Home   Thanet   News   Article

How Abe Mitchell, the man on top of golf's Ryder Cup trophy, was signed to Broadstairs' North Foreland Golf Club by media magnate Lord Northcliffe


More news, no ads

LEARN MORE

When many of the world's greatest golfers take to Whistling Straits in Wisconsin this month to battle it out for golf's Ryder Cup, one man will - as he has done ever since the tournament first took place - take centre stage.

But the chances are you'll have never heard of him - despite him appearing on TV, newspapers and magazines the world over. Yet, 100 years ago, he was one of British sport's biggest names.

The Ryder Cup trophy - featuring Abe Mitchell
The Ryder Cup trophy - featuring Abe Mitchell

In fact, such was his popularity, when he was lured to work for an ambitious and deep-pocketed Kent golf club, he commanded a salary which "dwarfed all football and cricketing records".

But say the name Abe Mitchell to many and it will mean nothing.

Yet he is the figure immortalised on top of the Ryder Cup trophy.

So how did a man whose legacy is in danger of being forgotten end up on one of the world's most celebrated sporting prizes? And how did one of the most powerful media magnates managed to persuade him to ply his trade during his hey-day at one of Thanet's most picturesque courses?

Henry Abraham Mitchell, to give him his full name, was born just over the Kent/East Sussex border in East Grinstead in 1887. His family home bordered what is now the Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club and it was there he developed his love for the sport.

Abe Mitchell was one of world golf's greatest players
Abe Mitchell was one of world golf's greatest players

"He is known as the 'greatest golfer never to win The Open'," explains Arthur King, a director at North Foreland Golf Club in Broadstairs - where Mitchell worked during the peak of his popularity.

"He played for England (against Scotland) as an amateur international in 1910, 11 and 12; the same year he came runner up in the Amateur Championship,” he adds.

Turning pro in 1913, his first bid to win The Open in 1914 saw him tie for fourth place - collecting prize money of £8 and 15 shillings - the equivalent of just over £1,000 today. (Just for comparison, coming fourth at the 2021 Open in Sandwich would have seen you take home more than £680,000).

But just as his star started to rise, so the outbreak of the First World War cast a long dark shadow over the world.

Professional golf was suspended, and Mitchell joined the Royal Artillery to serve in France.

Abe Mitchell on his wedding day to Dora in Tunbridge Wells, 1920
Abe Mitchell on his wedding day to Dora in Tunbridge Wells, 1920

By the time peace had been restored, there had been no opportunity to play the normal qualifying rounds for The Open in 1919, and instead a Victory Open took place at St Andrews in Scotland gathering 60 top professionals. Abe Mitchell emerged triumphant.

The event was sponsored by the Daily Mail - owned by Lord Northcliffe, a keen amateur golfer who owned swathes of land fronting the coast next to his summer home in Broadstairs.

He had recently invested heavily in North Foreland Golf Club – leasing to the club the land on which half of today's course sits. He wanted to ensure it became a course of countrywide renown.

While Abe Mitchell had planned on emigrating to the US to compete there, Lord Northcliffe had other plans.

And so for the princely sum of £1,300 for the first year - the equivalent of £67,000 today - he bought the services of Britain's most celebrated golfer to not only improve his game, but also to be the club professional at North Foreland.

Lord Northcliffe splashed the cash in order to get Abe Mitchell to his club
Lord Northcliffe splashed the cash in order to get Abe Mitchell to his club

A report in the Glasgow Record at the time said the fee "dwarfs all football or cricketing records and is significant of the golfer's ascendancy. If the bank books of all the great professionals in sport were compared - the Carpentier's excepted (French heavyweight boxing champion) - the golfer's, I assert, would have it."

"Getting Abe Mitchell was one of the key drivers to get people to come to North Foreland," explains Arthur King. "It set it up as being one of the top clubs at the time.

"Abe would have given lessons when he wasn't playing tournaments elsewhere."

That's a bit like finding Rory McIlroy teaching you the basics of your swing.

He started in March 1920 with his first rounds beating all previous course records.

A wooden driver stamped with the name of Abe Mitchell and North Foreland Golf Club
A wooden driver stamped with the name of Abe Mitchell and North Foreland Golf Club

Just a few months later - when The Open was staged at Deal's Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club - he led the field by six strokes after the first two rounds.

But his third started poorly and he never recovered. The Open once again alluding him.

However, he saw success off the course - wedding sweetheart Dora in Tunbridge Wells in the November of that first year.

His time at the club saw its popularity soar - thanks much in part to Lord Northcliffe ensuring his newspapers, which also included the Daily Mirror, featuring Mitchell, and his links to the club, extensively.

After his five-year contract ended, Mitchell again planned to pack his golf bag and sail to the US.

Abe Mitchell worked at North Foreland Golf Club from 1920-1925
Abe Mitchell worked at North Foreland Golf Club from 1920-1925

But he had attracted the attention of Samuel Ryder - a businessman who wanted Mitchell at his club as his personal golf coach.

So Mitchell once again parked his cross-Atlantic ambitions and became professional at the Verulam Club in St Albans for another sizeable pay packet.

But it would prove a move which would ensure his immortality.

Samuel Ryder had built a career in the less than glamorous world of selling packets of seeds for a penny each - under cutting his rivals. But he built it into a major business which employed more than 100 staff.

His love of golf developed and he started to sponsor events.

North Foreland Golf Club in Kingsgate, Broadstairs
North Foreland Golf Club in Kingsgate, Broadstairs

Not long after Mitchell's arrival, he touted plans for a regular golf tournament pitting the UK's top golfers against their counterparts in the US.

The Ryder Cup was born in 1927 at the Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts - Samuel Ryder providing the trophy for the event from which it derived its name.

On the lid of the trophy was the figure of a golfer - his golf teacher Abe Mitchell.

Mitchell himself was due to be the British team captain in that first clash but suffered an appendicitis the day before they were due to sail and, yet again, saw his plans to get to the US thwarted.

However, he would return and go on to feature in the 1929, 1931 and 1933 tournaments of the biennial showdown.

North Foreland Golf Club is today's one of the county's finest
North Foreland Golf Club is today's one of the county's finest

By 1979, the event became a USA versus Europe event and today commands a global TV audience of 500 million across nearly 200 countries.

Abe Mitchell never would win The Open, but had cemented his place in golf's history.

He died at the age of 60 in St Albans.

North Foreland Golf Club has several of his clubs on display in its clubhouse - and even enjoyed a rare visit by the trophy itself in 2003 as part of its centenary celebrations.

Concludes Arthur King, who is co-author of a book charting the club's remarkable history: "We used to have a huge picture of Abe Mitchell in the clubhouse and we're still proud of our connection to him and, of course, Lord Northcliffe."

To read more of our in-depth features click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More