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Chaucer’s lessons and the British Open

Chaucer, the English poet and writer, is credited with originating the preachment that “all good things must come to an end.”

That is apropos with regard to traveling to the British Open in the summer which I have been fortunate to do, dating back to 1978. How it all came about and was perpetuated had to do with friendships. While I hope that there will be a few more crossings to the championship, this summer is out, owing to the coronavirus.

In the late ’70s, I became friends with a Bulldog aficionado, Roy Mann of Rome, whose personal affection for golf consumed much of his time. He owned “Best Manufacturing Co.,” which produced a variety of work and garden gloves. Unable to embrace sobriety for about three years, he neglected to file tax returns and experienced troubles with the IRS. He was, however, always able to maneuver and function with regard to ongoing business enterprise.  He was a first-rate businessman.

He proposed a consulting arrangement whereby I would be paid a modest monthly fee to help him promote specialty golf balls, which his company had starting producing. Anything related to golf gained his attention post haste. I countered with the suggestion that it was preferable that, instead of a monthly fee, that he pay my expenses to the British championship each year. He liked the idea.

This arrangement worked well for a brief period of years, and I was able to spend a couple of weeks each summer in Europe — one at the Open and the other on the continent.

Early on, I eagerly connected with the bed and breakfast tradition, which was very economical at the outset.

You could stay with a family, get to know them and enjoy what is typically known as a “cooked” breakfast as opposed to toast, juice and coffee. A cooked breakfast included eggs, sautéed mushrooms, sausage, bacon, tomatoes, potatoes, juice and coffee. Every morning. With the passing of time, the rates went up to where B&B accommodations were as costly as a hotel room.

Those early B&B days are treasured, the highlight coming in 1981 when I met an English couple, Jasper and Maureen Knight, who, along with their neighbors, hosted a group of Americans at their homes in Elmstone, six miles from Sandwich and the excellent golf course, Royal St. Georges, where the Open championship has been played a dozen times.

Jasper was a self-made architect/builder who could add on and redo with flattering flair. Business was good and there were always a couple of projects “waiting in the wings.” The Knights in the late ’80s left an “old rectory” which had become their home in Elmstone for a delightful five story flat in Ramsgate.

The kitchen was on the third floor with an expansive view of the harbor. Taking in that view every day made your day. The artist, Vincent Van Gogh once lived in Ramsgate. That view of the sea and the harbor must have influenced his decision. 

Next, the Knights moved to Sandwich only a few doors from a delightful pub, “The Red Cow.” Where they lived was an easy walk to Royal St. George’s. Then they bought an old ten-room hotel in Bridge, which is three miles from Canterbury and 15 miles from Sandwich. They turned it into a two-family residence with them taking one side of the structure and their daughter, Sarah, and her husband Dom, settling in the other.

Wherever the Knights have lived, we have visited them over the years, renewing our friendship, and recalling the good times which included patronizing the most delightful country pub I have ever set foot in. The Griffin’s Head is located in nearby Chillenden. It dates back to 1286, a little less than 400 years before the American Revolution.

We have taken our friends to see the Knights, we have been to their home in the French Alps, which Jasper fashioned out of an old French residence and barn. They have spent time with us in Athens. Things, as Chaucer advised, have changed, mostly with Jasper an oak of a man who always appeared to be physically indestructible.

With an engaging and curious mind, he now suffers from dementia and no longer lives at home. Heartbreaking.

I had planned to see them next week at the Open, which has been canceled for this year.  It, however, will return to Sandwich next summer, assuming life regains normalcy.  God willing, I plan to be there. Not just for the golf, but to see my old friends — hoping to counter Chaucer’s homily.