Scotland-born Jock Hawthorne, one of Randpark’s great characters, left the club this week to permanently return to the United Kingdom.
The still chirpy and still fairly fit 87-year-old, who has always had a keen sense of humour and whose mind is as sharp as ever in spite of his advancing years, played in 25 straight club championships, the most recent being this year’s edition late last month when he was the oldest competitor.
A celebrated former Royal Navy officer, Jock over the years has – in between making the odd birdie – regaled (sometimes at inordinately great length!) fellow golfers here at the club of his exploits sailing the oceans of the world.
“I will always have fond memories of my time in South Africa and Randpark,” said the genial and indeed sometimes fiery Scot before flying out to the UK. “Golf has been a door opener to me and I have been so privileged to play it for so many years. I’ve been, using a South African expression rather than a Scottish one, one lucky oke! You ask me why did I play in 25 club straight championships (the last few years as the oldest competitor)? Well, it’s what you do as a loyal member, isn’t it?”
Jock was a member for many years of the so-called Shakers, the group of older golfers who play every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. He also played with a Saturday group – in which there is plenty of banter and whose devotees refer to him as “The Admiral”, a reference to his Navy days. He was also for a while part of the TATs, also older players who play on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. “In fact,” says fellow Randpark member Richard Parr, who worked with Jock at committee level, “Jock played in pretty much every school at the club at one time or another.”
A stickler for the rules, he would often unnerve fellow golfers by laying down the law. He has always believed the rules of golf are sacred in this great game. “It’s remarkable how few people know the rules. You bend one rule and you might as well bend them all. You throw out one rule and you may as well throw them all out,” he says.
Jock has also always been a kind of “policeman” or “watchdog” about the goings-on at the club. If he felt something was amiss about the course, or the running of affairs, or whatever, he would be the first to knock on the general manager’s door in a no-holds-back determination to put things right. He remembers a time when he had a nose-to-nose confrontation with the club’s then iconic general manager, Jimmy Metcalfe. “We argued about something, but he saw my point of view – the Navy taught me to stand my ground, behave in a certain way and stand up for what is right – and after that, we became great friends.”
Talking about his long career as a distinguished seaman, Jock was accepted by the Royal Navy as a boy apprentice aged just 15 and a half years old in 1950. The apprenticeship, which qualified him as an electrical engineer and fully qualified seaman, lasted six years and Jock says those years greatly moulded and matured him as a person. After that humble beginning as a young teenager, Jock would ultimately retire – as Lieutenant Hawthorne – from the Navy in 1973. He then joined the Merchant Navy, now in a role of driving rather than mending anti-submarine and minesweeper ships, and was on The Bridge – for instance – navigating ships right across the Pacific and Atlantic.
In 1980, tragically, Jock and his wife Grace lost their 19-year-old daughter Karen to leukaemia. “That sad time brought my wife and me closer together than ever before,” he recalls. “We were at a loss as to what to do and when I got a job offer in South Africa we decided to emigrate.”
Jock worked in various different companies after moving to South Africa, before “going on his own” in 1986. Golfing-wise, he was a member at both Kyalami and CMR before joining Randpark. He says his golfing heroes have always been Bobby Locke and Sam Snead, not only for their par-busting heroics but also their charisma and one Thursday, after a midweek competition at Kyalami, Jock was gob-smacked when the great Bobby came and sat down right next to him in the pub. “Locke was like a golfing god to me – I loved the man – and I told him as much. He would have nothing of this praise from me though and we had a lovely chat which I will always treasure.”
When he and Grace learnt about a house for sale in Bobby Locke Road in the Randpark suburb, Jock jumped at the opportunity. “I mean, what more apt road to live in than Bobby Locke Road!” he exclaimed. And that’s where the couple resided before ultimately moving into a retirement village where Grace passed away a few years ago.
So is Jock returning to the UK to spend his twilight years nostalgically savouring the famous old links of the land of his birth? Well, not entirely. He has linked up with the widow of an old friend of his in England and he’s keen to enjoy some time with her. So does romance beckon? The Admiral’s keen to find out!
Before leaving for the UK, Jock spent the last few days ahead of his departure staying with and enjoying the company of his countryman and Randpark member, fellow golf addict Dave Blain and Dave’s wife Fay. These Scots, they stick together! And on Tuesday morning just before flying out, his golfing buddies honoured him with a banter-filled going away little ceremony. Cheers Admiral!
Written by Randpark Club member Grant Winter.