Bill Elliott: Mad as a hatter

Bill finds a man he would like to take his hat off to - except, of course, that would grievously offend the chap in question as it would be strictly against the rules

Bill finds a man he would like to take his hat off to - except, of course, that would grievously offend the chap in question as it would be strictly against the rules

Ever wondered what a golf tournament might look like if it had been arranged by Number One or even Number Two? That is Numbers One and Two as in The Prisoner, the seminal spook/science fiction TV series set in Portmeirion that first aired in 1967 and still resonates with those of us who watched it, transfixed by its combination of utter coolness and total, incomprehensible weirdness.

Anyway, it was The Prisoner that came to mind the other day when I pulled into the superb Buckinghamshire Club. There on the practice green were 50 blokes all seriously perfecting the errors in their putting strokes while wearing a technicolour array of rather splendid straw trilbies on top of the sort of golf gear that would encourage Ian Poulter to lightly salivate. Yes, not a blasted baseball cap in sight, an arrangement that regular readers of this column will realise pleased me greatly.

I was there to play in the second William Hunt Trilby Tour event and by doing so I may have caught a glimpse of what could turn out to be the future of golf in the same way that Twenty20 is now part of cricket s long-term plan. I sat down to chat with Mr Hunt himself to find out what the hell I d got myself into.

It turns out that William is a tailor with a shop in the Saville Row area, also that he is a most amiable and impressive Mancunian nutter, a civil engineer who turned to tailoring when some bloke in a pub admired his home-made suit and ordered a dozen on the spot.

Why trilbies? he said. Because they look so much better than baseball caps. It s the same with the trousers we supply and the shirts. None of that over-sized nonsense. It s a condition of playing in this that everyone wears the clothes we give them and that the hats must remain on at all times. I want people to look good on the course and here they do. Yes?

To be fair most of them did look the cutting edge of sharp even if one or two of the older blokes who had paid £250 to play and to get the gear appeared slightly sheepish in the way that mutton dressed as lamb tends to shuffle around. The format, however, is the most interesting aspect of the Trilby Tour. Using the Stableford system three-quarters handicap 124 trilbied chaps set off. What happens then is that the top four get into a sudden-death play-off over three holes and, if still tied, play it out to a climax on the last hole.

It doesn t matter if a player wins by a dozen points, it just means he gets into the play-off. This strikes me as an intriguing format and one that is tailor-made, as it would be I suppose, for television and a medium anxious to show exciting and quick sporting action. The day before I put on my trilby, William had staged the professional version of his idea and the eventual winner was Warren Bladon who picked up £20,000 in cash, a car for a year, a pro contract with William plus a Callaway Staff contract and several other goodies.

Now I know Warren. The 1996 Amateur Champion came on to my radar screen at the 1997 Open Championship when I called in a favour and fixed him up with a practice round alongside Greg Norman. He played well that day too, taking a tenner off Greg. Unfortunately this was just about the last time he did play well and life since has been a struggle for the big man who describes himself on his website as a pub manager/pro golfer which, as combinations go, is about as good as it gets.

Warren s victory means a lot to him, as you might imagine, while the amateurs also had what most seemed to agree was a brilliant day, with the winner picking up not just a trophy but a platoon of goodies, including a lesson with David Leadbetter. So successful was it that next year William plans regional qualifying events he had to turn away several hundred amateurs who wanted to enter this time while the pro day is about to get even bigger.

We plan to have a winner-takes-all prize that will be in six figures (possibly as much as £200,000) and I know we will attract some household names from the European Tour to compete. Unfortunately, I can t insist that these guys wear the trilbies but we ll think of something, and there will definitely be at least one trilby on view because our 2009 amateur winner will play alongside these stars. And it should all be televised live by Sky. How great will that be for everybody.

I can t wait for it to happen. This year s event will have rolled out on Sky by the time you read this. If you saw it then I hope you liked it. I know I did. And I suspect Patrick McGoohan would have too. As far as I am concerned, William Hunt is at least Number Two. Plus, the trousers fitted me quite well.

Editor At Large

Bill has been part of the Golf Monthly woodwork for many years. A very respected Golf Journalist he has attended over 40 Open Championships. Bill  was the Observer's golf correspondent. He spent 26 years as a sports writer for Express Newspapers and is a former Magazine Sportswriter of the Year. After 40 years on 'Fleet Street' starting with the Daily Express and finishing on The Observer and Guardian in 2010. Now semi-retired but still Editor at Large of Golf Monthly Magazine and regular broadcaster for BBC and Sky. Author of several golf-related books and a former chairman of the Association of Golf Writers. Experienced after dinner speaker.