Looking For Bobby Locke’s Famous Hickory Shafted Putter

Looking for Bobby Locke’s Famous Hickory-Shafted Putter

By John Coyne (website)

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

THE DAY OF BOBBY LOCKE’S near fatal accident, he played golf at Clovelly Country Club, near Cape Town with his nephew Alfred Pratt and two other friends. After the round, Alfred put his clubs and Locke’s in the boot (as they say in South Africa) of Locke’s Vauxhall Cresta and then the foursome went into the club’s bar for a drink.

At the time, Pratt said, “Locke was heavily involved in drinking,” so a few drinks later, Pratt had enough and decided to leave his clubs in Locke’s car and just walk home on his own.

Later, he—and the world—would learn Locke and another golf pro, Maurice Bodmer, were injured when Locke’s car was hit by a train at a rail crossing. It was February 1960 and both men were taken to the Groote Schuur Hospital. In the accident, Locke’s clubs were scattered all over the road and nearby fields. Bobby Locke’s famous hickory shafted putter and his five iron went missing.

“My own clubs,” Pratt recalls, “had remained intact in the boot of the car but the bag was stained with Locke’s blood. Bobby himself had been flung backwards through the rear windscreen and spread-eagled and bleeding across the boot lid.”

After the accident, Pratt put an ad in the local newspaper offering a reward of ten pounds for the return of the two clubs and they were returned.

“It was a relief when the finder gave them to me,” he says. “I gave the clubs to Locke and he continued to use them. The famous antique putter was in regular use and I played many rounds with Locke and he certainly had the real putter in his hands in the early nineteen-sixties.”

In 1963, Pratt immigrated to the UK and never physically handled the putter again. “However, I have copied photographic evidence of his continued use of the putter into his advancing years.” There is evidence, too, of Locke using the putter as seen in his autobiographical and golf instruction book, Bobby Locke on Golf published 1953.

A Misleading Auction

Then, on July 9, 1993, Pratt attended in London Christies’ Bobby Locke Memorabilia Sale. He had planned to buy Locke’s hickory-shafted putter as an investment and a keepsake until he saw and read in the brochure this description of Lot 120: “Bobby Locke’s Putter, a hickory shafted putter with silvered head and inscribed on the sole ‘Bobby Locke’ with lengthened and thickened leather grip, circa 1950” – expected sum £800 to £1000.

The wording, Pratt thought, implied that the item was his regular putter and not another. It did sell at the auction for £2400 but not to Alfred Pratt.

“When I saw the item and the brochure photograph I did not make a bid. I knew for certain that Bobby Locke’s putter was a rusty antique, which I had seen many times, as given to him by his father or by a friend Bob Weallans.”

Locke’s putter, an individually hand-made antique, bore no names of the manufacturer. Pratt was convinced Christies was in no way to blame. “They took the item for sale described ‘on trust’ as authenticated by Locke’s heirs, Mrs. Mary Locke and her daughter Carolyn,” explained Pratt.

Later Carolyn Locke would confess in a golf journal interview that she and her mother had misrepresented the putters for sale. In an article that appeared in the newspaper it stated Miss Carolyn Locke, 33, confirmed that she had kept her father’s famous putter, a non-named brand, hickory-shafted rusty-bladed golf stick given to him by his father.”

Carolyn and her mother would also donate or sell one of those replica putters to the St. Andrews Museum with a signed provenance that it was the putter used by Locke. The two putters on display there, however, are both shiny headed and inscribed with modern stampings and Locke’s name. This means that neither can be the genuine object, according to Alfred Pratt.

Why is there such confusion and misrepresentation of Locke’s famous hickory-shafted putter?

Alfred Pratt knows why.

“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.”

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.

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