Charles Whitcombe: British Golf Champ of 1920s, 1930s

Charles Whitcombe was an English golfer with professional victories stretching from the early 1920s to the late 1930s. He never won The Open Championship, but was considered among the best of his era and was a prominent figure in the early history of the Ryder Cup. In his time, he was the best-known of the three Whitcombe brothers, who all posted multiple tournament victories and played in the Ryder Cup.

Full name: Charles Albert Whitcombe

Date of birth: September 21, 1895

Place of birth: Berrow, Somerset, England

Date and place of death: February 13, 1978, Winchmore Hill, London, England

Also known as: C.A. Whitcombe

Whitcombe's Biggest Wins

In the Majors

Charles Whitcombe never played The Masters or U.S. PGA Championship, and played in the U.S. Open just once (missing the cut in 1927). But he had nine Top 10 finishes in the British Open and was considered, in his time, a surprising omission from the list of Open champions.

He first entered The Open in 1914 and last in 1948. His best finish was solo third in the 1935 Open Championship, where he held a 3-stroke lead at the midway point. But Alf Perry's 67 in Round 3 pushed Perry to the top of the leaderboard, and Whitcombe finished five strokes back after a final-round 76.

Whitcombe also shared the second-round lead in the 1923 Open, and was one stroke off the lead going into the final round. But he carded an 82 in that last round and fell into a tie for sixth place.

His other best finishes were solo fourth in 1937 and tied fourth in 1932; and solo fifth in 1922. Whitcombe's other Top 10 finishes were in the Opens of 1927 (sixth), 1930 (tied ninth), 1934 (tied seventh) and 1938 (tied 10th).

Charles was the middle brother among the three golfing Whitcombe boys. The oldest, Ernest Whitcombe, was runner-up in the 1924 British Open. The youngest, Reg Whitcombe, was the only one of the three to win the biggest title, taking the 1938 British Open after having been runner-up in 1937.

Whitcombe in the Ryder Cup

Charles Whitcombe was involved in the first six Ryder Cups played — 1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937 — plus the 1949 tournament, making it seven of the first eight. He was a player only in 1927, 1929 and 1933; a player-captain in 1931, 1935 and 1937; and the non-playing captain in 1949.

Whitcombe's overall match-play record in the Ryder Cup was 3 wins, 2 losses and 4 ties. He was 1-2-1 in singles play and 2-0-3 in foursomes matches, earning five points out of nine matches played across his Ryder Cup history. (His brother Ernest was 1-4-1, and brother Reg lost the only Ryder Cup match he played.)

In the 1929 Ryder Cup, Ernest also on the team, making them the first brothers to play in the Ryder Cup, and the first to play in the same Ryder Cup. In the 1935 Ryder Cup, all three Whitcombe brothers were on the team, with Reg playing for the only time — the only trio of brothers to play at any point in the Ryder Cup, much less on the same squad.

Here are Whitcombe's results in each of his Ryder Cups:

  • 1927: Was the only member of Team Great Britain to avoid losing. Partnered with Aubrey Boomer to win a foursomes match against Leo Diegel/Bill Mehlhorn, 7 and 5; then halved his singles match with Gene Sarazen.
  • 1929: With partner Archie Compston, halved Johnny Farrell/Joe Turnesa in foursomes; then beat Farrell in singles, 8 and 6. (Matches were scheduled for 36 holes at this time.) Whitcombe's 1.5 points was again best for GB, which won this Cup.
  • 1931: First turn as captain, brother Ernest again on the team, but Charles didn't take the opportunity to pair himself with his brother. Instead, he sat out the foursomes. In singles, Charles lost to Walter Hagen, 4 and 3.
  • 1933: With partner Percy Alliss, halved in foursomes against Gene Sarazen/Walter Hagen; in singles, lost to Horton Smith, 2 and 1. But this was the second (and last) Ryder Cup Whitcombe was involved in that resulted in a Great Britain victory.
  • 1935: This time playing captain Charles did pair himself with his brother Ernest, and in foursomes Team Whitcombe won, 1-up, over Olin Dutra/Ky Laffoon. It was Great Britain's only point in the doubles. Charles kept himself out of the singles.
  • 1937: The only Whitcombe on the team again, the 41-year-old player-captain didn't play singles, but earned a half-point in foursomes. Charles and Dai Rees halved Gene Sarazen/Denny Shute.
  • 1949: Whitcombe, now 53, returned for his last direct participation in the Ryder Cup matches, this time as non-playing captain. Team USA won by a 7-5 score. Although Whitcombe was on the winning side a couple times as a player, his side lost all four times he was the Great Britain captain.

More About Charles Whitcombe

Charles and his brothers were all born near near Burnham & Berrow Golf Club in Somerset, England, where Great Triumvirate legend J.H. Taylor was the pro, and Taylor was an early influence. But much of Charles' maturation as a golfer took place at Came Down Golf Club in Dorchester. Ernest Whitcombe became pro at that club in 1910, and Charles (along with Reg) moved there with his mother when she was named club stewardess.

Charles became acquainted with Ryder Cup founder Samuel Ryder at Came Down, which was the club Ryder liked to play on holiday. That was in the 1920s, but by then Charles was already well into his tournament golf career.

Charles was considered a top ball-striker. Dai Rees once claimed that Whitcombe was the straightest driver he had ever seen. But, Peter Alliss once wrote, "This outstanding player had only one weak feature in his game: unreliable putting."

He first entered the Open, and got into the News of the World Match Play, in 1914. After golf in Britain resumed following World War I, Whitcombe's tournament career started to take off. His first significant pro win was in the 1921 West of England Professional Championship. He didn't stop winning until the end of the 1930s, when another world war again put golf on hold.

His tournament highlights included winning the 1924 Daily Mail Tournament by nine strokes. At the 1927 Glasgow Herald Tournament, Whitcombe beat 50-year-old Ted Ray in the 36-hole championship match, 10 and 8.

One year after the inaugural Ryder Cup, Whitcombe won the match-play Yorkshire Evening News Tournament for the second time, this time beating Herbert Jolly — his teammate in that 1927 Ryder Cup — 3 and 2 in the title match.

Charles won two News of the World Match Plays (also known as the British Match Play Championship, and second at the time in importance behind only The Open). And he beat future Hall of Famer Henry Cotton in the championship match both times, by the same 4-and-2 score both times. Those wins were in 1928 and 1930. Whitcombe also reached the championship match in 1934, but lost, 2-down, to Jack Busson.

Whitcombe won the 1930 Irish Open by eight strokes over runner-up Abe Mitchell. He claimed the 1935 Dunlop-Southport Tournament by one over runners-up Dick Burton and Cotton, then, two years later, finished second to Burton.

In 1937, after Harry Vardon's death, the British PGA created the Harry Vardon Trophy, an award still handed out today. In 1937, it was given to the golfer who recorded the lowest scoring average in designated stroke-play tournaments. Charles Whitcombe was the very first winner.

In 1938, Whitcombe won the Silver King Tournament by two strokes over Alf Perry plus his nephew Eddie Whitcombe (son of Ernest). His last big tournament win was the 1939 Penfold Professional Golf League. In that event, 12 golfers played round-robin over six days, 10 matches over the first five days, one more match on the sixth day. They earned two points for a win, one point for a tie, and at the end Whitcombe and Cotton tied for the championship with 18 points each.

During much of his tournament career, Charles was also serving as head professional at Crews Hill Golf Club in Middlesex, England, a position to which he was appointed in 1925. He spent 25 years at the club, retiring in 1950.

Charles was the middle brother, but the longest-lived. Reg, the youngest, died in 1957. Ernest, the oldest, followed in 1971. Charles passed away at the age of 82 in 1978.

During his life he was also a popular teacher of the game, which included several instruction books. Charles Whitcombe on Golf (affiliate link) was published in 1931, and the simply named Golf followed in 1949.

He also was the featured instructor in a series of short booklets published in the early 1930s, each focused on specific club or clubs. The series was titled Golf Shots, with each listed as being part of the "Fairways Hazard Pocket Pro Series." The four booklets covered The Drive, The Iron, The Mashie, plus Niblick and Putter. But Whitcombe's first appearance in an instructional book was his chapter on "Chip Shots and the Mashie" in the 1925 book How to Improve Your Golf: Lessons By the British Masters.

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