Golf365 History: Trump, golf and political protest

Donald Trump

As Donald Trump prepares to visit Britain he is said to be planning golf and demonstrators are plotting rallies – and it’s nothing new, as Matt Cooper explains.

With four-times corporately bankrupt businessman Donald Trump returning to British soil as President of the United States of America three items are on the agenda: the state of Britain’s special relationship with the U.S., mass demonstrations across the country, and, for Trump it is rumoured, a round or two of golf, presumably at one of the Scottish courses he owns.

It’s easy to believe that golf and political protest have rarely been bedfellows and yet just over 100 years ago the sport was actually a key battleground in British politics when the Suffragettes used it to forward the rights of women to the vote.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Emily Davison running in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby, yet earlier the same year at Walton Heath, venue of this year’s British Masters, the Suffragettes blew up the second home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, whose championing of their cause outside parliament was in contrast to his paltry efforts inside it.

The police evidence for the crime is extraordinary, reading like a story from the Golden Age of Crime Fiction with strange reports of motor cars in the night, whispering voices behind the local pub, a stray galosh in a field and hat pins discovered next to unused explosives.

In truth the bomb was most unlike the Suffragette’s greatest interest in golf. For the most part they took to the courses themselves since they offered the opportunity to find themselves face to face with the leading politicians of the day who, unlike the modern British leaders but very like Trump, were often keen golfers.

In late 1912 the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and Home Secretary Reginald McKenna were disturbed whilst playing at Royal Dornoch, as an outraged Herbert Leach reported for the ‘American Golfer’:

“The ministerial golfers were half way through a pleasant game and were putting on the tenth green when the advocates of votes for women appeared, Miss Mitchell at once shouting out: ‘Mr. Asquith, you are responsible for forcibly feeding and torturing our women!’ It ought to be explained for those who do not take any interest in the antics of these women, and have little or no knowledge of what is going on, that very frequently when they are sent to prison for doing damage to property they go on the ‘hunger strike’ as it is called.”

The affronted Leach added that a struggle ensued:

“Miss Howey freed herself from the grip of a detective and ran again towards the Prime Minister, but the Home Secretary intercepted her and handed her over again to the officer of the law, who, however, found that the task of holding these two struggling women was too much for him, Miss Howie again escaping. The Home Secretary then appealed to the caddies to give them assistance, but they were evidently finding some enjoyment in this departure from the ordinary routine of their work and failed to make any response.”

Worse was to follow for the correspondent, as the Suffragettes began to damage greens with acid or by gouging messages such as “No surrender!” across them.

“There are suffragettes in America,” Leach wrote, “but they have not the same intensity and eccentricity of disposition that are possessed by those of the English variety.”

He then added: “It is somewhat peculiar that they should wage war upon golf considering that it has become the favorite recreation of their own sex; but there it is, one more example of the unreasonableness of women.”

The following month a frazzled Leach was prompted to claim: “While writing I feel as if I were something like the Roman emperor who fiddled tunes while his city was in flames.”

He was particularly bewildered that: “In one case they destroyed or damaged the putting greens on a ladies’ course!”

These were not isolated incidents: they were occurring all over the country. In his April column alone Leach accounted for ruined greens at Richmond, Acton, Raines Park, West Essex, Cromer, Sheringham and Panteg.

He also reported an Emmeline Pankhurst speech in which she said: “We are not fighting you because you play golf. We are not fighting you at all, but trying to stir you up.”

In September the Pooterish Leach was forced to write: “The Suffragettes have been at it again.”

Prime Minister Asquith had been putting on the 17th green when: “Two women suddenly appeared, rushed at him, knocked his hat off, struck him on the head with a book, and then proceeded to drag him about.”

It sounds faintly ridiculous, like a bad farce, but the police weren’t amused. The ladies were arrested and taken to the station where, “a large crowd assembled, hissed them, and threatened to throw them into the sea.”

And where did this take place? In Elgin, north-east Scotland, so not too far from where Trump, who owns a course in Aberdeen, may head later this week. History: some things change, others stay the same.