With Tom, Harry and Frank, Sidney was the eldest of four golfing brothers from Hoylake, cousins of the famous amateur John Ball. He was born in Hoylake in 1879.
He first appears in 1899 as the professional at Ludlow, entered in the Open at Sandwich. A first round of 90 prompted his withdrawal.
What he did immediately thereafter is a little unclear. A journalist writing about a conversation with him while playing at Didsbury recalled tales of him boxing while working for a clubmaking firm in London. He also mentions Ball ‘went out to South Africa during the war’. This would be the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902) but it is not clear if he went with the army or just happened to be there. There was a Private S Ball of 2nd Bn Lancashire Fusiliers who served in this conflict but I have not yet been able to establish a definitive connection. Another loose end is that he apparently won a number of cycling trophies.
Back in Britain the post at the Didsbury club seems to have been as an instructor over the summer in 1903 or 1904 (or both). In 1905 he became professional at Rhos-on-Sea in Wales and established a new course record of 72 that September. He teamed up with brother, Tom, to play a 2x36-hole challenge against the Wingates Syd/A>and hus uncle Charles for £20 a side. The first 36 holes were played at Olton near Birmingham and the second half took place at the Blundellsands on the Lancashire coast in front of a large gallery. The local paper waxed lyrical about Sidney Ball’s brilliant play contributing to a 3 and 1 victory.
The following year he moved to Wrexham. From here he won the 1908 Welsh Championship which also served as a qualifier for the News of the World tournament. This took place in October at 1908 on J H Taylor’s home patch at Mid-Surrey and Ball lost in the first round to Ben Sayers.
On the 1911 census, described as a golf professional and clubmaker, he is living In Wrexham with wife, Margaret, and three young children, Sidney, Wilfred and Eva. That year he won the Sphere and Tatler Welsh qualifier played over his home course, qualified for the matchplay stage of the Cruden Bay tournament, defeating Charles Mayo in the first round of that before falling to James Braid in the quarter final. He was also fourth in the Baden Baden tournament which most of the British newspapers called the German Open no doubt to the horror of the German golf association, the DGV. According to a contemporary newspaper article he was in the prize list for every competition in 1912 (which I have not verified) except the Open Championship. He was forced to leave the Open and return home following the sad death of his four year old son, Wilfred.
In 1913 he became professional at the Manchester municipal course at Heaton Park and promptly set a new course record of 68. The Open, for which he qualified, was at his ‘home’ of Hoylake and he finished tied 42nd. As golf got back to business after the war he played in a four ball £50 a side 2x36 hole match with Peter Rainford against Harry Fernie and Andrew Kay but they were soundly beaten. From 1923 onwards he played fourballs with Sid Ball jnr as a partner. His son started as a good 15 year old amateur before becoming assistant to his father. They were among 11 golfers competing in a play-off for the last two places in the £1040 PGA Qualifier at Sheffield in 1928. Neither got through which may have avoided tensions on the journey home.
Other than an illness in 1924, ‘lying very ill at his home’, all went well for many years at Heaton Park. Ball managed the course to the extent it was recognised as one of the best in the North of England; it hosted professional tournaments and he traveled to play in competitions also, most of the Northern PGA events; the Open when it was nearby, Hoylake in 1924, Lytham in 1926; the Irish Open; the Dunlop competition at Southport. Then in 1931 came complaints, probably familiar to most golf clubs. Some of the members wanted to use the old greens rather than temporary ones. A bit of knife twisting is apparent from the additional comments that Ball had not been seen on the course for days and there was mention of bad language. Sid was called before the committee. The committee chose to favour the judgement of the greens by the members rather than the son of a greenkeeper at Hoylake for fifty years who had looked after their course for the past eighteen. Sid was suspended, not allowed to play on the course not even allowed to enter his own shop.
Ten days later the Manchester Parks Committee terminated his contract. A petition asking for his reinstatement was signed by 200 local golfers, largely Heaton Park members, but Alderman Melland announced that the committee considered the matter closed.
So, with a family to feed as a professional golfer in your late 50s who has just been sacked, what do you do? Obvious. You lease a parcel of land and build your own course. A spot at Boggart-Hole-Clough, on a hilltop close to Heaton Park, was identified. Support was even pledged by a member of the City Council. It did not take a brand consultant to determine the name lacked a certain panache so Sid built Park View golf course, a nine hole track on only 27 acres, which he fashioned largely with his own hands over a twelve month period. A tree was cut down to form a roller, he was the foreman and the labourer, he built lockers and used rooms in his cottage as club rooms. George Duncan and the local Bury FC football captain, a scratch player, came to play at the opening.
‘It made a living’, he said, with his wife and daughter working with him inside and a 15 year old lad outside, and he still played in tournaments with the Park View affiliation. The course continued until the 1960s but I do not know how long Sid was there. He had a Manchester address on the 1939 Register and was described as an ‘unemployed professional golfer’. He retired to Penmaenmawr in Wales and, after the war, was writing golf tips in a weekly column for the North Wales Weekly News.
Not quite the end of his playing days. After learning of William Dell’s exploits in the 1954 Open from the Guess My Story TV panel quiz, the 75 year old Sid challenged the Yorkshire kid to a home and away match. Two down with three to play at Ilkley, Sid clawed his way back and sunk a 10 foot putt at the last for the match to end all-square. Dell was read to play another round immediately but Ball wanted to wait and arrange a game for them in Wales. I have been unable to ascertain if that took place. Perhaps all-square was the best result.
Sid died at home in Wales on 14 February 1966.
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