Golf News - The First Professional at Valderrama

Henry Cotton at Las Aves practice range © Real Club Valderrama
Henry Cotton and his inseparable tire at Las Aves practice range © Real Club Valderrama

The First Professional at Valderrama

He was 70 years old and could still burn rubber like there was no tomorrow. It was Sir Henry Cotton’s signature move when he was trying to impress friends and strangers alike in his day, as the first professional at Real Club Valderrama, venue of the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio García Foundation, which still was named ‘Las Aves’ at the time.

The true veterans still remember the image crystal clear, ingrained in their minds. Cotton would place a tire out on the Valderrama driving range and started hitting it with a golf club. It was his way of showing that his wrists and hands were still strong and solid. Because Cotton (the European Tour Rookie of the Year Award was named after him), was a real character, and through his life lessons, stories and peculiarities, he managed to live on through Valderrama forever.He arrived to Sotogrande in his mid-70s. Just like so many other British people, he decided to spend the latter years of his life in the southern European sunshine. He settled down in Algarve, Portugal, but he left abruptly after the Carnation Revolution. His next stop was Sotogrande. That's where he brought his knowledge, and a past full of interesting stories and unexpected events and experiences.

Cotton was a great cricket player when he was 16 years old, and inspired by his older brother, Leslie, he bet everything on golf. It was his second sport, but he thought it would be a more favorable way to earn a living. He hadn't even turned 18 when he was working as an assistant on different courses in the UK. He was a living legacy, which lead down the path to Valderrama in last years.

It was the perfect fit. Pedigree. Luxury. Dandyism. The high life. Cotton won the British Open three times (1934, 1937 and 1948), participated in four Ryder Cups (in the 1947 edition as playing captain and in 1953, as non-playing captain) and he took home the victory in more than thirty European tournaments. But above all, he was a very unique individual, a rebel with a cause. He didn't understand the bad perception professional golfers had and fought to the dire end so that it would be become recognized by society. He was the British equivalent of Walter Hagen. For example, when the clubs did not allow professionals to enter in the clubhouse nor, of course, to use the dressing rooms, the British golfer would pull up to the parking lot in a flashy Rolls-Royce, and he would change in the car. Afterward, he would lay a checkered tablecloth out on the floor, picnic style, and would eat right there in front of everyone. He liked to wear expensive, tailored clothes, he was a bon vivant, he would drink champagne and eat caviar every chance he got. It was a big effort and huge accomplishment for him to reach his status. He didn't exactly have an easy childhood.

Henry Cotton, in action during the Ryder Cup ©Real Club Valderrama
Henry Cotton, in action during the Ryder Cup © Real Club Valderrama

Not only did he leave a golf legacy, he also wrote more than ten books and designed many golf courses around the world. He donated to charities, to the point that he became one of the main benefactors of Red Cross by playing exhibition matches and events. He was a part of the Royal Air Force in World War II, thanks to his training as a pilot, and he received the The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire medal. He was even deemed a Knight Bachelor, the most important distinction someone can receive who is not royalty.

His influence in the world of golf is infinite. For example, in the Open Championship he won in 1934 at Royal St. George's, he went into the last round with a ten-shot advantage after shooting a spectacular 65 in the second round. His score was so astounding that a well-known brand of golf balls came out with a new model with the number 65. In 1980, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Cotton is truly a unique figure in the history of golf, and his tracks can be traced all the way back to Valderrama... on one old tire, or another.

Tickets for the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters 2019 hosted by the Sergio García Foundation are on sale now at the event website, starting from just €7 for juniors and €18 for adults (free entry for children aged under 12 when accompanied by an adult). For more information, see the event website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio García Foundation, an event in the European Tour's Race to Dubai made possible by the essential contribution of the Real Club Valderrama, is sponsored by Estrella Damm and the Consejería de Turismo, Regeneración, Justicia y Administración Local of the Junta de Andalucía, jointly funded by EU. This tournament is also supported by Diputación de Cádiz, Dubai Duty Free, Rolex, Exterior Plus, La Reserva Club de Sotogrande, Santander Private Banking and Shell. Callaway, Coca-Cola, Enterprise, Grupo Raga, ISDIN, Korporate Technologies Group, Marca, Maui Jim, the Hospital QuirónSalud Campo de Gibraltar, the Real Federación Andaluza de Golf and Volvo are official suppliers. 5J, Gadira, Grupo Joly and Varma collaborate in the event as well.