I Once Met Sir Henry Cotton

Post by Rikki White.

Golf as a passion came to me rather late in life, but it was nevertheless undiluted, so when I was invited to a Christmas party at the Penina Golf Hotel, on the Algarve, I wondered hopefully if Henry Cotton would be there, as I knew he now lived in the hotel, having moved there from his former home alongside the first fairway. Even better than that, the party turned out to be in his apartment.

Celebrities are a rarity in my life and to be in the home of one was a treat beyond wishful thinking. Despite my lifelong loathing for hero worship, I found myself behaving like a starry-eyed teenager. The other guests, mostly ex-pats living locally and obviously used to seeing Henry on a daily basis, were blasé and hardly rushing to engage him in conversation, so did little to come between me and him as I gushed my way towards him, allowing no-one to impede my progress.

Henry, as he was then, pre-knighthood, was what used to be known as dapper, incredibly well turned-out, with a passion for champagne, Rolls Royces and a hedonistic lifestyle. His wife was rumoured to be the driving force in the family and it was easy to believe as she was an exuberant powerhouse of a lady. Her name I am ashamed to say I have forgotten. But then who remembers the names of Mrs. Jack Nicklaus and Mrs. Arnie Palmer – it’s a fact of life that the other halves only share in the toils and the spoils but do not remain long in the memories of the admiring public.

Sycophancy comes in various shades and mine was deep purple that night. I cringe when I think of the banal remarks that were the best I could come up with as I tried to impress this golf giant. But ever the gentleman, and well used to flannel, he steered the conversation round to my golf game. Imagine that! A man of his stature showing an interest in the potential of a newcomer to the game, trying hard to play to a handicap of 28. A practiced charmer, he twinkled as he suggested if I really tried hard he could see no reason why I shouldn’t get down to 18.

I mentally made a note to fix up a lesson with the golf professional without delay. If Henry Cotton thought it possible, who was I to prove him wrong. Henry spent much of his later life living at Penina, a course he designed in what had been a paddy field. He told me he could still play par golf from the ladies’ tees (and he was by then in his late 70s) – perhaps he was trying to impress me!. Forever the showman, he occasionally used his donkey Pacifico to carry his clubs.

I left the party a more determined woman, with the bit between my teeth. I like to think that Henry’s encouragement had something to do with the fact that for a brief period I managed to reduce my handicap to 13.

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