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THE LAST OF THE WOOSTERS
Herbert Warren Wind
August 26, 1957
Two Wodehousian gentlemen from Berkshire have labored selflessly for many years to bring about a robust renaissance of British golf
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August 26, 1957

The Last Of The Woosters

Two Wodehousian gentlemen from Berkshire have labored selflessly for many years to bring about a robust renaissance of British golf

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Walking the course at Minikahda next week, scanning the play of the British Walker Cup team with massive outward calmness but with a burning inner intensity unmatched by anyone el se on the premises, will be two Englishmen—one, a hefty man in his middle 40s with crinkly ginger hair, a sailor's weatherbeaten complexion, very serious round eyes, and the habit of speaking in a waterfall of words; the other, a slightly older and slimmer fellow, silver overrunning his black hair just the way Perc Westmore would ordain it, the lean and studious face forever animated, the words easy, the gait indolently athletic. The sight of these two men walking a golf course together is by now an old and accustomed sight to British golfers. For the past two years, whenever and wherever amateur golf of any consequence has been played in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, frequently in areas never before penetrated by Oxford men, the duo has unfailingly been on hand to evaluate the countless thousands of shots struck by hundreds of players.

The younger member of the peripatetic pair is Gerald Micklem, Oxford '33, a playing member of four previous Walker Cup teams and captain of the 1957 team. The older is Raymond Oppenheimer, Oxford '28, captain of his university golf team then, captain of the British Walker Cup team in 1951, and presently Chairman of the Walker Cup Selection Committee. The immediate purpose of their travels, as is probably self-evident, was to observe every promising young amateur in the U.K.; their middle purpose, to select from these candidates the strongest possible team in order to make the 1957 match a real match; and their long-range purpose (in Micklem's words, "to try and inject into our golf some of the enthusiasm which has been so evident since the war in English track and cricket") to develop once again, in a vital atmosphere, golfers who can hold their own with anyone in the world.

Fortune has accorded both Micklem and Oppenheimer the time, the desire and the wherewithal to pursue this mission as few men could, and as such they are a remarkably interesting pair. Solid and energetic and intelligent they most certainly are, but they are more than this: they are the last of a breed, the true and final descendants of that long line of English town-and-country gentlemen, the huntin'-fishin'-shootin' squires of the 18th century and the Pickwick Club members of the 19th who emerged in this century most memorably in the pages of P. G. Wodehouse's wonderful stories. They are, in short, the last of the Bertie Woosters, that agreeable and happy species that lived in a sunlit world of long weekends, country places, London clubs, aunts and guardians (never parents), infallible butlers, carbonated conversation, and the old school friend smitten with some hopelessly lovely girl and requiring the help of a born strategist. The world moves inexorably on, times change, taxes spring out of the rosebushes by the tennis court, and where there once were hundreds of Britishers like Micklem and Oppenheimer who by position could and by inclination did approach life with a purposeful generosity of spirit, today the genuine Woosters are almost as extinct as the Marmon. It is a considerable loss, really.

ROOMS WITH A VIEW

Both Micklem and Oppenheimer are bachelors and live, quite simply for men of their means, in Berkshire, about an hour out of London to the west. Gerald Hugh Micklem, 46, the son of a merchant banker, has lived since 1952 in a modestly furnished six-room home called Titlarks Hill House. The four-acre garden behind the house commands, on a clear day, an uninterrupted view over 15 miles of the most breathtaking English scenery. This garden, designed according to Micklem's directions, consists for the most part of lawn. No putting is permitted on it, but this regulation becomes understandable when you realize that the gate at the bottom of the garden opens onto the 16th hole of the Sunningdale (new) course. Business and an occasional party take Micklem into London, but he hates the city and hasn't slept there for five years.

Micklem makes it a daily habit to read, very thoroughly, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, and at least one other newspaper. He does a little sporadic antique collecting and is a steady purchaser of the paintings of the well-known British artist, Edward Seago, who was invited by the Duke of Edinburgh to accompany him on his royal world tour. Whenever Seago has an exhibition Micklem attends and buys another painting. He presently owns seven. But far outdistancing any other interest of Micklem's is sport in general and golf, golf, golf, seven days a week of it the year round. Before the war he was a player of unmistakable talent who appeared to be too high-strung ever to get any place in big competition; in 1947, though there was no apparent change in his temperament, he began to win things of consequence, like the English Amateur. He attributes this success to "six years of responsibility" as a major in the Grenadier Guards during the war. (Micklem was wounded in the index finger of the right hand, and the fact that he played better after the injury than before supports, among other things, Hogan's thesis that you don't want this finger to get into the shot too much.) One of Micklem's best years was 1953 when he won the English Amateur for a second time and in the Walker Cup gave Gene Littler, who was playing brilliant golf at the time, a terrific match. This year Micklem's Walker Cup duties have held him down to about 120 rounds so far. He reads golf continually, is always watching it and conducts a voluminous golfing correspondence. Titlarks Hill House is always full of golfers. Francis Ouimet was the first guest there, and it has recently become virtually a free hotel for up-and-coming British golfers. Practically all of the present Walker Cup team have stayed there, practicing on the course below the garden and dining on the good plain food (like roast beef and apple pie) which their host prefers and considers right for athletes. A fairly shy man to begin with, Micklem becomes quite embarrassed when he is complimented on the quiet way he is helping British golf. "Well, I hope I'm helping," he replied on such an occasion not long ago. "I've been lucky all my life, and I like to share my luck with others."

Like Micklem, Raymond Harry Oppenheimer never goes to the theater or the movies if he can help it and, except when there is a good sports attraction or a good party, avoids London as if it were Liverpool. He lives in Maidenhead in a medium-size Georgian manor house called White Waltham Place, the heart of a 300-acre estate which he inherited from his father. His mother, who is still alive, is a caricaturist and poet who has published verse in French, German and English. The gardens at White Waltham Place are famous for their fine displays of rhododendrons, azaleas and bluebells and are opened to the public in the spring. A member of the family which owns and operates the De Beers diamond mines in South Africa—he is a nephew of Sir Ernest—Raymond went to work in the firm's London office after his graduation from Oxford and reached an executive position just before the war. He served in the Royal Air Force, rising from pilot officer to wing commander. Presently he serves as a director of the family business. This calls for some time in the city but leaves him pretty free to prosecute his other interests. A minor one is The Times daily crossword puzzle. Oppenheimer usually solves it in 20 minutes flat, which is comparable to running the mile in 4:03, an excellent but not sensational time. As the world's leading bull terrier expert, a good amount of his time goes to supervising the organization of his kennels (which include 25 all-white bull terriers) and judging on two continents. Today nearly all the prize-winning bull terriers in British shows can be traced back to Oppenheimer's champions.

A golfer of international caliber for 20 years, today, at 51, Raymond Oppenheimer remains a first-class player but he has been playing less and less since he has been devoting an increasing portion of his time to watching golf, encouraging and developing the young players he meets in his constant travels to all corners of the island. (In the process of these travels, he has probably been forced to eat more poor restaurant food than any other living person of similar means.) A man who enjoys conversation, he is a very handy fellow with a phrase. In 1947, for example, when the British Open was held at Hoylake, a spectator, rushing out to watch Henry Cotton, buttonholed Oppenheimer and asked him how Cotton was playing. " Mr. Cotton," Raymond replied, "is hitting his drives so straight that it is impossible to tell whether he is playing his approaches from the left side or the right side of the fairway." Like Micklem, Oppenheimer has a passion for all spores and is a regular and ardent patron of the Rugby at Twickenham, the tennis at Wimbledon, and the track and field at White City. This summer he was most upset when the necessity of attending a coming-out party for one of his godchildren prevented him from making the meet in which Derek Ibbotson broke Landy's mile record. "By a stroke of excellent luck," he explained later, "I was able to slip out in time to catch the race on my car radio."

I trust it is obvious but in the event it isn't, Raymond Oppenheimer and Gerry Micklem are fine and friendly and enjoyable men—and when there is a job to be done, they do it.

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