Tait: Remembering a wonderful British journalist
Friday, January 20, 2012
GARSTON, England - Alan Booth was laid to rest in a small, simple ceremony two days ago. The world of golf has lost another valuable asset that probably won’t be replaced.
Many of you reading this wouldn’t have heard of Alan Booth. He was 96 when he died a few weeks ago.
Booth wasn’t a high-profile member of the golf-writing fraternity, but he played an important part in recording the game. Alan spent his working life writing for the Herts Advertiser in St. Albans, England, providing a service no one seems to want these days.
Alan edited the Herts Advertiser for a spell. More importantly for us, he took a keen interest in amateur golf. He was a one-time member of Verulam Golf Club, home of the Ryder Cup.
The county of Hertfordshire, England has spawned some pretty good golfers over the years. One-time Verulam golf professional Abe Mitchell might be the best player never to have won a major. He’s the figure atop the Ryder Cup, courtesy of his influence on Sam Ryder. Ryder was captain of Verulam and took lessons from Mitchell.
Booth knew the Ryder family well, and wrote about them during his life. He also was the first to write about a young English amateur from nearby Welwyn Garden City by the name of Nick Faldo - now Sir Nick Faldo. Booth wrote a lot of column inches on Faldo, both as an amateur and a professional. He also wrote considerably on five-time Ryder Cup player Ken Brown.
Faldo couldn’t attend the funeral but sent his condolences, while Brown was there with other members of the Association of Golf Writers, Hertfordshire County Golf officials, Verulam members and friends to see Booth get a good send-off.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Alan over the years, and he taught me much. Even in his late years, his mind was still sharp. We dined together at Valhalla during the 2008 Ryder Cup, when Alan told me of covering Faldo when he was just a boy. Alan wasn’t at Valhalla in a working capacity. He was there to complete a journey. He’d watched Faldo start out in golf, and felt watching him captain the 2008 Ryder Cup team would complete that long circle.
Booth spent many years working at the Open Championship as a press officer. He was responsible for interviews. Not with a tape recorder, but with impeccable shorthand. I would rate Alan’s shorthand against any stenographer's. He was pinpoint accurate. Not many journalists today know shorthand. I would be happy if mine were even a patch on Alan’s.
I last saw Alan at the 2009 Open Championship, when Tom Watson lost that Turnberry heartache. Alan parked himself in the front row for Watson’s press conference. He dispelled with today’s practice of waiting for the press officer to acknowledge raised hands. Alan fired off three or four questions at Watson without pause. Watson didn’t mind. Alan was entitled – he’d had covered every one of Watson’s five Open victories stretching back to his first at Carnoustie in 1975, when media centers were far smaller affairs.
Alan worked as a radio operator in the Royal Air Force during World War II. I guess when you can master Morse code, then shorthand is a bit of breeze.
Alan will be missed for many reasons, but my lament is that he’s another regional golf journalist to depart this world. He belonged to an age when men like him knew their beats, and covered them assiduously. Besides Faldo and Brown, Alan covered every golfer of note who came through the Hertfordshire system.
I read the Herts Advertiser when I first moved to St. Albans in 1989, and remember Alan’s missives. He didn’t miss anything. I still see the Herts Advertiser, but its golf coverage seems almost non-existent. Like many small-town newspapers, it operates with a skeleton staff and doesn’t have the resources to cover what it once did.
Maybe that’s not surprising. After all, golf coverage in British national newspapers has been going downhill for years, so it’s not surprising that small regional newspapers are struggling.
I miss those days when writers like Alan Booth knew their beats and covered them well. He’s part of a vanishing breed, and that’s to be lamented because men like him won’t be replaced.
Albert Alan Booth 1915-2011, RIP old friend.