Hole In One Gang
It's not a new phenomenon - since time immemorial, golf and betting have gone together like fish and chips. What Sunday morning fourball would be complete without its sidestake, whether it be for a golf ball, a fiver or the four-figure sums that were regularly wagered at the great gambling clubs like Sunningdale?
Great hustlers like Titanic Thompson made a handsome living out of the game before World War II, mostly in Florida, by tricking millionaire tourists into big-money golf matches they had no chance of winning, and Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd, both Major champions, cut their teeth as young pros by playing matches for a hundred bucks when they had only ten in their pocket.
In 1991 two opportunist punters from Essex, Paul Simons and John Carter, went round the country plundering odds of up to 100-1 from one-shop bookmakers, unaware the correct price was no more than 5-4, about holes-in-one at five televised tournaments and would have cleaned up £500,000 but for being knocked for part of their winnings.
Known as the Hole-in-One Gang, they knew exactly what the correct odds were as they had all the European Tour media guides listing the aces from previous years. There was no big secret about it, but they knew that the man in the street, and little bookmakers without a golf adviser, thought holes in one were almost as rare as a sighting of the dodo.
Simons and Carter were fully aware they had no chance with the major bookmaking chains, who knew the time of day; they also knew that the little man in one-horse towns might very well not.
Armed with Yellow Pages for the length and breadth of England, a great line in bluff, Cockney charm and unlimited patience, they drove thousands of miles taking odds from 3-1 to 100-1 on aces at the US Open, Open, Benson & Hedges, Volvo PGA and European Open. There was nothing illegal about it and they all came up.
But many bookmakers thought that The Sporting Life's Green Seal Service, the great arbitrator of betting disputes at the time, would rule in their favour, forcing Simons and Carter to accept the 'correct' odds instead of the inflated ones.
The biggest whinger of all was Arthur Whittaker from Derby, whose shop manager had laid three £50 bets at 100-1. But The Life would have none of it, ruling that there was a world of difference between palpable error (which would have given the layers a get-out) and errors of judgement.
In fairness, most bookies did stump up, but some shamed the industry, especially one firm, Spectrum Racing of Brighton, whose owner fled and sold up rather than fork out £43,000. In all there were £80,000-worth of non-payers but still enough left for the boys to buy Mercedes and have riotous gambling trips around the world. Sadly, Simons died a few years later but not before he had enjoyed himself.