Clocks go forward by an hour tonight, ushering in the long evenings of summer

For an experimental period between 1968 and 1971, daylight saving was extended to the whole year

It’s common knowledge now, thanks to science, that black holes can slow down time. As explained by the late Stephen Hawking and others, this is one of the effects of dense gravity. But less well known has been the influence golf holes can have on time, which is broadly in the opposite direction.

When clocks go forward by an hour again tonight, ushering in the long evenings of summer, it will be a tribute to a man named William Willett, an English building contractor who died in 1915. Willett had long championed the idea of daylight-saving, to make people more productive during the warmer half of the year.

But he was also a golfing enthusiast, who was vulnerable to the gravitational pull of golf holes after work, and who hated having to curtail games when darkness fell.

Golf may also explain why, rather than propose a single clock change (an extra 80 minutes was his goal), Willett suggested advancing towards summer time in four strokes: adding 20 minutes extra for each of four Sundays in April, and reversing the process in September.


He didn’t live to see his campaign succeed. It took the war, coal shortages, and the Germans doing it first, before summer daylight-saving was introduced to Britain and Ireland in 1916.

A decade later, the clock change was one of the things credited for a dramatic reduction in alcohol consumption in England. One newspaper editorial noted: “In the superior classes of society medical men are accustomed to jestingly to say that the vogue of golf has robbed them of their patients — patients whose maladies arose formerly from over-indulgence in liquor”.

Not everybody in the medical profession agreed. In 1941, The Irish Times quoted a Dr Raverty from Bray to the effect that loss of rest in summertime was damaging public health.

Children couldn’t sleep, he said. Their mothers suffered accordingly. And even those men who were benefitting from “a game of golf or an hour or two in the garden” were, in his experience, “nervy and irritable and consult their doctor”.

In any case, the arrangement stuck. For an experimental period between 1968 and 1971, day-light saving was even extended to the whole year. Then it reverted to the original model, and summer time has not looked back since.

Of course, as scientists know, there is no such thing as absolute time. To refer to “the late Stephen Hawking” is therefore meaningless. In a parallel universe, he may also still be early. This is what Albert Einstein may have meant when, consoling the family of a deceased colleague once, he explained that for those who believed in physics, “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”.

The illusion continues to persist, however. Even theoretical physicists are advised to put their clocks and watches forward by an hour tonight, or expect complications tomorrow.