Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Mystery `Hitler Cup' keeps golfing sleuths guessing

REUTERS , LONDON

A whodunnit involving the royal and ancient game of golf, Adolf Hitler and a missing Olympic Games trophy sounds extremely far-fetched.

Even fictional detectives Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot would have been hard-pressed to solve a sporting puzzle that remains a mystery to this day.

It all began shortly after the conclusion of the 1936 Berlin Games when golf, twice before an Olympic sport, featured as a post-Olympic competition in the spa town of Baden-Baden.

The Berlin Olympics, best remembered for Hitler's failed attempts to transform them into an Aryan propaganda campaign, had been dominated by American athlete Jesse Owens and his remarkable haul of four gold medals.

Seven nations took part in an amateur foursomes competition at Baden-Baden on Aug. 26 and Aug. 27 that year, with France and England installed as pre-tournament favorites.

"It is hard to explain the origin of the event -- Germany had no golfing tradition nor champions, and only some 50 golf courses," George Jeanneau of the French Golf Federation wrote in a book Golf and the Olympic Games.

"The Reich [German government] may have wanted to follow up the Berlin Games with the organization of some non-Olympic sporting events -- such as horse riding, tennis and golf."

Unfancied Germany, represented by 19-year-old Leonard von Beckerath and C.A. Helmers, provided the shock of the opening day's first two rounds, moving five shots clear of England and 10 in front of France.

"On that Wednesday evening, the possible victory of the German team encouraged Hitler to go to Baden-Baden to present the trophy," Jeanneau wrote.

But it was not to be. While en route to the course, Hitler was told the English pair of Tommy Thirsk and Arnold Bentley had surged into the lead, which they did not surrender over the final two rounds, so he immediately turned back.

Improving France finished second and Germany, who fell apart on the last day, had to settle for third.

A jubilant Thirsk, who closed with consecutive rounds of 65, and Bentley were presented with the Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor Cup by Karl Henkell, president of the German Golf Federation.

Although described as a cup, it was actually a silver plate encrusted with yellow amber, Jeanneau said.

At this point, the story becomes a little hazy.

What is certain is the "Hitler Cup" made its way back to England where, years later, it was in the possession of the Golf Society, who were initially based in London before moving to Dron Court, west of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Michael Bonallack, Royal and Ancient Golf Club secretary from 1983 to 1999, said: "As far as I know, the English Golf Union had their headquarters at Whitehall Court in London and that's also where the Golf Society used to be.

"Then the English Golf Union moved out of Whitehall Court, but left behind the Hitler Cup. It then seemed to go with the Golf Society when they later moved out.

"The last I heard of it, the cup had ended up at St. Andrews at Dron Court, where they were basing their headquarters."

Since then, there has been no further update to this intriguing story.

The trophy, one of the most unusual prizes in golfing history, remains missing. If it still exists, it is probably gathering dust in some attic or cupboard.

The Hitler Cup would certainly make a unique, if not widely popular, addition to golf's varied assortment of silverware. However, it might just need the likes of Holmes and Poirot to make it possible.

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