“Britannia Waives the Rules!”

By 1953 the Walker Cup had returned to normalcy after the war years and the difficult post-war economic recovery, but, more important, produced a remarkable show of sportsmanship.

The Great Britain and Ireland (GB&I) side was captained by Lt. Colonel A.A. (Tony) Duncan, an accomplished amateur, seven times the army champion, twice winner of the President’s Putter at Rye and the 1952 Welsh champion.

While Duncan was selected for the team, he decided not to put himself in the foursomes or singles matches due to administrative duties involved with his captaincy, plus he also wanted to provide an opportunity for two other teammates to play in an additional match.

The non-playing American captain was Charlie Yates, winner of the Western Golf Association Amateur Championship in 1935, a two-time Walker Cup player (1936 and 1938) and winner of the 1938 British Amateur Championship at Troon.

Yates had been a member of the U.S. team which lost the Walker Cup in 1938 at St. Andrews and after the Match he and Gordon Peters of the GB&I team stood on the steps of the R&A and sang a duet of “A Wee Deoch an Doris,” a convivial Scottish song about a farewell drink which proved most fitting because the Walker Cup would be suspended during the Second World War and wouldn’t resume until 1947.

Both captains were tough competitors but likable and affable. And neither wanted to lose the Match for the Walker Cup. GB&I wanted to win the cup back, and the U.S. wanted to retain it.

The Match was scheduled for September 4 and 5 at The Kittansett Club  in Marion, Massachusetts, the golf club name coming from the Wampanoag (American) Indian words “Kittan-sett” meaning, “near the sea,” and, indeed, the course extends well out on a narrow peninsula into Buzzard’s Bay on the Atlantic Ocean.

While near the sea, the course is not built on true linksland, but the generally windy conditions were thought to favor the GB&I team. However, during the practice rounds and match play the weather was very hot and the breeze barely flapped the flags.

Under the Conditions of Play established for the Match, competitors on both sides could decide whether to play the smaller “British” ball or the larger “American” ball which weighed the same, and to interchange them during a round. Several players planned to use the smaller ball into the wind and the larger ball downwind, but the general consensus was to use the more familiar ball through the match. On the American side, Dick Chapman, the runner up in the 1947 and 1950 British Amateur Championship and the winner in 1951 at Royal Porthcawl GC, used the smaller ball most frequently.

The Match commenced September 4 with foursome play over 36 holes. The third match out pitted Americans Jimmy Jackson and Gene Littler against GB&I partners Roy MacGregor and Jim Wilson. After the second hole, with MacGregor and Wilson 1-up, Jimmy Jackson realized he had 16 clubs in his bag, two over the 14-club limit under Rule 3 of the Rules of Golf.

During practice rounds Jackson had been carrying an extra brassie and wedge in his bag as he tested what clubs would be best for the Kittansett course and the weather conditions.

Jackson immediately reported his situation to the match referee Charles Pierson who called in Isaac (Ike) Grainger, a member of the USGA Executive Committee and the chair of its Rules Committee. Grainger gathered other USGA officials, now including USGA President Tot Heffelfinger, and engaged in hushed discussions on what steps to take. The fourth match was waived through as the discussion continued.

It was then determined that Jackson and Littler had to be disqualified under the Rules and the players were informed.

Jackson said nothing and, with his head down, began a humiliating walk back toward the clubhouse.

GB&I captain, Tony Duncan, was at the fifth hole following the first foursome match of the day, Americans Sam Urzetta and Ken Venturi vs. Joe Carr and Ronnie White, saw the gathering of officials and came over to see what was happening.

When told of the situation, Duncan immediately objected and said to  Grainger, “Ike, I insist that boy be allowed to play,” and continued with his view on the situation explaining, “you must not extend a rule to the very last letter when gentlemen are playing.”

Duncan was adamant that GB&I wanted to win matches on the basis of their play. He went on to say that his team didn’t travel 3,000 miles to win points by default after two holes.

Peter Alliss, in Who’s Who of Golf quotes Duncan as telling Grainger, “Britannia waives the Rules,” perhaps apocryphal, but that phrase was the headline the following day in a local newspaper.

Grainger and others from the USGA huddled with Duncan, and revised the disqualification decision. The U.S. side would be penalized two strokes and would resume the match on the fourth hole 3-down, having already lost one hole to MacGregor and Wilson.

Jackson was called back and told of the decision. As they walked to the fourth tee, Jackson went over to Duncan and said, “thanks very much for your kindness, sir.”

The revised ruling was based on Rule 36-5 (as it existed in the 1952) which read as follows: “The committee has no power to waive a rule of golf. A penalty of disqualification, however, may in exceptional individual cases be waived or modified or be imposed if the committee considers such action warranted.”

The Rules now provide for loss of each hole in match play where more than 14 clubs are in a player’s bag.

Jackson and Littler recovered and won the foursomes match 6/4. Jackson was not selected by Captain Yates to play in the singles matches the following day.

An English reporter explained to The (Hartford Connecticut) Courant, “If Duncan had accepted the point, people in Britain would never have never forgiven the non-playing captain.” Reporter Owen Griffith of The Courant said, “It was an incident which showed the British demand for fair play in the best sense of the words.”

The U.S. Won the 1953 Walker Cup nine points to two, almost an historical footnote to the Match given the sportsmanship displayed by the GB&I team and its captain.

Lest one think that Tony Duncan was a bit wishy-washy on the Rules of Golf, he displayed his mettle at the 1966 Piccadilly World Match Play Championship at Wentworth. Jack Nicklaus was pitted against Gary Player in the 36-hole finals, and 1-down at the ninth, Nicklaus drove his ball into a ditch.

Nicklaus took a drop under penalty of one stroke and found himself with a gnarly lie. In preparing to play his next shot Nicklaus declared that a cigarette advertising sign was in his “line-of-sight” and called the walking referee over for a ruling. That official was Tony Duncan.

Nicklaus wanted another drop, this one without penalty. Duncan determined that while Nicklaus could see the sign, it was to the side of where Nicklaus was going to play his ball. Nicklaus was adamant about the line-of-sight and that he was entitled under the Rules of Golf to a free drop.

Duncan felt Nicklaus was pushing the Rules in order to get relief from the poor lie he got on his first drop, and refused relief. Nicklaus tried to hit the ball but wasn’t able to advance it from the rough and conceded the hole to Player.

On the way to the 10th tee, Nicklaus kept up the argument with Duncan over the ruling, so Duncan said he’d step aside as referee if Nicklaus would like. Nicklaus’s response: “Yes.” One report has the Golden Bear saying, “I’d like one who knows the rules.” Duncan stepped aside and the match continued with Player winning 6/4.

Duncan’s comment afterwards was “the atmosphere between myself and Nicklaus was such that I could not continue as referee.”

Some spectators on the scene thought Nicklaus may have been technically correct, that the sign was in his sight but maybe not on the line he was going to hit the ball, and others thought Duncan was, without question, correct. Which brings forth a thought from former BG&I Walker Cup player and newspaper editor, Sam McKinlay, “the closer one adheres to the letter of the Rules, the farther one moves from the spirit.”

I’ve attached two photographs, one of Gene Littler and Jimmy Jackson (on the right) at the 1953 Walker Cup just after the ruling which permitted the match to continue under penalty of a loss of two holes; note there were no team uniforms in 1953. The other photo shows Tony Duncan (wearing a coat and tie and a tweed cap) and Jack Nicklaus after Jack had dropped his ball in the “gnarly lie” which led to the disputed ruling.

If you love golf history, join the Golf Collectors Society (www.golfcollectors.com), an international group of golfers with an interest in golf history and collecting clubs, balls and other memorabilia associated with the game…some even collect the Rules of Golf! You’ll be welcomed by an enjoyable group of golfers with similar interests.

Good golfing,



(This Random Golf Footnote was originally published in the September, 2015 issue of Through the Green, the magazine of the British Golf Collectors Society; however, the photos are unique to this Footnote.)

Random Golf Footnote

Random Golf Footnote two