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The Good Doctor

Until 1990 the game of golf was convinced that the Stableford system, a boon to club golfers everywhere was invented by the Good Doctor at Wallasey Golf Club in 1932. Wallasey members tried out the system on May 16th, 1932, and within a few years and after some adjustments it began to establish itself as one of the world’s most popular versions of competitive golf. Dr Stableford’s reasoning was that many players in competitions got little fun since they tore up their cards after playing a few holes. A system was needed that provided a fairer reflection of the golfer’s complete round and allowed him to recover from a bad hole. Although no one realised it, the same thought was bugging him since the turn of the century.

Ploughing through the records while writing the clubs centenary history Peter Corrigan a renowned journalist and member of the club came across a yellowing and folded cutting from The South Wales Daily News report that showed the Glamorganshire had decided to organise its first open Autumn Meeting on 30 September and 1 October 1898. A footnote to the scorers in the bogey competition read: “A special prize was given by Dr Stableford in connection with the foregoing event, the method of scoring being as follows. Each competitor plays against the bogey level. If the hole is lost by one stroke only, the player scores one; if it is halved the player scores two; if it is won by one stroke the player scores three; and if won by two the player scores four. To the score made one third of the player’s handicap is added. So, there it was the first Stableford competition. Frank, emboldened by his success in the Club Cup, approached the organising committee and enquired whether he could provide separate ‘special prize’ for the winner of the afternoon competition. Although no doubt sceptical about this strange request the committee acceded. When the competition was concluded, Frank’s friend from Porthcawl, Hastings-Watson, won with a score of 9 up on bogey. His brother-in-law, Dr McCall came joint second with two up. However, though Hastings-Watson still proved to be a clear winner with forty-two points when applying Frank’s point scoring, Dr McCall had dropped to joint fourth place on the points calculation. Which may be a reason it was never used again until 16th May 1932.

Although he had changed little in his system in the 34 years between the Glamorganshire and Wallasey versions, he soon made other changes. Stroke indexes were not available in 1898. Had it been he may have persevered in his system although there were more pressing reasons why he stored it in the back of his mind.

Dr Frank Barney Gorton Stableford was born in in Oldbury, near Birmingham, on 24 April 1871, the third of seven children. He read medicine at Queen’s College, Birmingham and it was while there that he met his future brother-in-law, Henry Stinton Lowe, who introduced him to golf. It was in September 1894 that Frank qualified as a doctor about the same time as his older sister, Florence, married Dr Colin McCall and moved to Cardiff. 
After qualifying Frank was appointed to two positions as resident medical officer in the Birmingham area before deciding to join his sister Florence and her husband at their home in Canton, Cardiff. By 1898 they had also been joined by Frank’s younger sister, Gertrude, and all four had joined Porthcawl Golf Club. Colin, Florence, and Gertrude had also joined The Glamorganshire.

After settling into Cardiff Frank relocated to Whitchurch where he intended establishing his own medical practice where Gertrude joined him. On 4 June 1898 Frank joined The Glamorganshire together with another member of the Porthcawl Golf Club, William Hastings Watson.

“Exactly a week after joining Frank played in the Club Cup, a quarterly medal competition. The cup itself had been donated by John Pyman, the second Captain of the Club, and he had directed that it could be retained by anyone winning it three times. Frank won the cup on his first attempt by four shots playing off a handicap of ten. It was the first trophy that he had ever won and his name, score and date of victory were engraved on a small silver shield and attached to the base of the trophy. Nine months later he won the cup for a second time, and he must have believed that there was a very real prospect that he might win it outright. Sadly, the Boer War intervened and in February 1900 Frank sailed off to South Africa to do his duty. In his absence, a certain Parker Hagarty robbed him of the opportunity and the whereabouts of the cup remained a mystery for several decades. When it was represented its connection with the Good Doctor was overlooked and it became used for one of the less prestigious club competitions – the Autumn Tournament Second Division. It continues to be played for.

Before Frank journeyed off to South Africa, he also won the Club Tournament match-play competition, winning 4 and 3 in the final. Four years after engaging in the Boer War and action against the Mad Mullah in Abyssinia Frank returned to the UK for a short break in 1904. Coincidentally, exactly six years to the day that he launched his unique point scoring system, he returned to The Glamorganshire for its Autumn Meeting to play in both the Open Bogey and Medal competitions. In the morning bogey he came joint tenth. However, he won the afternoon Medal by three shots with a net score of 77 playing off a handicap of six. The small silver cup he won is still retained in the safekeeping of his family. Soon after he returned to South Africa where he remained until 1906.
On his eventual return he rejoined Porthcawl Golf Club where he won their club championship and became a semi-finalist in the Welsh Golfing Union Championship the following year. Two years later he broke Porthcawl’s course record just a week before the club gained its royal insignia.

In 1910 he moved to Wallasey where he married Roberta Dunn, a shipowner’s daughter. The following year Roberta gave birth to their only child, Frank Bertram. It was not until 1914 that Frank joined Wallasey Golf Club where he remained a member until his passing. Soon after he enlisted with the Royal Army Medical Corps at the commencement of World War 1. He rose to the rank of Major and served in Malta and Italy.

After the war he returned to Wallasey where his handicap was recorded as three in 1922, rising to eight in 1928. A tall, distinguished man with a handlebar moustache, he drove a Rolls-Royce which he inherited from a wealthy aunt and wore bright bow ties. He was forever examining the mechanics of his swing as well as perfecting his points system. Ironically, there is no record of him ever winning a Stableford competition although he played until a ripe old age.

In his later years he played snooker as well as golf and when he was blind in one eye. In April 1959 with his own World War One pistol, he shot himself in the chest and the bullet pierced his lung causing him to bleed to death. One of ordinary golfer’s greatest benefactors, he was eighty-nine.

Portrait of Frank Stableford based on 1908 photo at Royal PorthcawlFrank Stableford – about 1914

For further information about the Good Doctor
Please read Stableford, A Life in Golf Medicine and the War by Robert Bob Edwards