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Robert Maxwell
Amateur Golf Champion
Born: 12th May 1876, Edinburgh
Died: 25th July 1949, North Berwick

[Robert Maxwell]
Robert Maxwell - 1909
© Digitalsport UK

[12th on East
Course]
12th Glen Course, North Berwick
© Digitalsport UK

[14th on West
Links]
14th West Links, North Berwick
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[18th Gullane No.1]
Gullane Main Street and No.1 Course
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  Maxwell the 'Human Battering Ram'
By Douglas Seaton
North Berwick Factfile

Robert Maxwell, born at 127 George Street, Edinburgh in 1876, son of Francis Maxwell of Gribton, Dumfries, a landowner and his wife Adelaide Hay. At the age of four Robert moved with his parents, two brothers and a sister to North Berwick and was living in Balgone House and later The Lodge in Quality Street. Maxwell was educated at Eton and was described as an energetic boy who had some success at rowing and playing football. It was in the Eton Society where Maxwell acquired his short and concise style of oratory. His father Francis Maxwell joined North Berwick Golf Club on the 1st September 1880.

In 1883, Robert Maxwell and his brothers Frank and James played in the under-10s Elco Medal over two rounds of the Ladies Course at North Berwick. Robert was six years old and scored 74 less 18=56. He was a pupil of golf instructor Ben Sayers Snr. before joining Tantallon Golf Club in North Berwick. In 1897, Bobbie Maxwell won the handicap prize at the Tantallon Spring Meeting and was awarded the Aitchison Medal. At the same meeting in 1900, he won both the scratch and handicap prizes. He also won the Club Medal three successive years from 1902.

Robert Maxwell was a gentleman golfer, living on independent means, he was able to play golf on the West Links every day and was often to be seen walking the course in the evening. He had talent, but could also afford to hone his golfing skills to the level of a full time sportsman like the blue-blooded fraternity he competed against.

Maxwell played 13 times in the Amateur Championship from 1897-1914 and won the event twice in 1903 and 1909. At Prestwick in 1905, Maxwell defeated fellow Tantallon member John R. Gairdner in the fifth round. In the semi-final Maxwell was beaten at the first extra hole by the eventual winner Gordon Barry, the match was followed by 4,000 spectators.

Maxwell played in seven Open Championships between 1900-1909 and was leading amateur four times. His best finish was fourth in 1902 at Hoylake. He represented Scotland in the Home International's on eight occasions from 1902-10, before retiring from major competitions at the age of 34 years.

Maxwell was twenty-one years old when he played in his first Amateur Championship in 1897. This was the first Amateur Championship to be held at Muirfield and Maxwell playing off plus-four with Sayers as his caddie, defeated John Ball, thirteen years his senior and four times Amateur Champion at the twenty-third hole. Maxwell won through the third round, and caused another sensation by beating Harold Hilton who won the Open Championship that year. It was reported that Maxwell laid his opponent three stymies in the first eight holes and eventually beat him by six and four. Maxwell was defeated in the fifth round by one hole by James Robb, who was beaten in the final by Jack Allan.

By all accounts Dr. A. J. Travis Allan was an amazing character, he travelled each day to the championship by train to Drem and then by bicycle to Muirfield and he played without a nail in his boots.

In those days even the configuration of the nails in their shoes was open to experimentation. Harry Vardon for instance had fourteen nails in each heel and twenty-five in each sole. Vardon had an outer row of thirteen and an inner row of eleven, with one extra nail inside both rows at the toe end. Robert Maxwell's shoes were nailed in much the same way, but with fewer and larger nails wider apart. In 1898 Robert Maxwell visited Western Australia and spent some months with his family.

At Hoylake in 1902 Open, Maxwell was the only player to keep his four rounds under 80 and he came within two strokes of winning the championship using the new rubber-cored ball, but had to settle for fourth place. He won the St. George's Vase at Sandwich and complied a stunning collection of medals at the various clubs were he was a member including St. Andrews, Muirfield, North Berwick, and Tantallon. The winning of the George Glennie Medal at St. Andrews three years in succession was a great achievement, for this trophy goes only to the best combined score at the spring and autumn meetings.

In May 1903, Robert Maxwell won the Amateur Championship at Muirfield when he defeated Horace G. Hutchinson 7 and 6 in the final. Hutchinson of the Royal North Devon Club, had previously won the championship twice. The American hopes that year were dashed when the favourite Jerome D. Travers from Upper Montclair in New Jersey dropped out in the earlier rounds. Maxwell played in many championships wearing the same big loose brown jacket, with a small pocket at the side where he put his lighted pipe.

Head to head matches between Ball and Maxwell leading the English and Scottish teams attracted a great deal of attention.

In 1909, Ben Sayers Snr. designed a driver called a 'Dreadnought' and gave one to Bobbie. A few weeks later Maxwell won the blue ribbon of amateur golf for the second time, again at Muirfield using the new driver. In the final against Captain Cecil K. Hutchison, Maxwell was one down with four to play and when the next two were halved he was one down with two to play. At the 17th hole, a 330 yard par 4 they both hit good tee shots close to the bunker guarding the green and then Maxwell hit an exquisite pitch to within a foot of the hole for his three, inevitably the Captain missed his three, and the match was all square.

At the 18th, they both cleared the large bunker with their seconds, but both their pitch shots caught the rough at the edge of the green. Hutchison played first and got to within six feet of the hole giving himself a curly putt. Maxwell chipped to within a yard of the cup and faced a nasty downhill putt. Hutchison played first, missed the hole by an inch, Maxwell held his nerve and with a light tap the ball trickled up to the hole and in the last half turn dropped in for the championship. He placed the massive Amateur trophy in the care of Tantallon Golf Club. At that time Mr Law presented Bobbie Maxwell with a portrait which he immediately handed it over to Tantallon and for many years the picture was hanging in the clubhouse. [Robert Maxwell] Following Maxwell's triumph in 1909, every golfer wanted a Dreadnaught and the Ben Sayers factory could not keep up with demand. Later Sayers said " the club he actually used in the amateur championship was his (Sayers') own, the first one that he handled.

These clubs have exceedingly whippy shafts with the whip all the way up and especially near to the grip, and not just in one place and that low down as is usually the case. Also they have very large heads and many club makers who hear of them and try to copy them think that the size of the head is everything and act accordingly; but as a matter of fact, it is the peculiar spring of the shaft which makes all the difference. It needs very accurate timing of the stroke; but players who are not physically very strong, have found that they can do very well with them, better than with other clubs."

Maxwell played for Scotland against England in the Amateur International Matches in 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1909, 1910 and was captain on seven occasions. During the first ten years the matches between John Ball and Bobbie Maxwell attracted much attention when they almost invariably figured at the head of the English and Scottish teams. They met seven times in all, and of the seven Maxwell won five to Ball's two.

Original watercolour of Robert Maxwell by L.Ward pubished in Vanity Fair (1906) and presented to Tantallon Golf Club.

Maxwell had a style of his own with an open stance, feet wide apart using a wooden club and his right shoulder well down when addressing the ball. He used the interlocking or Vardon grip with his right thumb down the shaft. His swing was a very horizontal one, and he rarely made a full swing. He had a trick of turning his right wrist over just as he hits the ball, the result being that he gets an abnormal amount of over spin. He used an iron putter and griped it low down.

Maxwell served on the Tantallon Council for many years and was elected captain in 1902-04. In 1914 G. Barbour Turnbull presented Tantallon with the original watercolour from the 'Vanity Fair' cartoon of Robert Maxwell by Sir Leslie Ward. Tantallon loaned the picture to the British Golf Museum where it is now on display to the public.

When Robert Maxwell was captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers he improved the drainage at Muirfield. In 1907 the club acquired more land but it was not until 1923 that Maxwell persuaded the members to engaged Harry S. Colt to redesign the course.

In 1909, Maxwell entered the Open Championship at Deal and finished thirteenth. The following year he represented Scotland in the Home International matches and then retired from major tournaments. He continued to play in his club competitions until the start of WW1 when he enlisted as a private in the 8th Royal Scots and was soon afterwards given a commission as lieutenant. He was posted with his regiment to northern France and Belgium, and suffered in the trenches from frost-bitten feet and was in hospital in London for a short period.

After returning to the front in 1916 Maxwell was awarded the Military Cross. The official notification of the War Office said : "He took a half company through a heavy enemy barrage to its allotted position in spite of heavy casualties, and then returned with a small party and got his wounded away." He was later commissioned Captain Robert Maxwell in the Royal Scots. In 1915, Chuck Evans the US Amateur Champion was asked to list his top ten amateur golfers in the world and he included Robert Maxwell. His choice for the best amateur golfer was James Graham Jnr.

Robert Maxwell's regular caddie was Alex Lockhart from Balgone Barns. Alex was a licensed caddie on the West Links before he enlisted as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery in WW1. Lockhart was killed-in-action at Ypres on 4th October 1917 aged 32 years.

[East Links]
Glen Golf Course, Clubhouse and Milsey Bay, North Berwick.

In 1907, Robert Maxwell was conferred Honorary President of the Rhodes Golf Club, Glen Course, North Berwick and he presented the club with the Maxwell Shield which continues to be played for annually. Maxwell was also captain of North Berwick Golf Club (1919) and North Berwick New Club (1919-23).

In 1919, Maxwell suggested that the organising of the Amateur Championship should be with one supreme ruling authority and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club accepted responsibly and custody of the cup. The Open Championship followed and both are now run by the Championship Committee of the R&A.

In 1898, Robert's father built the property at 20 West Bay Road, North Berwick, opposite the 18th fairway on the West Links. When Maxwell and his sisters occupied the building it was called East Gribton after their fathers estate at Gribton House in Dumfries. It was while living there Maxwell won the Amateur Championship in 1903 and 1909. Later the building became Point Garry Hotel and in 1997 Sergio Garcia stayed there when he won the Amateur Championship at Muirfield and it was quite a coincidence for the Amateur Trophy to return to the same property after all those years. Maxwell later moved to 22 Dirleton Avenue, North Berwick and transfered the name East Gribton to his new house, where he died on 25th July 1949. Robert Maxwell and his family are buried in Holywood Cemetery, Dumfries.

David Myles Maxwell

David Myles Maxwell is not related to Amateur Champion Robert Maxwell. David emigrated to Australia and was a founder member of Finders Golf Club in Victoria. He was born in Montrose in 1861 son of a minister with the Church of Scotland, David Skinner Maxwell. David M.Maxwell was Honorary Secretary of the Finders Club (1902-1936). David and his wife Rebecca Valentine opened a Boarding House in Finders.

Francis Maxwell

Robert Maxwell's brother Francis Maxwell born 14 December 1870, Speddoch House, Holywood, Dumfries. He learned to play golf on the nine-hole Ladies course at North Berwick, and attended Trinity College, Cambridge in 1889. Francis followed his cousin David M. Maxwell to Australia and settled in Adelaide. During the second Boer War, Francis enlisted with the Queensland Imperial Bushmen and was posted to South Africa in 1900. Sergeant Francis Maxwell was killed-in-action at Hammers Kraal on 17 July 1900. Francis Maxwell was a distant relative of Dr. Alister MacKenzie, the golf course architect and it has been suggest that MacKenzie extended the course at Finders to eighteen holes but this cannot be confirmed.

Copyright © Douglas C Seaton 2018, All Rights Reserved.