Hewitt’s involvement might have been down to being in the wrong place at the right time, but that should not be construed as meaning he was an unwilling partner in this fledgling venture. Far from it. While never as good a golfer as the other two founders, this formidable old Carthusian adopted the enterprise with relish. Not just the benefactor of the trophy, he was to preside over every tournament until 1938, when ill health interrupted his service and obliged him to go on a cruise instead.
The Hewitt, it seems, did, and still does, attract unswerving loyalty from its adherents. Nowadays, a huge proportion of its competitors still turn out year after year in all sorts of weather and the 64 competing Schools guard their places assiduously knowing full well that failure to raise a team would mean perpetual banishment from the tournament. The last team to suffer that fate was Beaumont, when it was amalgamated with Stoneyhurst in 1968. Glenalmond was the team which was introduced in its place that year but, since then, all other Schools on the waiting list have had to sit and wait, hoping against hope that some other School will either drop out or, otherwise, contravene the Rules in such a manner that they are asked to leave.
So what is it which causes successful former Public schoolboys to be so loyal to the tournament? Why is it that many among that number turn down the chance to go to the concurrent Masters tournament at Augusta National in order to make the annual pilgrimage to Deal and Royal St George’s? And what does it possess which makes it the finest event on the golfing calendar in the eyes of so many people?
As usual, of course, there is no simple answer but, rather, an amalgam of factors which, when put together, make it such an attraction. The first of those is that it enables former pupils to relive their youth by representing their School, something which becomes all the more attractive as middle age beckons. The second is that the tournaments allows you to meet old friends and acquaintances, and also to renew old sporting rivalries on two courses regarded as among the finest links courses in Britain.
Both these are important in explaining the lure of the event but, arguably, its most attractive trait is that, like the FA Cup, success in it means different things to different individuals.
Peter Ryde, writing in his excellent The Halford Hewitt – A Festival Of Foursomes, described the event as a series of little tournaments within a big one and, to a large extent, in that one sentence, he encapsulated what the Hewitt is all about.
For some schools, such as Harrow, Charterhouse, Eton, Malvern, Tonbridge and last year’s winners, George Watson’s, success is represented by nothing other than outright victory. For others, indeed the vast majority of teams which descend on this part of Kent each April, a successful run constitutes getting through two rounds, thereby making the final stages at Deal while, for the rest, rather like a Football Conference side making it into the first round proper of the FA Cup, one single victory is cause for considerable celebration.
Its biggest appeal, then, is that it provides different challenges for each of the teams which take part. That is the reason why each year teams like Bishop’s Stortford, who have won just four matches in 51 attempts, or Trent, who have won just two more in 52 years in the competition, still come to Kent with hopes held high. It is the reason why middling schools such as Fettes, Liverpool, Haileybury and Merchant Taylor all spend much of the rest of the year scouring the country in an attempt to unearth the new blood which might turn them into realistic challengers and it is why defeat at any stage is so hard to bear for Watson’s, Harrow, Charterhouse and their ilk.
A festival of foursomes it is, but it’s also much more besides as all its competitors will openly admit.