates, to ju­nior golfers.

Pren­tice, against a back­ground of per­sonal tragedy, left a won­der­ful legacy to South African golf, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, with count­less young­sters ben­e­fit­ting from his gen­eros­ity to take up the sport. That he should make such pro­vi­sion shortly be­fore join­ing up for war in the knowl­edge of the high risk of im­mi­nent death, re­flected the stature, self­less­ness and mag­na­nim­ity of Jimmy Pren­tice and the golf­ing val­ues so im­por­tant to him. It was en­tirely fit­ting that when the South African Golf Hall of Fame was es­tab­lished in 2009, he was one of the first in­ductees.

James Pren­tice was the first am­a­teur to win the South African Open

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