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Beharrell grasps chance to drive golf into new era; Michael Blair meets the Midlander set to take on one of the game's prized posts.

In the course of a long and distinguished golf career, John Beharrell has hit more than a few important shots; a fusillade of the very best, for instance when, aged 18, he became the youngest winner of the Amateur Championship at Troon in 1956.

But the most important drive of his life, what he describes as the most daunting, has yet to be despatched. That is due at eight o'clock on the morning of September 17, on the first tee at St Andrews.

Then a cannon will fire a single round and as simultaneously as he can manage, Beharrell will unleash his drive ("hopefully down the middle"). At that moment, his induction as captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club will be complete.

And thereafter, like all zealous captains of modern times, Beharrell will address his energies to the good conduct of the game, generally, and to a specific issue of the day. Which, in his case, is junior golf. He has a passion about it.

"An awful lot has already been done and is still being done for junior gol" he said. "But I'm not so much concerned with producing junior champions that side of the game is already well catered for; the standard is already high as looking after the grass roots.

"Birmingham City Council are keen to promote golf throughout the schools and the Golf Foundation are keen to help. The major cities Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool are now linking to spread the game and that's the area where my main interest lies.

"I want to see youngsters given the opportunity to take up the game; given the opportunity to get off the streets. If they like the game, they'll carry on. If they don't... And if they do drop out, they will have had a grounding and they may wish to retu rn to us later on."

Beharrell, incidentally, together with his wife, Veronica (nee Anstey, the former Curtis Cup player), Bridget Jackson, Michael Lunt and Ray Baldwin, founded the Midland Junior Golf Society in 1957 and those who work so hard for the advancement of golf at its most elementary levels will be delighted to be joined by so eminent a promoter. So will the guardians of all the other important fortresses of the game.

The new captain, whose home club is Little Aston, where he plays off a handicap of five (he is also a member of Blackwell and of Handsworth) has, in his 42 years of membership, served on four committees of the R&A: the Championship Committee, the Rules o f Golf Committee, the Amateur Status Committee and the Implements and Balls Committee.

That last body have been much concerned in recent years with the speed of the technological advances and a few hostile drums have been banged on that subject. But not, it appears, by the R&A's next captain. "It's difficult to hold back science in any wal k of life," he said.

Golf equipment has evolved rapidly during this century and Beharrell can be very specific about the degrees of change. But he points out: "there is very close co-operation between the authorities and the manufacturers. Inevitably, there have got to be so me guidelines.

"At the same time, people want to enjoy the game and that enjoyment is never greater than when they are hitting the ball a long way. We just have to be careful that we find the right balance."

Golf's other concern of the moment is the reported increase of unruly behaviour at important championships. Colin Montgomerie, on his trips to the United States, has been a victim as was Nick Faldo during the USPGA Championship last weekend.

"The United States Golf Association do not enjoy what has happened to Montgomerie," Beharrell conceded. "But there were 16,000 youngsters at our Open at Birkdale, I was up there and in my view, they behaved very well. There was a minute element that got a bit excited, but the standard of behaviour and of knowledge was outstanding."

There is not a problem, it seems, on this side of the Atlantic.

Beharrell, who was educated at Bromsgrove School, has travelled extensively to pursue his golf interests and also his business commitments as managing director of an international trade finance company, a position from which he retired in 1990. He is sti ll deputy chairman of the Birmingham Assay Office.

His golf pedigree was considerably extended when he married Veronica Anstey, who in 1955 won the Australian and New Zealand Ladies Championships and went on to play in the Curtis Cup match at Princes the next year, when Great Britain & Ireland beat the U nited States 5-4. They have a daughter, two sons and six grandchildren.

When Beharrell is not playing or administrating, he is a keen delver into the game's history. He is a member of the British Golf Collectors Society and admits to possessing a modest collection of memorabilia. He won the Scottish Hickory Championship at O ld Musselburgh in 1993.

He is only the second Midland captain in the 244-year history of the R&A, following Dr Bill Tweddell, of Stourbridge, who held the office in 1961 having been Amateur champion in 1927, runner-up in 1935 and Walker Cup captain in 1928. As Bridget Jackson i s the president of the Ladies Golf Union, the region is uncommonly well represented in high places.

In addition to his interest in junior gol Beharrell is concerned with the artisan game and is a vice-president of the Artisan Golfing Association.

And as for his own game, does it still come easy to him? "Some days," he replied. "Some days."
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Author:Blair, Michael
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 20, 1998
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