Friday, June 26

Looking for Bobby Locke's Famous Hickory-Shafted Putter (Conclusion)

The mystery surrounding Bobby Locke's hickory-shafted putter included a high-profile golf auction. Read Part 1.
John Coyne concludes his two-part series on the mysterious search for the hickory-shafted putter used by Bobby Locke, the South African golf legend who won four British Opens and entered the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977. Read Part 1.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

"FROM 1953 TO 1955,"  ACCORDING to Bobby Locke's nephew Alfred Pratt, "Bobby Locke made routine visits to the Slazengers works at Horbury, Yorkshire, for technical and business reasons. Alfred Pratt was also at Horbury and employed by the company.

While at the factory, Pratt says, Bobby was persuaded to switch from using the "Dunlop 65" golf ball to the "Slazengers B51."

Also, Locke agreed to have a replica putter be manufactured by Slazengers as a precautionary measure in case he lost his famous putter. "Bobby agreed that replica proto-types be made," says Pratt, "and the company considered that there might be a market for such replicas and the proto-types could serve to calculate production costs."

Bobby Locke in 1955.
(Image courtesy of Alfred Pratt)
The main problem was that, by those times, stainless steel golf-club heads were all "drop-forged" and not hand-forged, blacksmith style. The slim shafts to fit were exclusively steel. There was, in fact, a steel-shafted, "Bobby Locke Triple Crown" putter already in standard production. The head was shaped on the form of the original, as near as could be. A quantity of suitable heads was obtained for grinding and finishing with special hosels for drilling out to accommodate the thicker, tapered, hickory shafts, secured with the usual rivet pin. The American hickory timber also had to be especially imported for making into shafts.

Six or more hickory-shafted putters were manufactured as specified with shiny stainless steel heads and inscribed/stamped "Bobby Locke" and "Slazengers" for him for testing and choice. After trying out the samples, Locke selected several of these as a gift from the manufacturer. 

Pratt believes one of these came up for sale as part of his memorabilia sale at Christies in 1993. A similar putter belonging to a mutual friend, Wing Commander Derek Graham, was a personal gift from Locke as a token of friendship in the 1950s and 1960s. Pratt thinks also that another replica went to Steve Pyles.

As Pratt states now: "If the head is stainless steel and it has 'Bobby Locke' on the blade, it is a replica without doubt."

On the Internet there is a statement that the famous hickory-shafted putter is in the possession of Des Froneman, "a great friend" of Locke's. However, it has a blade with "Gradidge" stamped on the sole, according to Pratt. It was accompanied by a letter of provenance from Mary Locke. This letter says: "My daughter and I have heard from Colin Taitz that you bought one of our dear Bobby's putters which we had promised to give Colin for his auction before he left us."

The letter does not say that this putter is his antique one but is "one of" his.

Tragic Plight of Locke's Wife and Daughter

Mary Locke was Bobby's second wife. He married her in 1958 and their daughter Carolyn Locke was born in 1960. The two women owned Bobby Locke Place—a section of central city of Johannesburg that had been renamed in Locke's honor. The city complex included 20 apartments and a swimming pool, all built in a 1940s architecture style. 

After Bobby Locke's death in 1987, and the decline of Johannesburg at the end of apartheid, the central city, where the complex was located, was caught up in a wave of crime, drugs and prostitution and white-flight from the city. The character and climate of central Johannesburg changed dramatically and the two women were trapped managing their buildings as that part of the city crumbled around them.

Unable to sell the property, with its value plummeting, the mother and daughter were alone and lost in poverty, and in 2000, shocking the golf world of South Africa, Mary Locke, 80, and her daughter Carolyn, 40, shared a bottle of champagne and then killed themselves.

South Africa had lost its last connection to Bobby Locke, or so they thought. 

However, nephew Alfred Pratt has returned to Cape Town to live out his life and to search for Bobby Locke's most prized possession, the old rusty putter, and to correct the errors in Locke's biography. 

"It would be a real sadness to find that Bobby Locke's old putter has, simple vanished," Pratt says today, "But perhaps it, secretly, went into his coffin with him."

Now that would be a fitting ending to the legacy of Bobby Locke and his hickory-shafted putter. A man who many consider golf's most enigmatic player.  

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.

Uncovering the Real Bobby Locke

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