Cyril Tolley aka “A. Birdie”

Long before Arnold Palmer famously drove the first green at Cherry Hills in his charge at the 1960 U.S. Open Cyril James Hastings Tolley drove the first green at Troon in the 1923 Amateur Championship. The first at Cherry Hills played 346 yards, and the first at Troon played 350 yards. Palmer two putted for a birdie, Tolley did one better and made the putt for eagle. Tolley’s style was similar to Arnolds, long-hitting for his day and swashbuckling.

Tolley was an English amateur who played during the Bobby Jones era and notched up wins at the British Amateur in 1920 at Muirfield and in 1929 at Royal St. George’s. He also won the French Open in 1924 and 1928. During the 1920 U.S. Amateur at Engineer’s Tolley wrote, “we first met the inimitable Bobby Jones, and we were all struck with the marvelous ease and accuracy of one who has turned out to be, possibly, the best hitter of the golf ball that has ever lived.”

The Modern Golfer

Tolley’s contribution to the world of golf literature includes The Modern Golfer published in 1924 in London by W. Collins Sons (D & J T11260) and by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. (D & J T11290). The book is primarily instructional but also devotes several chapters to golf courses, his career and his experiences in America. His first visit to America sounds like something out of the Great Gatsby and he was un-nerved by the driving here, “Our first experience of American taxis was a trifle alarming. Our driver drove at a furious pace, to us on the wrong side of the road, steered his car with one hand and ate ice cream with the other, at the same time keeping up a running flow of conversation with another driver who he was trying to race. However we arrived intact, if a little frightened.” The Modern Golfer was published with a dust jacket, rare for a book in the 1920s, seen below:

Tolley DJ

Tolley’s visit then settled into an enviable routine, “Everything had been arranged perfectly for us, and soon afterwards we made our first acquaintance with the Links Club, which showered its hospitality on us, and of which we have the happiest recollections, as we spent many subsequent enjoyable hours there. It was here we first made the acquaintance of Mr. Charlie MacDonald, who initiated us into the mysteries of the New York cocktails.”

Describing a two-hour drive to Southampton, “We sat huddled together at the back of the car expecting death at any moment. Another thing that added to our terror were the numerous crossings over the railway track. There are no level crossings to warn you.” And, “It is impossible to imagine the feeling of travelling along narrow lanes on a dark night at a terrific pace by a driver who does not know any of the bad corners or turns.”

Tolley played an impressive array of courses while in the States including the National Golf Links of America, Engineers, North Shore Country Club, Westchester, Oakland, Myopia Hunt Club, Morristown and Piping Rock. He also spent a weekend on the “far-famed Pine Valley course,” where he shot a 90.

The chain-smoking and pipe smoking Tolley traveled in the States during prohibition and noted that, “Every American has had special pockets built in his dress clothes, and from these spacious pockets flasks have been known to appear.” Tolley played in the inaugural Walker Cup match at the National Golf Links of America with Bernard Darwin as his partner. As a friend of C.B. Macdonald’s, he was a regular visitor there over the years.

Tolley Walker Cup

The inaugural Walker Cup match at the National Golf Links, left to right, Francis Ouimet, Bernard Darwin, the dapper Tolley wearing a sweater vest and Jesse Guilford

Tolley was defeated by Bobby Jones on the 37th hole of the 1930 British Amateur played at St. Andrews on a very windy day, the first leg of Jones’ Grand Slam that year. The match was very close and the lead changed six times. Jones finished him off with a stymie on the extra hole. It’s amazing to think how golf history would have changed if Tolley had won the match and Bobby did not go on to win the Impregnable Quadrilateral.

Educated at Oxford, Tolley would go on to become captain of the R & A. During the First World War Tolley was a tank commander who fought in the battles of Ypres and Cambrai, served as a German prisoner-of-war and was awarded the Military Cross. Tolley grew up playing his golf at Eastbourne Downs and his home course was Royal Liverpool (Hoylake). He made his living as a stockbroker.

1920s Flicker Books

As a sign of the esteem Tolley was held in, he is featured in the Flicker Book series produced in the 1920s. Bobby Jones was featured in three flicker books and Tolley in one. Book #12 is titled Drive and Iron Shots (D & J T11230) and shows Tolley hitting shots when you flip through the book.


The New York Times reported that in 1925 Tolley gave up golf for two years to take up tennis. He was a better tennis player than golfer in his youth and was frustrated that English players of the time were performing so poorly. During his tenure in tennis he operated under the pseudonym “A. Birdie,” although he never made it to Wimbledon.


In the 1932 mystery novel Mr. Malcolm Presents author Gerard Fairlie’s uses Tolley’s 1930 match against Bobby Jones at St. Andrews as a device in his plot. Since almost everyone in St. Andrews was watching the match, it was a great time for a murder. The book is hard to find. The book was published in a first edition by Hodder & Stoughton in London (D & J F1360) and in a paperback in Leipzig by Tauchintz (D & J F1390).

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Valuable Book Group specializes in rare, collectible and valuable golf books. We are avid collectors ourselves obsessed not only with playing the game, but also its history and the literature of the game.
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