Every autumn, old friends gather at a log cabin in Ontario’s Grey County, near Chatsworth, Ont., for a golf weekend that pits teams based on occupation — journalists on one side, PR guys on the other — against each other in an epic three-day battle of match play.
The prize: A small but mysterious silver plated cup bearing only the inscription “Lindsay 1968.” As the event’s lore inevitably grew, the boys realized it has everything they cherish about the game — except a truly ancient and royal history. They assigned one of their own to write one.
Every year in north-central Ontario, the home of cataclysmic weather and overpriced rain gear, two equal and opposite forces — good versus evil, darkness against light, full and forthright disclosure at odds with self-interested obfuscation — square off in a drop-down, drag-out, no-holds-barred battle of wits, words and metal woods.
This three-day early-autumn clash takes place across a multitude of some of Ontario’s finest golf courses — Cobble Beach, The Raven at Lora Bay, and most recently the demonic duo of Devil’s Pulpit and Devil’s Paintbrush, to name but a few — and has proven so epic in past years that the locals blame it for an abrupt change in the colour of the leaves.
At the centre of it all is a small, unassuming prize, no less cherished than it is tarnished, known as the Chatsworth Cup.
On one side of the yawning chasm that divides the two rivals, we have the Hacks — four men of stout heart and hearty appetite, all of them champions of free speech who toil in the divine light of public-interest journalism. On the other reside the Flaks, a motley gang of sharp-toothed, froth-lipped mouth-breathers who stink of politics and pandering, loyal only to the Man for whom they speak and united in their black-hearted hatred of their ink-stained foes.
None of us, alas, are much good at golf. Some have improved tenfold since 2003, which is when the Cup — battled over since time immemorial by Hacks and Flacks before it was lost for more than a century — was rediscovered in the charred remnants of a grand castle near Chatsworth, Ont., which was destroyed by fire in 1968.
As the story goes, the Chatsworth Cup was established in 1896 by Charles Prestwich Scott, who was at the time the editor of the Manchester Guardian, one of the world’s most storied newspapers. Scott, as it turns out, was the illegitimate product of a drunken union late one night between Linda Lindsay, a lowly housekeeper, and the Duke of Devonshire, who lived in an opulent castle in the English countryside.
Scott, it was said, was so enamoured of the game of golf that he devoted his time to little else, besides largely ignoring the work of being among the topmost newspaper editors in Britain. Readers were known to complain at times that the front page of the Guardian often seemed all too preoccupied with the comings and goings of the likes of Benjamin Crendiddle and Tiger Wilhelm, two of the leading amateur players of the age.
Though it wasn’t a widely known fact, the prime minister of Britain at the time was among the Guardian’s most avid readers. Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, likely ranked alongside Scott as one of the most golf-obsessed men of the age. As such, when he sat down with the paper, he would often forgo the Guardian’s political coverage in favour of Scott’s ramblings about how eminent physicist Peter Guthrie Tait and his theories about golf-ball aerodynamics threatened to ruin the game.
The Marquess challenged his Hack rival to a friendly match. As the pair slowly realized, yet again, that they weren’t much good at the game of golf, they also began to discover how much they desperately wanted to win. Neither did, of course; three of the seven modern iterations of the Chatsworth — the “Chatty,” as it’s known to its most loyal fans — have ended in a draw. But a profound rivalry and deep-rooted tradition were born nonetheless.
The pair’s matches ended in a tie for the first three years, contributing to a mounting degree of frustration and animosity on either side of the Hack-Flack divide. The Marquess secured a small trophy to award to the winning side, should one ever emerge. But his sense of certainty that the matter would never end in anything but a draw, combined with a political instinct that commanded him to fear imminent defeat at every turn, compelled him to etch on the prize a most depressing slogan: “Qua fossor insisto , illic est tantum fatum,” which, loosely translated, means, “Where fools tread, there is only doom.”
Five years in and growing ever more desperate to lay claim to his own trophy, Gascoyne-Cecil had a better idea: ringers.
There was the charismatic Ponce Corbuckle, a 30-year veteran of the newspaper trade until a lucrative PR account with Dr. Henniger’s Nerve-Calming Elixer and Stain Remover lured him to the other side. Though his golf skills were prodigious, Corbuckle’s true value to the Flak side shone through whenever he was called upon to read putts, repair ball marks and restore a sense of self-worth for the Marquess, whose incessantly long pre-shot routine often left him neither the time nor the inclination to take care of the game’s more routine housekeeping chores.
Scott, meanwhile, called upon an old ally from his days as a parliamentary reporter to buttress the Hack ranks. “Raging” Reginald Allen-Ward, a mild-mannered denizen of the pressroom ranks with a patch over one eye, a fondness for salami and a fearsome reverse pivot, often quietly carried Scott on his shoulders — figuratively speaking, most of the time, save for one unfortunate instance involving an animal hole — on those rare occasions when the journalist side emerged the winner.
Over the years, other players were added to the ranks, like Matthew “The Needle” Haystack III, whose fondness for playing mental games with his competitors was rivalled only by his appetite for snack cakes; and Robert “Lefty” Watson-Terwilligar, a Birmingham-area butcher with a penchant for abnormally large steak dinners whose Chatsworth career was cut tragically short by a ruptured colon.
It’s believed the Chatsworth traditions migrated to Canada in 1912 when Lindsay Gascoyne-Cecil-Brown — the mischevious, illegitimate son of the Marquess and wealthy mining heiress and women’s rights advocate Margaret Brown — secretly boarded the Titanic with his mother, securing a steerage berth aboard the ill-fated ocean liner after stealing the Cup from his father, presumably for kicks.
The history books have long lauded the “unsinkable Molly Brown,” perhaps the Titanic’s most famous survivor, for bravely insisting that her lifeboat return to the sinking ship to search for survivors. In fact, Brown was frantically searching for the trophy, her only illicit link to the man she once loved (well, loved once, then loved again 45 minutes later).
Her search in vain, Brown was forced instead to scoop up a dented sugar bowl floating in the corrosive, icy waters of the North Atlantic. Upon her arrival in the U.S., she had it engraved with the name of her frozen son and mounted on top of a small wooden pedestal, and promptly transported it to Halifax to place on Lindsay’s gravesite.
How it made its way west to Ontario remains unclear, but the cup’s unique heritage is believed to be the basis for the naming of the town of Chatsworth, Ont., south of Owen Sound and now the current home of the annual fall conflict between the Hacks and the Flaks. Its dubious heritage lives on in mustard stains and colon-stretching Saturday night Bob Burgers, delicious cakelets and lovingly crafted scone sandwiches, truly awful golf and fall weather the Titanic survivors themselves would have envied.
But most of all, the values of the Chatsworth Cup are upheld in the unrealistic expectations, outrageous rhetoric and tolerable company that invade this sleepy cottage community each year, all of it soaked in a profound sense of certain defeat.
In the grand tradition of weak-willed, henpecked men, be we members of the press or of the political establishment, we take tremendous pride in a complete lack of optimism. We are uncertain only in what will be the margin of our inevitable loss, both this year and in the great many years to come.