Open Fever

Colin Strachan has written a second fascinating book that resulted from his researches for the Royal Ashdown forest (RAF) 125 anniversary celebration book that FineGolf has already reviewed.

He discovered that RAF’s captain in 1915 was Dr Ewan Richards Frazer. He was a pathologist with the same interests as Colin, a surgeon, in the prevention and treatment of infection. Ewan made the crucial donation that set-up the Oxford laboratory, a laboratory famed for Fleming’s development of penicillin.

But continuing the golf theme Colin discovered from the Australian Golf Club (AGC) archivist, Don Dunne, that Ewan was the energy behind creating the first Australian Open and ‘Open Fever’, using Colin’s undoubted skills in research, analysis and excellent story-telling, encompasses how Australian amateur and professional golf took off.

For me the book has an extra personal interest in giving an historical background to the pioneering British (most often Scottish) families who colonised Australia, both the Frazer and and my Macpherson Smith families emigrating in the first half of the nineteenth century to find fortune through hard work and application of their farming and business skills.

One of the two clean water fountains in Sydney donated by John Frazer in 1884.

Colin explains the Irish class struggles around the period of which most people have heard, surrounding the potato famine and the repeal of the Corn Laws and it is the initial backdrop to Ewan’s father living in County Down, hailing from a Scottish protestant background and emigrating in 1842 to New South Wales.

He left poverty and established a profitable mercantile grocery store in Sydney. He became a well respected member of society both in politics and business and only 34 years after arriving impoverished he rose to be one of the wealthiest men in the NSW colony.

The Macphersons emigrated in 1825 from Skye on the sailing ship ‘Triton’ and a daughter married William Smith who had emigrated in 1850 from Darnick, Melrose, whose father had re-built Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s house in the Borders. They cultivated sheep interests in Victoria and Macpherson Street in the capital is named after them, they being the first ‘white’ family to live in Canberra.

Other Smith brothers had a building materials business in Sydney. No doubt they knew the Frazers and both families were certainly friends with the Fairfaxes of publishing fame, now the largest Australian media company, having in 2018 gone private once more.

Colin gives a detailed account of the Victorian and Edwardian periods during the golf boom in the colony, using the theme of the Frazer family.

Ewan, born in 1867, throughout his life sailed backwards and forwards between Sydney and England. Educated at Sydney University and then Balliol College, Oxford in 1887, he was one of the first colonial students to attend there.

Three of his siblings died before the age of thirty from different diseases and though Ewan qualified, he decided against a career in pathology after two years working in East London and a family death, but medicine’s loss was Australian golf’s gain.

He joined the Overseas Club in St James’s while living it up in Kensington, nevertheless for health reasons as much as anything else (London was a pretty filthy place in those days), he acquired the tenancy of Framport House, two miles from Royal Ashdown Forest GC in Sussex where Horace Hutchinson was also a member.

Ewan met Horace Hutchinson probably at Oxford where he was captain of the varsity golf team and winner of the first two British Amateur Championships in 1886 and ‘87, and certainly at Ashdown when HGH was club captain in 1906.

Ewan on the right,with similar swing to Jack Rowe the Pro at RAF.

This was all at a time when the upper middle class social elite around London were following the example of Edward, Prince of Wales in taking up golf, and the royal & ancient sport became Ewan’s sport.

He returned to Sydney to tend to his ailing mother and to marry Jessie Middleton, then a fine concert pianist, with their wedding being a major society occasion.

He had only just returned to Sussex with his new wife when his brother Arthur died in a riding accident. The couple sailed back and while wanting any children to be born in Australia, Jessie became pregnant, the event keeping them from returning to England.

1901, Ewan & Jessie Frazer with bay gelding Man O’ War.

Ewan, being a dedicated gambler, acquired a string of race horses and was on the board of the Australian Jockey Club.

Rather than joining the gentleman’s Australian Club in Sydney, Ewan was a member of the Union Club whose other members had founded the Australian Golf Club (AGC), the first such in the colony, with their first meeting in 1884 following two years of random play with six holes on Moore Park. The prime mover was Charles Riddell who had previously founded Alnmouth GC in Northumberland in 1869.

Ewan playing from one of the AGC bunkers at Kensington, Rosebery.

The golfers had to compete over the ground with the Sydney Bicycle Club and the ladies bicycle track and when the park became the place of celebration for the centennial of European settlement in Australia in 1888, the AGC moved to Queens Park, Waverley with eleven holes. Sydney was at this time one of the largest cities in the western world with a population of over half a million.

The AGC moved again in 1899 to Botany with an increase to eighteen holes, at a time when the first Australian Golfers Union Amateur Championship was played at Royal Sydney GC at Bondi. Soon after Ewan Frazer became increasingly involved in organising events.

Hon.Michael Scott winner of the first Australian Open.

He showed considerable administrative abilities backed up by donations from his trust fund, in organising the first Australian Open Championship that was held at Botany in 1904 and won by Hon. Michael Scott. Scott so impressed Ewan that he vowed his sons would also be educated at Winchester College.

At the same time Ewan led the move and development of the AGC to a new course at Kensington, Rosebery, where it remains to this day.

As Colin notes, his father John would have been proud that his Scots/Northern Irish work ethic, unobtrusive disposition and modesty had been handed down.

The AGC hosted the Open in 1908 at Kensington for the first time and has subsequently been the host venue twenty times, more than any other Australian course.

JL ‘Jim’ Hutchison

Alister MacKenzie and Jack Nicklaus are usually mentioned as AGC’s course architects but Colin from his researches confirms that it was JL ‘Jim’ Hutchison from North Berwick who oversaw the design and construction of the initial 27 holes with a ladies’ nine set out in the middle, before returning to Scotland via New Zealand in 1905.

Macpherson Smith children around 1920 in age order: Ian, Ailsa, Lorne, Gordon, Gavin, Kenneth.

One looks back on one’s ancestors with pride for their pioneering abilities, even if recently some extremists have hit the headlines with their own agenda attempting to sully all colonialists while not recognising The Commonwealth as a democratic force for good, that has grown from an initial seven nations after the Second World War to now 52 nations.

The Frazers’ tale is again similar to my grandfather’s, who brought his family back in 1907 with Uncle Ian (born 1903), Uncle Lorne (born 1908) and father Gordon (born 1910), all attending Winchester College. Ewan Frazer’s family returned in 1910 with his boys being educated at Winchester. I was not bright enough for the cerebral Winchester but made it into Radley College after hitting a cricket century for my Sussex prep school.

Jack Frazer (born 1901) went on to Oxford and gained a football and cricket blue, while my Uncle Ian, won a rugger blue, subsequently captaining Scotland to the triple crown in 1933 and nicknamed ‘The Flying Scotsman’ still holds the record for Scottish international tries (24 in 32 caps, a strike rate of 0.75 tries per game that I believe continues to be a world record). My father Gordon, was awarded a double rowing blue in 1931/2.

Henderson’s Australian Families.

An important source is Henderson’s tome on Australian families, published in 1941, and now available online HERE giving the families’ genealogy by chapter. (The Macphersons are at page 196 in the book, and my father is at page 233 on the website). My mother was Gordon’s second wife, a Carew Gibson, of Sullington, Sussex and Carew castle, Pembrokeshire heritage. I am not aware that we claim any Irish blood.

Ewan Frazer took up again in Sussex and acquired the freehold of Framport House, joining the Royal Ashdown Forest’s general committee. In 1915, aged 47, he was invited, after several other members had declined owing to World War One commitments, to become the 27th captain, the same number as the number of members killed in the war.

AGC’s Dr Ewan Richards Frazer trophy

Colin continues with Ewan’s four children encountering names like Douglas Jardine the famous ‘Bodyline’ England Captain who was at school with Jack, and Stuart Bradshaw, a triple blue, who married daughter Margaret.

Ewan is commemorated to this day by the Dr Ewan Richards Frazer Trophy that is played for at the AGC annually in celebration, since 2005, of the centennial opening of the Kensington course.

Those of you who have an interest in pathology, in Australian golf and in the history of the pioneering British families who colonised Australia or who just like reading brilliantly composed and researched books with manifold photos, will enjoy this book.

Those looking for information on early Australian greenkeeping will be disappointed but in any event their grasses differ in the hotter climate of Sydney from those to be found on the running courses of the temperate climate here in GB&I. The courses in cooler Tasmania, however, do support fescues and bents if low input conservation greenkeeping is employed, as it is at Barnbugle Dunes.

There are only a few copies left of ‘Open Fever‘ in the UK and they cost £35 +p&p from Colin:  cjl.strachan@gmail.com

For those in the Antipodes copies may be obtained from the secretary at the Australian Golf Club.

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