The last time golf was played in the Olympics many of the best players stayed at home and the game's followers were split into two camps as to whether it was a good thing the sport was part of the festivities.

Yes, an awful lot may have changed in the past 112 years, but, as a fascinating new book points out, when it comes to the Royal and Ancient sport and its troubled relationship with the Olympics, an awful lot has remained the same.

Indeed, Alan Fraser underlines in The Hitler Trophy - Golf and the Olympic Games, an element of farce and rancour has been the underlying theme from the moment competitors turned up for the first edition in Paris in 1900 and had no clue they were even taking part in the Olympics.

Peggy Abbott, the women's champion that year, actually went to her grave in 1955 still oblivious to the fact that she had been an Olympian and her status as the first American woman to win an Olympic gold.


If you think this year's men's competition is devalued somewhat by the well-documented absence of the top four, consider that in 1904 in St Louis not one of the leading British players of the day could be bothered making the trip, with the field of 80 men comprising 77 Americans and three Canadians.

Rory McIlroy's recent withering criticism finds an echo down the ages in the contemptuous verdict of the Irish Golfer magazine: 'The Olympic Association may call the golf competition it promotes the World Championship or 'The Supremacy of the Utmost Surreal Horizon' or any other high-sounding title which rings sweetly in American ears; nevertheless, a grandiose title cannot, per se, give prestige to a meeting.'

Such sentiments clearly won the day, for the Canadian gold medallist George Lyon turned up to defend his title at the 1908 London Olympics . . . and found he was alone. The golf was duly cancelled - and the sport began its long years of exile.

Fraser's book details how close it came to being ended in Atlanta in 1996, with the organiser Billy Payne - now chairman at Augusta National - lobbying hard for it to take place at the home of the Masters.

The IOC were won over, until it was pointed out that golf taking place at a men-only course with not a great history for race relations might not be the smartest move.

Then there is the Hitler Trophy, the book's eye-catching title. Here, thanks to the author's painstaking research, we have the definitive account of the extraordinary story of the Fuhrer's quest to have golf included in the Berlin Games in 1936.

When he didn't get his way, he organised his own tournament at Baden-Baden - complete with his own, personally gifted trophy - that was an Olympic event in all but name as far as the Germans were concerned.

As Fraser points out: 'Flags were raised at the opening ceremony and at the trophy presentation; anthems were played and medals presented. The winners were even given fir trees in a mirror of the Berlin Games which saw each gold medallist receive an oak.'

It's a matter of great debate as to whether Hitler was going to present his own trophy to the winners. When Germany led at the halfway stage, did he make plans for the long drive, only to change his mind when the hated British turned the tide and ended up the winners?

The Hitler Trophy, after a long and arduous journey in itself, now resides at Hesketh Golf Club near Southport, the home course of one of the two winners, Arnold Bentley.

So does Bentley's prize of a fir tree, planted within sight of the clubhouse and which has thrived, despite members from long ago forsaking the toilets on occasion to underline their loathing of the German dictator with their own watery ritual.