Course of Style: Fashion and Ian Fleming at Royal St. George’s

Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books and an ardent golfer, used Royal St. George’s, site of the 2011 British Open, as the setting for the tense, stylishly rendered match between Bond and Auric Goldfinger in the 1959 novel “Goldfinger.”

In the book, the golf course is thinly disguised as the fictional “Royal St. Mark’s.” But it is unmistakably Royal St. George’s, dubbed “the greatest seaside golf course in the world,” in a recent article in The Financial Times, which noted that Fleming’s membership at Royal St. George’s began during his bachelor days in 1948. The elegant and somewhat dissipated former spy would drive down in his Ford Thunderbird on weekdays, after dictating his London Times column and having lunch in Piccadilly, to play a quick nine holes before tea. Fleming maintained a weekend house in Sandwich, White Cliff, which was formerly owned by Noel Coward, according to The Financial Times article.

In the film version of “Goldfinger”, Sean Connery and Gert Frobe (Auric Goldfinger) play their climactic match, highlighted by Goldfinger’s cheating (with the help of Oddjob), at the Stoke Park course near Pinewood Studios, a major British film studio outside London. These golf scenes are among the most stylish and exciting ever put on film. And the golf passages in the book are some of the most marvelously detailed in print, including this dead-on summation of the villain’s apparel:

Many unlikely people play golf, including people who are blind, who have only one arm, or even no legs, and people often wear bizarre clothes to the game. Other golfers don’t think them odd, for there are no rules of appearance or dress at golf. That is one of its minor pleasures. But Goldfinger had made an attempt to look smart at golf and that is the only way of dressing that is incongruous on a links. Everything matched in a blaze of rust-colored tweed from the buttoned ‘golfer’s cap’ centered on the huge, flaming red hair, to the brilliantly polished, almost orange shoes. The plus-four suit was too well-cut and the plus-fours themselves had been pressed down the sides. The stockings were of a matching heather mixture and had green garter tabs. It was as if Goldfinger had gone to his tailor and said, ‘Dress me for golf – you know, like they wear in Scotland.’

Connery, of course, in his straw porkpie hat , dark V-neck sweater and tasseled golf shoes looks every bit the low-key, country club gent. That was acting. Despite growing up in Scotland, Connery took up the game only after appearing in the film. As he wrote in his memoirs: “I never had a hankering to play golf… It wasn’t until I was taught enough golf to look as though I could outwit the accomplished golfer Gert Frobe in “Goldfinger” that I got the bug.” However, within a few years of making the movie, Connery wrote that he was good enough to play against professional competition.

Fleming, who lived the Bond style in real life — smoking two packs of Morland Specials per day and swilling vodka martinis — died at the age of 56. He was captain-elect of the Royal St. George’s club at the time of his death.