Jimmy Hayes, who has died at the age of 85, achieved as much as a person as he did in winning his record number of seven Northumberland championships.
He was a people’s champion who captured the hearts of the region’s golfers and is generally recognised as one of the best players never to be capped by England, if not the best.
As a 10-year-old Hayes used to caddy for 1930s gentry at the Northumberland club in Gosforth and first got to grips with the game using a stick to knock a golf ball along as he walked the three miles back home to the colliery village of West Moor.
He was fond of the great outdoors, cycling to work as a greenkeeper, and captured the first of his county titles representing Newcastle United in 1957.
The six championships that followed were all claimed after he had joined the Bridle Path club at Gosforth, the last of them in 1977 by which time he was 49 years old and successfully defending the title he won a year earlier.
Hayes was 56 when he took his second Journal Champion of Champions in 1984 during the days when the event was played over 36 holes. In 1970, he had become the first Northumbrian to complete the county double of matchplay and strokeplay championship.
Three of his county titles – matchplay takes precedence in Northumberland – were captured during the 1960s when the county team was so strong they won what were then the EGU national finals four times in six years.
The county secretary, Elliott Procter, said: “Northumberland had star-studded players like Alan Thirlwell, Gordon Clark (both Walker Cup players), David Moffat, Keith Tate, Peter Davidson (English Internationals), Neville Dunn (British Boys’ champion) and Colin Makepeace (Boy and Youth International). So you can realise what a feat Jimmy’s record of seven titles is. He very rarely played in national tournaments as he was a man of modest means, but he was a star among stars.”
Hayes did win a notable national amateur tournament of his era, The Golf Illustrated Gold Vase, and the Scottish Seniors Amateur Open in 1988.
But he never got a fair shot on the national stage during the happily now relatively defunct era of the domination of amateur golfers largely emanating from comfortable and sometimes highly privileged backgrounds in the home counties.
These days teenage Northumberland golfers blessed with such sheer raw talent – most recently Jack Hermeston, Jake Storey and Matty Lamb – are helped considerably by their county junior association and England Golf whatever their background. All three have been capped at their age levels.
The Gosforth secretary and PGA professional, Grahame Garland, worked with Hayes at both the Bridle Path and Parklands. Garland said: “Jimmy was an excellent ambassador for the Gosforth club, a fierce competitor yet with a gentle nature. We feel hard done by that he was never capped by England.
“Everybody in golf loved Jimmy, one of life’s great people and a real gentleman. It was a great shame he was not allowed to fulfil his potential for no other reason other than he did not wear the right old school tie.” A Hayes supporter in the later stages of his career, and both his driver and caddy at tournaments, was the then chairman of the Gosforth greens committee, Jim Hoban, now a retired pensions manager from Dinnington.
“When Jimmy was caddying at the Park, sometimes he used to be given a golf ball or a packet of sweets,” said Hoban. “But he much preferred it when he was given half a crown, 12 and a half pence in today’s money, because he came from a large family and it meant he could put food on the table.
“One time Jimmy was playing an amateur tournament in Scotland and we had driven up with some sandwiches in a carrier bag. By comparison Colin Montgomerie had been flown over to play from his college in America and the Swedish players were driving sponsored Saabs. Jimmy was completely unaffected by what a great golfer he was. He would be as interested in the flora and the fauna or a bees’ nest on a tee as he would be in a tournament.”
Hayes, who survived cancer in the 1990s, lived in Seaton Burn for almost the last 50 years of his life and was the head greenkeeper at Gosforth when he retired, having also worked at the now defunct Benton course, the Northumberland club, Newcastle United, Parklands and Wallsend.
He was the club champion of Gosforth 19 times and, because there is a gap in the county records, it can only be estimated he won around 200 caps during the 30 years he played county golf, another record.
Jimmy Hayes leaves a widow, Janet, a daughter Sandra, a grand-daughter and a great grandson. No details are as yet available of the funeral arrangements.