When Dai Davies died in May the sports world lost one of its most relevant, and readable, voices. Golf was Dai’s chosen medium for expression but he could, and did, write charmingly and knowledgeably about lots of games when the occasion arose. And travel. And wine.
For more than two decades he was The Guardian’s golf writer and, quite a lot of the time, The Observer’s, too. It was The Guardian he loved however, a newspaper that was his predetermined destination from an early age. The flow of affectionate tributes from every level of golf, from caddies to stars, administrators to fellow hacks confirm his standing within a game that demands more literacy than some.
Newspapers, magazines, books, there were few tablets this big man left unturned. Before he finally submitted to the cancer attacking his body, one of his last acts was to say to his wife Patricia, herself a golf writer of note, that he had had “not a bad idea for a book”. He even began dictating the first chapter. Ravaged he may have been, but optimism and enthusiasm never quite left him.
Three weeks before his death, my wife and I spent an evening with Dai and Tricia at their home in Sutton Coldfield. By then he was unable to drink properly, while eating anything was problematic. He held court sitting in a large, comfy, leather chair and for four hours we veered between laughter and serious stuff. It was, we all agreed, a grand evening, a conclusion helped hugely by the several bottles of extremely fine Aussie wine he had requested be opened.
He could no longer drink any of this himself but he made sure my glass was kept brimming and, I think, took some small, vicarious pleasure as I slid towards a vague oblivion. I asked him if he was angry. He considered the query carefully before replying that, no, he was not. An inveterate traveller, he said he had been pretty much everywhere he had wanted to – this included most of Australia and the Himalayas – and that, professionally, he had had a ball.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, his last round of golf was played at Brancaster late last autumn, a Norfolk course that he always had nominated as his chosen Valhalla. A fortnight before he died he wrote a moving farewell in the Association of Golf Writers newsletter in which he apologised for being a curmudgeon. Once again, he had met a deadline brilliantly.
There was no need. Those of us lucky enough to get to know Dai never thought of him as a curmudgeon. Yes, he could be gruff, sometimes pompous and permanently irascible but he always was a sweetie as well, a word, by the way, that would irritate him hugely if he could read
His was the generation of golf writers who helped the European Tour grow over the last 30 years. The debt they are owed by today’s hugely rewarded players is enormous although few realise this. Certainly no-one cared more or thought more about golf than
Dai. No-one, not even his hero and predecessor at The Guardian, Peter Dobereiner, drank more decent red wine whilst doing so.
His last word to gentle, caring Patricia and other family and friends as they gathered around his bed last Monday was a typical and very irritated ‘shush’. The silence, for some of us, is now quite deafening. Goodbye pal.
A slightly amended version of this tribute to an old friend was first published in The Observer during the PGA Championship at Wentworth. This, as it turned out, coincided with a spat between some players and the venerable Peter Alliss who had dared to criticise the competence of some of the golf he witnessed on the West Course that week.
Nick Dougherty came up with the rather alarming word ‘disgusting’ when asked about it all and suddenly young player versus wrinkly commentator became a bigger story than Miguel Angel Jimenez’s victory. Twas ever this in the one-eyed world of hackery. It was a daft row but if I have to take sides, I am firmly on Alliss’s. The old boy knows a bad smell when he comes across one and it is to his credit that he rarely fails to point it out.
In the velvet world of pro golf and particularly in the dog-lick-dog world of televised golf his honesty remains refreshing. This does not mean I always agree with him but I do agree with his determination to call it as he sees it. Too much of TV sport commentary suggests that all is always wonderful in a wonderful world.
Alliss, like Johnny Miller in the USA, is above this sort of saccharine nonsense. Miller won two Open titles (US and British) and Alliss won three PGA Championships, so I know whose opinion to treasure. There are a lot of truly disgusting things in our world right now but Peter Alliss isn’t one of them. Dai, I know, would have agreed.