Golfer Ben Sayers Biography

Golfer Ben Sayers circa 1910

A renowned ball- and clubmaker who also designed golf courses and worked as a golf instructor, Ben Sayers was an excellent golfer from the 1870s into the 19-teens. He was also a colorful character known to turn cartwheels in celebration on the golf course.

Full name: Bernard Sayers. "Ben" is the nickname by which he was known.

Date and place of birth: June 23, 1856, in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland

Date and place of death: March 9, 1924, in North Berwick, Scotland

Sayers in the British Open

Ben Sayers played the British Open 34 times, first in 1878 and last in 1914. He never won, but did finish tied for second at the 1888 Open. Sayers and David Anderson Jr. were in the clubhouse at 172 (the Open was only 36 holes at the time) when Jack Burns finished. Burns added his scorecard and came up with 172, suggesting a three-way playoff was in the offing. However, when an R&A official checked Burns' addition, he discovered that Burns' score was actually 171, and Burns was declared the winner.

Sayers recorded 12 Top 10 finishes in the Open, plus another five times finishing in the Top 15. Among those was a third-place finish in 1889.

Ben Sayers Bio

In his book Blasted Heaths and Blessed Greens, author James W. Finegan writes that Sayers was one of the first golfers to whom the term "showman" applied:

"Trained as an acrobat, (Sayers) would instinctively turn a cartwheel or execute a series of handsprings after sinking a good-sized putt. By comparison, the matador antics of Chi Chi Rodriguez seem positively subdued."

Ben Sayers cigarette card
In his The Who's Who of Golf, Peter Alliss added that being only 5-foot-3-inches tall "made the cartwheels (Sayers) performed across greens on holing important putts easier to carry out, if no less disturbing to opponents."

Born near the Leith links, Sayers grew up concentrating on acrobatics. He didn't give up the idea of a professional career as an acrobat until age 16.

By the 1870s Sayers was already earning a reputation for the quality of the gutta-percha golf balls he was making. Sayers played in tournaments and challenge matches in Scotland and England during that time, but his reputation as a golfer took off after he started entering the Open in the late 1870s. Various sources report that he won 24 professional tournaments, although no British Opens.

By the 1900s, Sayers' reputation as a teacher of the game led him to travel abroad. In 1911 Sayers became the head professional at the Golf Club of Monte Carlo. He visited the United States and played in the 1915 U.S. Open.

Among his pupils as a golf instructor were various royalty, including George, Prince of Wales (the future King George V). Sayers also was teacher to some golf royalty: His pupils included Dorothy Campbell, one of the first great female golfers; and Arnaud Massy, the Frenchman who in 1911 became the first non-British winner of the Open Championship.

The Ben Sayers Equipment Company

After cementing his reputation as a ballmaker, Sayers started an equipment company in North Berwick, Scotland, in 1873. That company survives today as the Ben Sayers Co. Its clubs and accessories are largely sold in the United Kingdom, although Ben Sayers equipment is today manufactured in China. There is a statue of Sayers outside the former factory site in North Berwick.

Ben Sayers & Son, as it was originally named, was an innovator and experimenter in its younger days. The company is credited as the first to put a square grip on a putter (called the Benny); created an oversized driver (called the Dreadnought) many decades before they became popular; and built a set of irons with carbon shafts, a forerunner to graphite shafts.

The Ben Sayers Co. lays claim to the title of the oldest continuously operating equipment company in the world.

More Notes About Ben Sayers

Sayers had an odd putting style: he dragged the putter across the line to impart sidespin on the ball, essentially hooking the ball towards the cup. ... North Berwick was his home course and the East course there is one of his several designs still in existence.

Sayers played many challenge matches against the Kirkaldy brothers, Andrew and Hugh, which sometimes included heated arguments on the greens. ... But Sayers and Andrew Kirkaldy also partnered one another to several tournament wins, and represented Scotland several times in the England–Scotland Professional Match. ... Sayers and the Kirkaldy brothers are pictured in a stained glass window at the Braid Hills Hotel in Edinburgh. ... Sayers was the uncle of British Open winner Jack White.

After losing a match to amateur Freddie Tait on his home course at North Berwick, Sayers remarked, "It's not possible, but it's a fact."

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