For nearly 20 years, birdies, bogeys and bunkers have been bonding Anglican Communion clergy—in friendly but competitive pursuit of a coveted brass prize known as the Cranmer Cup.
Driving fellowship on the driving range, the intercontinental golf tournament assembles 32 clerical players from the Anglican/Episcopal churches of Great Britain and Ireland, Canada and the United States.
Every two years since 2000, players ranging in age from their 50s to their 80s meet in venues on alternating sides of the Atlantic. Their goal: take home the large, pitcher-shaped cup. It takes its name from Thomas Cranmer, first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury (1533–1556), and a chief architect of King Henry VIII’s fledgling Church of England.
The four-day contest is the 1998 brainchild of Bishop Tom Ely of the Episcopal Church’s diocese of Vermont and Prebendary David Sceats of the Scottish Episcopal Church. “They decided to challenge each church—the Church of England and The Episcopal Church—to a golf competition to further the bonds of affection between the U.K. and the U.S. and to help stem the tide of disagreeable behaviour,” Michael Ingham, retired bishop of the diocese of New Westminster and a player for the U.S.-Canada team, told the Anglican Journal.
For some years before, matches had been played in Great Britain with teams from England, Scotland and Wales. On sabbatical in England, Ely was asked to play on a team for the Church of England and the Church in Wales. “From that, David and I dreamed up the Cranmer Cup,” said Ely. “I enlisted the help of a colleague in Connecticut, the Rev. Ray Andersen, to recruit our first team for the inaugural event in 2000.”
Ingham, whose episcopal tenure was known for controversial stands, said “the tournament brings together clergy with an interest in golf, but from quite different sides of the current theological disputes in the Communion.” He added: “It’s a real bond of affection. We abandon our theological differences on the golf course.”
This year, the U.S.-Canadian team took away the cup, with a razor-thin edge of 22.5 of 44 possible points. The tournament’s man of the match (MVP) was Barry Morgan, retired bishop of Wales.
Over two decades, the Cranmer Cup has expanded from the original Episcopal Church-Church of England competition to include Scots, Welsh and Irish clergy, as well as Canadians, who first joined in 2012 and now number four.
While organizers have thought of inviting players from more far-flung regions of the Communion, the costs of transportation and accommodation might be prohibitive for some, said the Rev. Trevor Fisher, incumbent at St. Francis, Lake Country, near Kelowna, B.C., and one of the tournament organizers.
In terms of this year’s venue, the tournament made its Canadian debut, taking place near the interior British Columbia town of Chase at Talking Rock Golf Resort and Quaaout Lodge & Spa, a First Nations-owned and -managed hotel on Little Shuswap Lake Road. In other years, players have teed off on courses from Knoxville in Tennessee to Sligo in Ireland.
Oliver Arnouse, chief of the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, of the Secwepemc Nation, welcomed the arriving players on June 18, and on June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, the players participated in First Nations celebrations at the lodge and presented their band hosts with a clan gift, a Mackenzie tartan blanket from Selkirk, Scotland.
Out on the course, the matches are colourful, with teams donning different-hued shirts or jackets each day—red, white, bright blue or orange for the North Americans versus electric orange, pale blue and sometimes green, in honour of the Irish, for the British contingent.
To date, North America leads the series, winning the first three and last four cups and tying with Great Britain-Ireland in 2008. Last year’s match took place in Wales, and in 2020, the 32 players with gold handicaps ranging from seven (Fisher) to 27 will battle it out in Warwickshire, England.
One of the traditional highlights of each year’s tournament is singing. “We gather together and sign songs a cappella,” said Fisher. “The Irish sing the most, then the Americans. The Canadians usually just sing ‘O Canada.’ And a lot of people stop to listen.”
Fisher is looking forward to the 2020 tournament in Warwickshire, and in the meantime, he’s trying to organize a tournament for U.S. and Canadian clergy only. Those interested should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 778-918-7088.
And no matter which team takes home the prized cup, in the end it’s the inter-clergy camaraderie that is most prized by all.