By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
FELLOW golfers and friends gathered at the Bahamas Golf Federation’s Driving Range at the Baillou Hills Sporting Complex on Saturday to pay their last respects to the late professional golfer and instructor James ‘Jungle Jim’ Duncombe.
Duncombe, who passed away on December 27 at the age of 77 in Florida, was remembered as the “Swing Doctor” for his ability to assist in helping to fix everyone’s golf swing, including his sensational daughter Jameica Duncombe, who became arguably the greatest Bahamian female golfer.
After his family placed his ashes on a table, Bishop Ghaly Swann and Agatha Delancy co-chaired a ceremony that included a number of tributes on the life of Duncombe before there was a 21 golf swing salute by golfers, who either played with and against him or were coached by him.
Frank Deveaux, his long-time friend, said he was grieved to be writing and speaking in the past tense about his long-time friend and confidant in his “As I Knew Him.”
As true friends, in every sense of the word, Deveaux said their relationship started back in the 1960s when Duncombe had hair and he (Deveaux) had his memory.
He noted that he was the only player whom Duncombe was unable to fix his swing because he never listened. That transcended to the days when they went out and Deveaux tried to sing their favourite song “My Way” with Duncombe, who indicated to him that he didn’t know whether it was harder to fix his swing or his voice.
But Deveaux said he was pleased that when Duncombe was stationed at the Bonaventure Golf Club as a teaching pro in Florida, he was able to travel to play with his partner in a two-man team event every Thursday. Deveaux said he eventually got the name the ‘Sandbagger’ from the Bahamas after they won a few tournaments.
“Jim was loved and respected by all at Bonaventure, not just for his golfing skills, but his down to earth, fun loving personality,” Deveaux said.
BGF vice president Anthony Hinsey said Duncombe was described as a ‘good vocalist, a good musical and a smooth operator. As a golfer, he was a national team player, national coach, team manager, professional golfer, a trainer, an instructor, a mentor, a spy for natural talent and a fixture at the Baillou Hills Sporting Complex.
Keno Turnquest, the treasurer of the Bahamas Professional Golfers Association, now headed by Raquel Riley, said Duncombe’s affection for the golfing community spanned generations, either at the Paradise Island Golf Club or at the Driving Range.
“No matter the time of the year or the time of day, Jim was always there,” Turnquest said.
“He was a modern golf professional, always in a custom pair of pants that you could read the year of the quarter in his pocket and a colourful shirt that would make you want to run to the pro shop and pick one out.
“Jim made being a pro golfer seem fun and enjoyable, even Ray Charles could see Jim loved being a golf professional, who always had the latest equipment and attire.”
For Georgette Rolle, who benefitted from Duncombe’s generosity as he worked tirelessly with her over the last seven years in helping to develop a number of the junior golfers in the country today, said although they went back and forth over the strategies, they eventually came up with the right formula.
“He became my friend and a big shoulder to lean on,” she recalled. “I know that I am just one of many whom he has mentored as I would put it today, his living trophies.”
During her speech, Rolle highlighted a few comments made by a number of the junior golfers as they expressed their gratitude to Duncombe for assisting them in their advancement in the sport. It was a trip down memory lane for Shane Gibson, former Member of Parliament, who felt that he arguably spent more time than anyone else with Duncombe in all environments as a golfer, cricketer, musician, fisherman and family man.
For more than 50 years, they hung out as brothers, thanks to Gibson’s father, the late King Eric Gibson, who insisted that they both follow his footsteps in all aspects of life, especially when they performed at the King Eric and the Knights’ Club.
“If you know Jim, he felt he was one of the best at everything he did,” Gibson said. “I’m just saying that, but he believed that in cricket, he was one of the best, he played golf, he was one of the best, in entertainment, he was one of the best, of course when we went fishing, he was one of the best. “He always commanded a presence. And because he looked like Isaac Hayes (a former American singer, songwriter, actor, and producer who died in 2008), some places where he went, people actually called him Isaac Hayes. He actually signed autographs as Isaac Hayes.”
Another close friend, Craig Flowers said they got started in life as young boys growing up in Fowler and Quakoo Streets when they were flying kites, spinning tops and shooting marbles before they ventured into cricket, which was the national sport of the country, as members of St Bernard’s and St Agnes teams. “Jim never likes to lose. I remember Jim and I would get together and practice late in the evenings, just so we could be ready to play when we went to Jamaica on the first national team for cricket,” Flowers recalled.
“We lost some games and when we came back, Jim was really down because he felt we could have won those games. That was when I saw the true competitiveness in him.”
At the site where the memorial took place, Flowers said Duncombe got his introduction to golf and he was considered the top golfer in the country and everybody wanted to emulate him. At the national level, Flowers said Jim taught him everything he needed to know.
Once he started to redevelop the Baillou Hills Sporting Complex into the nine-hole property that it is today, Flowers said when Duncombe returned from Florida, he insisted that he would work with him and they spent tireless time and energy in re-establishing their long-lasting relationship.
He said he owes Duncombe a great deal of gratitude.
Another professional golfer, Glenn Pratt, who received more than $1,200 worth of golf clubs from Duncombe last year, dubbed his friend the “Ambassador for golf,” considering that the late Fred Higgs was the godfather of amateur golf and Roy Bowe was the godfather of professional golf.
And former Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Danny Johnson, said when Duncombe got inducted into the National Sports Hall of Fame, he was probably the best dressed with his crest being stitched in gold thread and he was the only person to be named to the National Cultural Hall of Fame the same year that he did for sports.
Director of Sports Timothy Munnings said his first encounter with Duncombe came about 7-8 years ago when he came to the Driving Range to work on his game, but even Duncombe’s and Georgette Rolle’s instructions could not help him, despite acquiring new golf clubs.
In wrapping up the speeches, Agatha Delancy said she remembered when she was first selected as the manager of the CAGC team and Duncombe was the coach when they travelled to Jamaica in 1996.
His daughter, Jameica, who was only 14 at the time, was a member of the George Teale ladies’ team. After the first day of competition, Delancy said she had not performed very well. But the next day, after she got some instructions from her father, she improved tremendously and led the team in competition.
In 2016, Delancy, who will turn 72 on Tuesday, said she and Duncombe were reunited as manager and coach of the CAGC team for the second and final time on home soil in the Bahamas. “Now I have this last opportunity to share this stage with you,” she summed up. “So I say farewell my friend, farewell, farewell, farewell.”