IT SEEMS a safe bet that the Professional Golfers Association’s training programme does not include preparing its members on how to deal with aiding damsels in distress.
No matter. After 36 years as Ilkley Golf Club’s professional, John Hammond – who retired on Wednesday – relied on the instincts which have served him so well since 1979 when an anxious woman recently called his shop number.
“‘John, John – my electric trolley’s in the river’, she said,” recalls Hammond.
“So I shut the shop up and walked over the bridge to the second hole, took my shoes and socks off, rolled up my trousers and waded in. Trouble was the stones were killing me so I said ‘Can you throw my shoes in ‘cos I can’t walk.”
A comical scene ensued with Hammond pushing the trolley and attached set of clubs up a high part of the river bank while the woman and her playing partners hooked their putters inside the bag and pulled.
Such noble assistance was typical of a man who had to give up his life as a tournament professional after an unfortunate injury sustained late in 1978 when he ripped a cartilage joining his stomach to his rib cage.
On the verge of confirming his playing rights for the following year, he strapped himself up to play the first round of the European Open in 79 excruciatingly painful shots, earned sufficient points to retain his Tour card for 1979 – and never played a single event.
He applied for the club professional’s job at Selby, and got on a short list of three but did not get it. Selby’s loss would prove Ilkley’s gain.
“You never know how good you could have got on tour, obviously,” he says. “I was improving every year, but I would probably not have got to the top by any means because I never really hit it far enough.
“I had to settle into the life of being a club professional and it has been great – it has been a two-way thing and has worked well both ways, I think.”
A modest man, he is probably understating his playing capabilities. He is certainly understating his value to Ilkley’s membership as well as to visitors to the club.
“When John came there was a total change in the demeanour of the club,” says former club captain Jimmy Saywell.
“It has always been a nice place to play golf, but the niceness of the club improved dramatically when John came here.
“It must be one of the few golf clubs in the world where everybody who comes to play sticks their head in the pro shop to say hello to the professional.”
Club vice president Peter Downey, another past captain, adds: “John remembers everyone’s name, no matter who they are.
“As captain, you go to other clubs and meet some very nice people – but I wouldn’t have swapped John for anyone else. As a club pro he’s an absolute star.”
Former Walker Cup player, captain and English stroke play champion Rodney Foster has known Hammond for years and says: “One of his greatest assets is to know when to greet someone by there surname and when to greet them by their first name.
“Some people like one, some the other. John has always gauged it just right when showing deference to members and visitors.”
Hammond will keep his distance from the club for a while, he says, to enable his replacement, Andrew Driver – his assistant of 12 years – to get settled in.
During retirement he intends to watch his favourite football team Bradford City, go to see Ilkley rugby union club – “for the first time; members have always been suggesting I go” – and enjoy cycling, and walking his dog.