Otterdale, England: How a town turned British golf around

Written by Staff Writer at CNN

When he was young, he enjoyed a career playing football and baseball. But in the game of golf, so to speak, he was King Midas.

Middleweight boxer Floyd Patterson once asked himself, “Why on earth would a schoolboy seek greatness in the ring?”

But that is exactly what Richard Charkin did when he took up the sport in his mid-30s. He began to feel worthy of club membership in the summer of 1971, so in a practical sense, the road to professional golf was paved.

Wynold DiPietro, director of broadcast with the Golf Channel said he was “gushing” when he heard that Charkin had become the only white British male professional on the European Tour since 1985.

“As a white British white male, the Irishman almost appeared to be out of sync with the nagging expectation that the game he played on the European Tour would be a bit too competitive and sometimes test too many male members of his race,” he added.

“These accusations, as the European Tour grows ever closer to becoming a ‘big golf’ circuit, serve to prove that it’s OK for the average person of all races to play the game now and again — just as Richard has.”

Richard Charkin shoots his best score on the European Tour in 1972, when he finished tied fifth. Credit: David Fox/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

Born in 1929 in Otterdale, in northern England, Charkin made a successful amateur debut at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in the 1960s. He was aged 37 when he won the Amateur Championship in 1972, and helped to make the national schedule on the European Tour for the first time in 1979.

The next three years were very successful, he became a member of the European Tour at the age of 44 in 1985 and made the most of the opportunities that this provided — particularly after Rick Rhoden took a few years off.

However, in 1989, he suffered a major setback when he was diagnosed with bone cancer and treated with radiation in ’91. He was put back on steroids, which made his year-to-year golfing progress rather erratic, and he was forced to stop playing altogether in 1993. He then turned his mind to a career as a golf writer.

Born from an island in Spain

The revelation that Lionel Messi had been born in the Canary Islands had a strong resonance with Charkin, whose father had received a letter from the Spanish Embassy confirming that the boy — by this time named Lionel Messi — had been born from an island in Spain called Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

“It was a well-rounded upbringing,” Charkin said of his hometown of Otterdale, the first official England town to establish a school for headmasters. “It was a very good mix of working-class and middle-class people, and there was a lot of nanny-educated teachers who knew how to get the best out of their pupils.”

The town’s 15th-century cathedral tower stands in an impressive triangular position on its seafront, projecting “like an open roof for ball games.” Above it stands the tower of St, Andrew’s church, built in the same style. You can feel the pubs drawing in their regulars, the town centre full of people mixing, drinking and milling about.

“I am proud of Otterdale,” Charkin said. “It’s a really good place, if not one of the better places in England, with the same attraction to the amateur golfer. And this is why the town voted to make the clubhouse a public house two years ago, and why they have spent a lot of money on the weatherproofing and cleaning up the look of the pub.”

“It’s hard to get stuck into British golf when you’re on the European Tour — we just don’t have the same depth of talent or quality and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look as good as it used to, because the classes of membership are increasingly small. I suppose we should try and build things back up.”

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