In our more ancient golf clubs the tradition was for the club captain to be named as the result of a golfing competition
In the early days of some of our more ancient golf clubs, the captain was not selected, or elected, by the club membership as is the custom now, but won the title through a golfing competition. The captain would be the champion golfer of the club, a position he had won by winning the annual club championship.
However this was an imperfect system. Although many teams, schools and clubs habitually appoint the best player as captain, the captain of a golf club is a different role. The captain of the golf club had an administrative function in helping to run the club, rather than a playing function in leading his team-mates in club matches.
Just because a chap was the best golfer in the club did not make him the best administrator, committee chairman, man-manager, financial expert, after dinner speaker and all the rest of it.
Nor did being the best golfer mean he had the time to devote to the captain’s duties, especially as club champions did not necessarily change every year for many players would win back-to-back titles.
Therefore the captaincy of the club and the club champion became separate honours. However the driving-in ceremony pays homage to the earlier system of how captains ascended to that office.
In the dry theory, the captain takes office after the captain’s drive in, for the drive in is in fact the competition to find the new captain. The captain is picked in advance – normally the previous year’s vice-captain – and only he tees it up.
Once he has played a shot, and in the absence of any other competitor, he is declared the winner of the competition to find the new captain.
The new captains’ drive in had become a such a tradition of golf club life that the majority of those in fact are too young to have ever had a policy of selecting their captain through a sporting contest. Yet they still honour other club’s traditional way of selecting a captain.
Modern clubs have often taken on this tradition and developed their own traditions from it. For example at Clevedon the captains of the various sections of the club not to wear standard golfing attire for the captain’s drive-in but fancy dress.
Another tradition at many clubs is for club members to have a competition to guess the length of the captain’s drive-in drive.