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News > Deaths & Obituaries > CLAY, Alan Geoffrey (Geoff)

CLAY, Alan Geoffrey (Geoff)

You are warmly invited to leave a message below, share your memories, and celebrate the life of Geoff Clay who we sadly lost in 2023

The following obituary was written by Richard Stocks (Sc 53-58) and posted initially on the OTGS website.

I first met Geoff at prep school in about 1951. We were both under the tutelage of Hubert Snowden at Hildersham House in Broadstairs – alas it exists no more. Hubert was an avid golfer and a member of Royal St George’s, and he used to take us over there occasionally to play. We also used to hit balls on the rugby pitch. Geoff’s parents had lived abroad a lot and his father was in the diplomatic service or suchlike.

He went off to Tonbridge a year ahead of me and wouldn’t have known I was going there as it was planned that I would go to Marlborough. Our paths didn’t cross much at Tonbridge, as I was a classicist and he certainly wasn’t. Also, he was in Hillside, which was as far away from my School House as you could get. We did meet on Martins from time to time to hit golf shots when it was not in use.

Geoff started work in London training to be a Chartered Surveyor. He had a dislike of large organisations so set up on his own when he married Jill and moved to Gloucestershire, eventually living in a lovely house overlooking Golden Valley near Stroud with their two children David and Julia.

It was the Old Tonbridgian Golfing Society that brought us together, and in 1963 we found ourselves playing in the inaugural Grafton Morrish tournament at Hunstanton and Brancaster. He played with Philip Meredith, and I played with his elder brother Richard, with Geoff Wallis, our captain, and Ian Perkins bringing up the rear. The OTGS had decided that this new tournament could be used to bring on younger players. Remarkably we managed to win it that year and also the following year. Geoff went on to win it for a third time in 1976.

Geoff had already played in the Halford Hewitt in 1963, when the OTGS desperately needed younger players having lost in the first round in the previous two years, notably to Chigwell in 1962. Little did he realise that he would be playing almost continually until he finished in 2014. He only missed two years, once when his brother Danny died, and once with family problems. By 2014 he had played in 186 matches, which became a remarkable record easily beating all others, except for Jeremy Lowe of old rivals Malvern, who also reached 186 before he retired the following year. His winning percentage over that time (counting ½ for a halved match of which there are a lot in the Halford Hewitt due to overall matches finishing) was 70.4%. He played in 7 of our 9 winning teams, by that time usually with George Taggart.

I was lucky enough to play with Geoff in the Halford Hewitt in the early days before we were good enough to win the tournament. He and Martin Yates were our best golfers and Geoff was well ahead of Martin. Geoff and I came to play together when the team said that it was unfair for me to play with Martin as they quite wrongly thought we were the strongest because we got a few wins. So, I played with Geoff from the early 1970s until 1980 and that was an amazing experience. He insisted, quite rightly, that he should play the even holes at Deal, meaning that he played most of the second shots. I have never played with anyone who was as certain to hit the green as he was with his simple repetitive swing – he really had no idea how difficult the game was for ordinary mortals. My main job was to hit the fairways, at which I was pretty hopeless, but also to do the chipping and putting, at which I was rather better. The main problem was that my target was to make sure I didn’t leave him a 2-foot putt as he didn’t like those.

For part of that time, we and Peter Saggers stayed with Alec Hill in his house in Bowling Street, where with huge glasses of gin and tonic in our hands we listened to the great man talking about his experiences as a Walker Cup golfer and captain of both Royal St Georges and the R&A. That led eventually to Geoff joining the R&A in 1994 shortly after Martin Yates had blazed the trail. Martin joined the Rules of Golf Committee and then the Championship committee a few years before Geoff, and I followed a couple of years later, so I overlapped with Geoff.

Geoff was a diligent, not to say fussy rules official, always worrying whether players were teeing up ahead of the tee boxes and other possible minor indiscretions. He had the unfortunate experience in 2003 of being in charge of the Jesper Parnevik match when he failed to swap cards with his playing partner and was disqualified at Royal St Georges for signing the wrong card.

Geoff played regularly in the R&A Spring and Autumn medals, though always rushing home to be with his wife Jill. He had the privilege of winning the Gold medal at the Autumn Meeting one year for the second best gross score (the winner takes the Royal medal).

In his youth Geoff won the Sussex County championship in 1966 and played a lot of county golf. When he married and moved to Gloucestershire, he won their championship in 1970 and was a regular in the Gloucestershire County team. He was elected a member of the Senior Golfers Society in 1977 and represented their scratch side in the triangular matches with the Canadians and Americans on three occasions. He was a lifelong member of Minchinhampton, near where he lived. He undertook the extension of their clubhouse, and the creation of their second new course, the Cherington. For his many contributions the members elected him an Honorary Life Member in 2001. Additionally, Geoff was a member of Royal Porthcawl.

I spent many happy occasions playing 36 holes with him at Royal Porthcawl, where I had to try to stay out of earshot as he loved talking all the way round and I had to concentrate to try to play reasonable golf. To him it was so easy. He was also a member of the Leatherjackets, a foursome golf society based at Burnham and Berrow. With all these golfing commitments he was always in the car driving at great speed usually trying to make up time.

As a person, Geoff was a great friend to me and to many Old Tonbridgian golfers. He loved talking and loved people. He was intensely loyal to his family and to his friends. His general friendliness could make him the butt of humour on occasions which he took in good part. He was proud of his dress sense leading to some amusement amongst his golfing friends. On one memorable occasion when the Halford Hewitt team were staying at our regular stately home at Knowlton Court the Tommy Hilfiger corduroy trousers that he proudly owned ended up in the fire. It says a lot for his character that he took it all in good part.

(HS 52-56)


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