A friendly golf match was played in an excellent spirit on Saturday, and needless to say the tactics employed came under close scrutiny at the de-briefing which went on late into the night.
Ian’s ball couldn’t possibly have landed where he claimed to find it. If Derek really thought he reached the green in three, arithmetic may not be his strongest suit. And what about Alan’s handicap? Did you see the up and down he pulled off at the last?
Of course the subject of the Goldfinger game came up, most of us remembering the game from the 1964 film with Gert Frobe and Sean Connery in the starring roles in front of the beautiful clubhouse at Stoke Park. As always it pays to return to Fleming’s original, which was written in 1958.
It is no secret that the fictional Royal St Marks is an undisguised version of Royal St George’s. The description is so detailed, you wonder why Fleming bothered to change the name. To avoid being sued for suggesting that someone like Goldfinger would ever be a member, perhaps. Or might the remark that “the practice green bore no resemblance in speed or texture to the greens on the course” have got Fleming into trouble at Sandwich?
It is said that the game was inspired by a pro-am at The Berkshire in 1957 when Fleming partnered the Open Champion Peter Thomson. This is a good piece of trivia, but what did that experience contribute to the story?
“Goldfinger putted in the new fashion, between his legs with a mallet putter. Bond felt encouraged. He didn’t believe in the system.”
Was it at The Berkshire that Fleming came across someone using this ugly method? ** Croquet-style putting was not banned until 1968, after Sam Snead and other yippers adopted it to the disgust of golfing purists like Bond and Bobby Jones. But the film has Goldfinger adopt a conventional side-on putting stance. Gert Frobe was a golfer, and he may have insisted on this.
With his remarks about the practice green and suspect technique Fleming seems to be setting Goldfinger up to miss vital putts under pressure. In the early stages of the match Bond concedes missable putts with a view to asking his opponent to putt a tricky little one later on. But nothing comes of this. Goldfinger knocks his chips and long putts stone dead and it is Bond who misses from short range. Perhaps Fleming simply wanted to show his contempt for the croquet method, and that may even have contributed in a small way to the eventual ban.
Goldfinger’s gamesmanship tactics are mostly familiar from Stephen Potter’s seminal work: we have coin-rattling in the pocket, dropping the club and casting a shadow over Bond’s ball when 007 is in mid-swing. Bond uses the more subtle approach of well-timed conversation; unsettling Goldfinger by enquiring after an employee he has recently had murdered. Try it some time.
Goldfinger actually cheats on three occasions, improving his lie in the rough and, more creatively, in a bunker by jumping up and down on the pretext of checking the location of the flag; and paying his caddie Foulks to drop a replacement ball – using the ‘Great Escape’ trouser leg ploy – for Goldfinger to ‘find’. Bond therefore has every justification in cheating back, by persuading his caddie Hawker to switch Goldfinger’s ball in preparation for the sting on the last green.
All this is great fun. But why does the film perform a different ball switch, swapping the Dunlop 65 used by Goldfinger in the book for a Slazenger? Is this a product placement exercise, whereby Slazenger pays to be the chosen ball of the golfer whose expensive new clubs are described as ‘pretentious but the best’? 007, we may recall, played a Penfold Heart, and sales of these balls are said to have soared after publication of the book. They are still in production, and might make a good christmas present for the heritage-aware golfer.
Or product displacement? Dunlop may have preferred not to be associated with Goldfinger, the no-no golfer with an abomination of a putting stroke, an ugly mechanical swing and a disastrous outfit of ‘assertive blatancy’? This included a buttoned ‘golfer’s cap,’ almost orange shoes and plus fours pressed down the sides. “Goldfinger had made an attempt to look smart at golf, and that is the only way of dressing that is incongruous on a links.”
Twenty years may have passed since Bond last played at St Marks, but the racket player’s flat swing has lost none of its snap and he knows how to dress: a change of socks, a battered pair of nailed Saxones and a faded black windcheater. In preparation for a breezy links game the golfer’s head is bare, not covered by the downmarket trilby Connery has to wear in the film to go with his logo’d golf jersey – by Slazenger, as it happens. You won’t see many of those at St George’s.
But the film version of the game is played on a parkland course owned by Goldfinger, not an ancestral links. So the Slazenger and trilby look is not so misplaced after all.
** PS Ian Fleming’s article for The Sunday Times about The Berkshire pro-am is a great read, but about the only things of relevance to Bond vs Goldfinger are Fleming’s handicap of 9 (the same as 007 and Goldfinger) and his ‘short flat swing.’ Croquet putting is not mentioned.