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THE FATHER OF GOLF INSTRUCTION
By Mike Stevens
USGTF Level IV Member - Tampa, Florida

I refer to him by the above title. His manuscript was the first real effort to put on paper instructions on how to play the game. Hints on Golf by Horace Hutchinson was published in 1886. In spite of the myriad of golf teaching literature over the years, it is one book I refer to regularly. His simple basics and anecdotes have helped me establish that crucial teacher-student bond essential to the golf teaching process. You can get a copy through Classic golf Books of Connecticut or through an antique golf book dealer. It would be worth your while to track one down.

Horace G. Hutchinson began his golfing career at an early age playing on Royal North Devon, a course founded in 1864. By the age of sixteen, he won the club medal championship and, by club rules, became its Captain. That was fine with horace because he was completing his preparatory education and heading to Oxford University. At the school he made his mark immediately playing number one on the golf team and leading them to victory over arch rival, Cambridge. Always during his years at Oxford, he would spend vacations at home playing the Royal Devon course accompanied by a young caddie who was employed by the Hutchinson family as a houseboy. His name was John Henry Taylor, better known to golfdom as J.H.. He would go on to win five British Open Championships.

Hutchinson’s finest golf efforts occurred in the British Amateur, which he won in 1886 and 1887. He became the first player to successfully defend the championship when he beat the great John Ball on Ball’s home course. An ardent student of the golf swing, he decided to put forth in writing his suggestions on how to play because, in his words, he often, “saw men ‘playing golf’ as they are pleased to call it, in a style which is physically, anatomically, mathematically, from every conceivable point of view, impossible for a human being, made on any known plan, to strike the ball correctly.” So what has changed?

On reading Horace Hutchinson’s advice to golfers, one is struck by the fact that his understanding of the golf swing and the golfers psyche is years ahead of his time. Consider this bit of wisdom – “that the great secret of all strokes played for the most part is to make the club travel as long as possible in the direction in which you want the ball to go.” Not only are his instructions sound, such as not holding the club too tight and keeping the muscles loose to get sufficient impact speed, but also they are filled with humorous anecdotes. For example, “Should you cut up turf, be careful to replace it, golf is not agriculture.” A personal favorite of mine is, “Do not be so scientific as to lose all dash.”

Mr. Hutchinson continued to write about golf as his playing career wound down. He authored two more books on golf and several articles for the Badminton Library of Sports. One other interesting footnote on his career that has been long forgotten regards the Old Course at St. Andrews. For a number of years the course could be played in reverse, playing to the seventeenth green starting out. Hutchinson’s win in the Amateur there is the only time the reverse course was used in championship play. In my mind, there is no question that Horace Hutchinson was a teacher extraordinaire and is clearly the father of golf instruction.

Mike Stevens is the Director of Guaranteed Golf Schools in Tampa and Sarasota. In November 2002 he was listed as one of Florida’s top ten instructors by Florida Golf News for the fourth consecutive year. Mike is the junior golf instructor at Macdill Air Force Base, a Level IV member of the U.S. Golf Teachers Federation, the Golf Collectors Society and the Donald Ross Society. Mike was also a member of Team USA at the World Golf Teachers Cup in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

 

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