Obituary: Brian Barnes, talented English golfer who represented Scotland and was known for his flamboyant ways

Brian Barnes in 1993 (Picture: Getty)
Brian Barnes in 1993 (Picture: Getty)
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Brian Barnes, golfer. Born: 
3 June 1945. Died: 9 September 2019, aged 74

Brian Barnes, who has died aged 74, was one of Britain’s best-known golfers, a highly successful player with a reputation as a colourful and occasionally controversial character.

He cemented his place in the game’s folklore by defeating the great Jack Nicklaus in singles twice in the one day in the 1975 Ryder Cup match. On the course he was an instantly recognisable figure, tall and powerfully built, often to be seen in shorts, long socks and puffing on his pipe, sometimes with a drink in hand. In one well-
publicised instance in the Scottish professional championship he marked his ball on the green with a beer can before putting, on another he played several holes in a tournament in Morocco wearing a kilt for a bet and in 1979 was fined £500 for criticising the standard of the Brabazon course at the Belfry.

While such behaviour put him in the public spotlight there was no doubting his pedigree as a player. Between 1972 and ’81 he notched nine wins on the European Tour, played in six consecutive Ryder Cups between 1969 and ’79, completed all four rounds of the Open between 1968 and ’82 with best finishes of fifth and sixth, was ranked in the top ten of the European Order of Merit each year between 1972 and ’80 and won the Seniors British Open twice as well as the Canadian Seniors Open.

Other tournament successes included the Wills Masters in Australia, the Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Zambian and Kenyan Opens, while in representative golf he played for Scotland four times in the World Cup and six times in the Double Diamond international tournament.

He played briefly on the American Tour in 1969 with his best placing third in the Doral Open in Florida, but family responsibilities made it difficult to commit to America.

As for his double defeat of Nicklaus, he modestly commented years later in an interview that although he enjoyed it, he never thought it so fantastic and soon forgot about it. For his part the “Golden Bear” believed too much was made of it, not in an effort to play it down but to emphasise how good a player Barnes was.

It is well documented how after the morning match Nicklaus “rigged” the afternoon rota to ensure a rematch but despite opening with consecutive birdies, Barnes prevailed. At the after-match dinner American captain Arnold Palmer joked that “he hadn’t realised America was playing 13 men as Jack had joined the British side”.

Brian William Barnes was born in Addington, Surrey, to Scottish parents, his father originally from Troon, his mother from Glasgow. His father became secretary of the Burnham and Berrow Golf Club in Somerset and introduced his son to the game.

He attended St Dunstan’s School in Burnham before going on to Millfield School, notable for its many famous sporting alumni.

His first big win was the British Youths’ Championship in 1964 at Pannal, Harrogate, where after representing England against Scotland in the pre-championship match, he won the title from Scots George Macgregor and Scott Macdonald, both future Walker Cup players. Later that year he turned professional and became one of the “Butten Boys”. This was a group of young professionals sponsored by entrepreneur Ernest Butten based at a residential golf school at Sundridge Park in Kent with the aim of developing elite players, for whom all requisite facilities were provided, including tuition from 1951 Open champion Max Faulkner, who became Barnes’ father-in-law after he married Hilary in 1968.

Faulkner underlined the importance of accuracy off the tee, persuading Barnes to drive at 80 per cent of his full power, which did not detract from his reputation as a long hitter.

His first notable professional win was in the Flame Lily Open in then Rhodesia, for which he earned £400, while his first major British success came in the Agfacolour in 1969 at Stoke Poges, ahead of future Ryder Cup partner and friend Bernard Gallacher. Later that year he also pipped Gallacher to the Coca-Cola under 25s Championship after a play-off.

In 1971 he applied successfully, despite some opposition, to join the Scottish PGA, proposed by Ronnie Shade and seconded by his father John, the Duddingston professional, enabling him to represent Scotland, which he did throughout the 1970s.

His first European Tour title was the Martini International in 1972 and his final one the Tournament Players’ Championship in 1981 at Dalmahoy, where a closing round of 62 including a second nine in 28 enabled him to tie with Brian Waites, whom he defeated in the play-off.

For several years in the 1980s he concentrated on golf course design and promotion before resuming tournament golf with an eye on the lucrative Seniors’ Tour, although by then problems with arthritis were beginning. That aggravated his issues with alcohol, for which he received treatment in the early 1990s.

His senior career made an excellent start, with British Open victories in 1995 and ’96 followed by his 1998 Canadian Open crown. Unfortunately, the rheumatoid arthritis which caused his hands to swell, making it difficult to grip the club, had become a major problem and restricted his play. Matters came to a head in the Hawaian Open in 2000 when he had to quit during a round because of swollen hands, bringing his playing career to an end. He later did coaching and golf commentary work on Sky, often alongside friend Ewen Murray.

Although some thought that given his talent he was capable of achieving more, he certainly left his mark on the world of golf. He is survived by children Didi and Guy, his wife having predeceased him.

JACK DAVIDSON