When the Golden Bear met the Matador on Bull Island

The Times We Lived In: Published: July 22nd, 1986. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea

You don’t need to be a golf nerd to recognise this pair of famous faces.  If you are a golf nerd, however, you may have heard about the day Jack Nicklaus and Severiano Ballesteros faced up to each other – in a light-hearted sort of way – at the Royal Dublin golf course on Bull Island.

Not surprisingly, this photo, taken at the exhibition match, the Toyota Challenge of Champions, made the front page. The men were so famous that nobody dared write a caption suggesting they had put their heads together and agreed that, while nobody was looking, one of them would discreetly pick his nose while the other extracted something from between his teeth.

In fact there wouldn’t have been much opportunity to do any such thing: the place was packed to the rafters with happy golf fans, who were treated to a display of top-notch play, golf lessons and easy banter.

There’s a YouTube video from that day, of Ballesteros conducting a session on bunker play. “Your weight must be behind the ball,” he tells his audience, executing a perfect shot – only to end up covered in best Bull Island sand, to the amusement of himself and everyone else.


Our photo catches the pair at their most human.  Nicklaus, aka “the Golden Bear”, is at his most golden.  Seve doesn’t look happy.  But then, being a golfer best known for his quixotic moods, he often wasn’t.

Ballesteros, as golf fans will no doubt remember, died in 2011 at the age of 54, the youngest of an extraordinary family of five professional golfers.  As for Nicklaus, he’s still going strong, designing everything from golf courses to computer games.  He also makes wine.

Who are the 10 best golfers of all time?  If Nicklaus is at the top, where does Seve come in?  Not above Gary Player, surely?  And what about the unappetising Tiger Woods, and the wonderfully-named Sam Snead, and . . . okay. I know nothing whatsoever about golf, so I’m out of suggestions.  Happy bickering, folks.

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A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is in bookshops now priced €19.99