For the Love of Golf
PUBLISHED: 13:14 24 April 2008 | UPDATED: 15:07 20 February 2013
In our May issue we speak to Jonathan Clifford, a golfing fanatic who revels in the skills of the modern game, but who also loves its traditions and history. He runs Clifford Gibbs Collectables from the Coinage Hall in Truro that is full of every ...
Bernard Cole talks to Jonathan Clifford, a golfing fanatic who revels in the skills of the modern game but who loves its tradition and history
"I first became interested in golf when my family moved to Somerset when I was nine" says Jonathan Clifford who owns and runs Clifford Gibbs Collectibles from The Coinage Hall in Truro. "Our new home was close to Burnham and Berrow Golf Links, and I just couldn't keep away. I used to spend hours in all weathers just watching the game unfold and knew I just had to give it a go". Jonathan's introduction to golf couldn't have been much better. Many top international events have been played at Burnham and Berrow, and several top players still argue that it's the best links or seaside course in the South-west.
Jonathan's persistent pestering to wield a golf club finally bore fruit and, together with his brother, he joined the club as a junior member, just before his tenth birthday. He started off by caddying for other club members, including the likes of George Irlam, a famous Westcountry golfer of the day, just to get a feel for the game and its 'traditions'. In those days, golf was seen very much as an elitist sport and one false move by Jonathan and his cohort of friends would have seen them shown the door. But these youngsters were serious about their golf and their infectious enthusiasm saw them warmly welcomed by the adult membership.
With superb practice facilities, unfailing support, and several lessons from Richard Bradbeer, the club's patient golf pro, Jonathan's skill and enthusiasm for the game grew and grew. Before long he was playing for the Somerset Youth Team, and in 1979, when just 18 years old, he was selected for the full county side. He then won various county events, including the West of England Foursomes Championship with local girl Pippa Barry, and in 1981 he lifted the winner's trophy in the Somerset individual amateur championship.
But, as is the case with many young people starting out in life, the lure of the big city was beginning to make its presence felt, and in the early 1980s, despite opposition from family and friends, he decided to move to London to seek fame and fortune in the world of golf. Although he had been playing for over ten years by this time, it still came as a bit of a shock when he realised he wasn't, and never would be, good enough to make it as a top professional player. But he still loved the game and, increasingly, was becoming fascinated by its history and traditions. So, to maintain his connection with the game, he decided to pursue a career in 'golf' retailing, as opposed to playing, and joined the London Golf Centre as a shop assistant. He must have done something right because when he left the company over 20 years later he was its Managing Director.
And when he wasn't sitting behind his desk in London, Jonathan, by his own admission a golfing traditionalist, was visiting St Andrews and other centres of golfing excellence around the UK, not only to witness some of the world's greatest tournaments but also to cultivate his love of the game and everything associated with it. Though he's the first to admit to missing the competitive edge of playing at a reasonably good level, and though he plays as often as he can, he still carries an unfathomable love and attraction for the game of old.
"There's just something about the golfing lifestyle of yesteryear that appeals to me," he said. "Even 30 years ago when I was devoting every waking moment to playing, the lifestyle of a golfer was exciting and fulfilling. The characters, the family atmosphere, the comradeship and the stories, I just loved it and knew I had to be a part of it. But, in particular, I loved the stories from the heydays of the 1920s and 1930s right up to the 1980s. Just look at some of the recent greats of that period, players like Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus," he went on, "and who have we got today? Well, only one name keeps springing to mind and it begins with Tiger."
When Jonathan eventually decided to try something different, he and his partner embarked on a complete change from London by opening a new chapter in their life together and moving to the South-west. Jonathan's family roots were firmly embedded in Cornwall's soil; he loved the county, particularly Truro, and heading to the far west seemed an obvious choice. But how would he earn a living? Simple really, and that's where his amassed and by now encyclopaedic knowledge of golf, golf trivia and history, and his steadily growing collection of old golfing clubs, golf-related art and general golfing memorabilia, would come into its own.
Just climb the stairs to the second floor of the Coinage Hall at the end of Boscawen Street in Truro and a treasure trove of golfing antiques and memorabilia, not to mention books, stamps, prints, model toys and interesting collectables will draw you in. From a modest start, Jonathan's collection now runs into hundreds of golf clubs, a library of golfing books and a wall of artwork from the Victorian era right up to the present. In essence, the shop takes the visitor back in time to what golf used to be, without losing site of what it is today. Who knows, it could soon become 'the destination' in Cornwall for golfers visiting or living in the county.
"My life has been dominated by golf," said Jonathan wistfully. "If I hadn't been involved with it I don't know what I would have done." But there's one thing about which Jonathan is certain. He certainly intends to continue his association and love of golf, past and present.