Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands Golf Club
Two Nines Make Eighteen - The story of Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands Golf Club 1899- 1904 & 1914 - 1999
|I am indebted to Karen Evans, current General Manager of Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands Golf Club, for allowing me to republish this club history, which was compiled by Des Cole (Club Captain 1980 & Club President 1990-92) in 1999. Michael Evans, (Club Captain 1951) and Geoff White (Member and President of Aspley Guise Cricket Club) assisted with historical information and Mal Nally (Member) edited the work.
I have used some of the illustrations from the original book, plus some postcards from my own collection and some other artifacts.
In the Beginning....
In May 1899 some enthusiastic exponents of golf decided to form a club in Aspley Guise and District. Suitable and convenient land was obtained at Major Downes's “Berrylane Farm” which was situated on Salford Road, close to and on the Salford side of the Aspley Guise railway crossing. The subscriptions were fixed at £1-1-0 for gentlemen and 10/6d for ladies. Mr Harry Mordaunt who had been Treasurer of the Cricket Club since 1892 became the Secretary. Within a month the Club had become known and a good number of members enrolled. The weather had been poor, but it was reported that a few ardent devotees of the game had been seen indulging.
The family of Col. Browell, living at Guise House, were members and Mr White (Senior) who was aged 12 at the time, earned money by cleaning muddy boots. His son Geoff is a current member of the Club, and is also President of the Cricket Club.
The golf course included the golf pond, which was surrounded by aspen trees and had been part of an old brick works.
"Some 12 months ago on the initiative of the Reverend Malby and Mr Wilkinson a plan was prepared for a 9 hole golf course on land from the Cricket Ground down to Rodwell Pit, leaving out building land next to the road. The scheme fell through at the time. With the demise of the Bletchley League the players there will now have to travel to Bedford or elsewhere unless a course is found nearby. If now everyone interested could gather together there could be a good opportunity to resuscitate the original plan".
Note: Rodwell Pit is the wooded area to the rear of the ladies 18th tee. Building land next to the road could be Weathercock Lane.
In the same paper, issue dated March 1st 1913, there appears the following quote:
”A meeting of interested parties met at "The Holt" to discuss the golf links".
Note: In 1913 "The Holt" - now Moore Place Hotel - was a private house.
It is obvious from subsequent issues that those concerned were very keen to get started and were not subject to the restrictions of today; the issue dated March 15th of the same newspaper, just three weeks later quotes:
"The golf links seems to be delayed due to a setback owing to the obstinacy of one individual who owns and occupies part of the land of the proposed links and wants compensation. A reasonable amount has been offered but like Oliver Twist he wants more".
W. B. Stonebridge, an Estate Agent, who was the instigator in the movement, formed a strong committee, many of whom were Cricket Club members and officials. They included Mr S Harris, the Cricket Club Chairman and Treasurer, who was Chairman of the Golf Committee, C J Walker, C Sinfield, A W Foll, E Bathurst, B Creasey, H J Hicken, W Needham, J C Tarver, W W Pettit, E Fisher, S G Wilkinson and the Reverend Malby. Mr Stonebridge became Secretary. About 51 acres across the Common and through the farms of Mr G Tansley and Mr Bailey would make the course, with the entrance near the Cricket Ground, where a pavilion would be erected. Membership would be limited to 150 and a Limited Liability Company would be formed with debentures of £5.0s 0d each bearing 4% interest.
A further meeting of interested parties was held at the end of March to discuss the report of inspection made by Mr Alex Herd, the Open Golf Champion of 1902. In his report Mr Herd wrote:
“By all means good, it is one of the most perfect spots in the Kingdom, the land is right, and if you can get the money, this will make an excellent 9 hole golf course".
Following this report the Secretary of the Committee, Mr Stonebridge, arranged a public meeting with Mr Stanley Harris as Chairman.
It was reported that Sir Henry Hoare, owner of the land, was prepared to lease the land at a very low rent once all the present tenants had been compensated. It was hoped that Sir Henry Hoare would become the Club's first President.
Within a few weeks sufficient funds were available for work to commence on the course. After five months, work was reported to be on schedule and Mr Stonebridge indicated that the course would be ready for play by late Spring of the following year - 1914.
As the course took shape, there was considerable discussion in the district regarding its value to the community. The local paper reported in its issue of August 23rd 1913:
"Will it benefit the district? This has been repeatedly asked and answered by many with shoulder shrugs. Looking at it squarely there cannot be any room for doubt, the one thing that the neighbourhood needs is a boom in something, and once the beauties and attractions of this course are known, the result will be obvious".
The entrance fees were one and a half guineas and the subscriptions were 2 guineas for ladies and 3 guineas for men. Visitors were charged 1/6d for 18 holes. It was said to be the finest 9 hole course in the County. Sunday golf caused trouble among the supporters and some who promised to put money in withdrew at the critical time because of this. The links were available on Sundays but players had to make their own arrangements for games. The Sunday play was severely condemned by Mr F Bodley, of the Wolverton Wesleyan Circuit who stated that "if caddies could not see where the ball dropped and could not find it, they often heard language they would never hear in the house". There was a general feeling among members that an exhilarating game of golf in the fresh air, even on Sundays, could do no harm and may even benefit the players.
It was also reported in the same edition of that paper that when the course was open for play Mr Creasey would become the Honorary Secretary; in the meantime Mr Stonebridge would continue his duties until the course construction was completed. Mr G Wilkinson was elected Captain, and was at that time Captain of the Cricket Club, a feat which to date has not been repeated.
Within a few weeks of the announcement of the new Secretary, it was recorded that Mr Linney, the foreman in charge of the construction of the golf course was being replaced by a Mr Charles Willmott of the Cambridge University Golf Club. Thus began the association of Charles Willmott and Aspley Guise Golf Club which lasted until his death in 1986 aged almost 100 years.
With Charles in charge the development of the course went ahead with great speed. Even with primitive tools, compared with today's mechanisation, it was arranged for a Grand Opening Day on May 7th 1914. This date being less than 12 months since the start of construction.
The length of the course was 2610 yards; the same nine holes today measure 2920 yards. The comparative length in yards of each hole are as follows, remembering that the nine holes in 1914 are now the second nine:
On the opening day a special train was made available from London and more than 450 spectators were present to watch an exhibition match by Ted Ray, Alex Herd, Tom Ball and B Batley. The lowest score of the day was returned by Tom Ball who had a 68 for 18 holes. The event was reported at great length by all the local papers and some weekly magazines.
A report in one local paper read that two ladies were overheard in the refreshment tent discussing various subjects when the conversation turned to golf. One was quite at home on the subject but the other lady, confessing that she was at some disadvantage, remarked "Oh, I should love to play, but I'm afraid I shouldn't know where to hold my Caddie".
With the declaration of the First World War in August 1914, it was considered by many people in the area that the new Golf Club would fail but contrary to popular belief, just the opposite occurred. By the end of 1914 many top clubs were using the course, including both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, who played several times. Probably this was due to the proximity to the railway stations, which in those days linked the two cities.
During the war the local and national newspapers were full of reports from the front line and any talk of sporting activities at home were considered counterproductive to the war effort. The Club remained open during this period but like many other sports clubs suffered considerable financial problems, a situation which existed into the 1920's. Indeed, had it not been for one or two generous benefactors, the Club could have easily closed down during that time. Whilst several ladies were members from the beginning, it was not until 1922 that a ladies section was formed, and records show that Mrs B A Image was the first Lady Captain in 1924.
In 1920 the Social Club received a donation of £70.00. At the time there was a demand for a bathing pool and after some research the location selected was the Mill stream, which is the stream running from the right of the 15th green, through the woods to the back of the 13th green. The owner, Sir Henry Hoare agreed to a concrete basin being built but there were strong objections made from the Golf Club on the grounds that the site was too close to the ladies tee and that they would be able to hear and see men bathing. Sir Henry withdrew his permission and the project was cancelled.
The Club's first "Red Letter Day" was perhaps June 20th 1938 when the following appeared in the District Gazette:
"Memorable day for local golfers, Club celebrates 25th Anniversary. Presentation to Professional - been with Club since inception, also unveiling of Captains' board given by Mr A G Cook. Wednesday was a great day for them and apart from the celebration of the 25th anniversary it was also the occasion of a presentation (for which had been subscribed the magnificent sum of over £150) to the Club's Professional, Charles Willmott.
Welcome visitors were the well-known professionals Sandy Herd and James Ockenden, the last named substituting for Ted Ray, prevented from attending by illness. Sandy Herd laid out this beautiful nine hole golf course and opened it 25 years ago. During the day the two professionals played a four ball match over 36 holes with Mr A G Cook and Charles Willmott.
The first round in the morning was won by the professionals. After the match, Sandy Herd unveiled the Captains' board. The board gives the names of all the Club's Captains, many of whom were present. It had been felt for some time that there should be a Captains' board as most other clubs had these. This very pleasant board had been made by Director Sinfield and bore the names of the Captains of the Club since its inception.
When Charles Willmott rose to reply he was visibly affected and could not speak for a minute or so. He thanked them for the cheque and the watch and said it was a source of great satisfaction to know that his services had been appreciated, and he hoped that he would serve the Club well in the future".
As an afterthought, the paper did mention that in the afternoon the second round was won by Mr Cook and Charles Willmott, 2 and 1, with a better score of 71 against 74. The record for the course was 57 and bogey was 72. In those days bogey was what we know as par today.
The Second World War created major problems for the Club. Many of the leading members, plus Charles Willmott were called up into war service. Major competitions and inter-club matches were all cancelled. With reduced membership and increased costs, and in many cases, basic materials were almost impossible to obtain, the Club, and course, deteriorated to such an extent that for several years it was at the point of closing. During these years the Club became more of a social club than a golf club due to the age of the Club members.
A major change to the Club took place in 1951. The Captain, Michael Evans and two members, Mr Woolley and Mr Williams (both of whom were solicitors) arranged to alter the management and ownership of the Club. The old Directors of the Club were persuaded to refer their shares in favour of the members and Michael Evans was the first true Captain of Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands Golf Club - a private members' club.
In 1953 a competition was held for all Club members to design a club badge. Mr L Beasley's design was considered the best and a flag was produced and presented to the Club by one of the (then) oldest members, Mr Joe Bushell who hoisted the flag on September 27th 1953. The present flag was designed by Doug Lancaster, who was a senior member of the Club and a well-known local artist. The design is based on the heraldic arms of ASPLEY and GUISE, both of which were prominent families of the area and gave the name to the village in the Middle Ages. [The name actually derives from "Aspelia De Guise" meaning the aspen clearing of the De Guise family.]
Perhaps the most unsettling event of the decade took place in 1956 with the retirement of Charles Willmott who had watched over the affairs of the Club, and all events for more than 40 years. He not only built the course, but maintained it for all those years as well as being Club Professional from the beginning and a Life Member of the Club since 1938. To replace him was almost impossible; six different professionals during the next ten years provides a good illustration.
Following a fire part to the old clubhouse, a new clubhouse was built and opened in 1964. From 1967 all club activities have been recorded in the Captain's yearbook which was presented to the Club by Victor Hill.
Whilst little is recorded, the Club improved year by year and by 1969 negotiations started to purchase land for an additional nine holes. The negotiations came to fruition in 1974 with the opening of the new nine holes which were designed by Robert Sandow. After 18 months many faults in the construction came to light but unfortunately Robert Sandow Ltd were in liquidation and at that time the Club could not obtain recompense. It was then that the Frost brothers - Adrian and Brian - of Frost's Garden Centre, who were members of the Club, came to the rescue. Thanks to their experience and generosity, greens were re-laid, fairways drained, bunkers moved, deleted, rebuilt and added, and tee areas were increased.
The 18 hole course was becoming very popular with visitors and golf societies which helped to improve the finances of the club, which in turn enabled the committee to invest in modern equipment to facilitate course maintenance. In the late 70's the dining room annexe was enlarged thus allowing societies to enjoy private dining facilities. Some ten years later the clubhouse was redesigned; the pro-shop was demolished and a house was built on the site to accommodate the Steward. The Steward's flat and garden were converted to provide additional changing facilities, increasing the ladies' lounge and providing a new pro-shop.
Additional land was purchased in 1990 from the Barnwell family with a view to establishing new or additional holes to improve the playing facilities and in recent times the watering system and bunkers were completely modified.
THE CLUB COMPETITIONS
THE SINFIELD TROPHY
THE ZAIR CUP
THE TINGEY & SPRAGUE CUP
JOE WATSON CUPS
THE BOGEY CUPS
THE POSTON TROPHY
THE RAYMOND MARTYN CHALLENGE CUP
THE WILLMOTT TROPHY
THE GRACE TROPHY
THE JACK GARNER TROPHY
THE EUNICE HUTTON TROPHY
CHARACTERS FROM THE PAST
A certain Bill Prout who would insist in playing in plimsolls (canvas deck shoes) in dry weather. Verbal and written warnings were given, but to no avail, because as soon as the dry weather returned it was off with the golf shoes and on went the plimsolls.
Another member who took great care of his feet was the local chiropodist, Alfred Myatt. At the first sign of dampness he put on his calf-length Wellington boots which were equipped with golf studs.
When the Ml motorway was built a local undertaker, Percy Mason from Newport Pagnell needed to be on duty 24 hours a day. A bell was installed on the course to inform Percy that his services were required on the motorway. This was of course, many years before mobile telephones came into use.
Dr Desmond Morphy was a long-standing and much respected member who found the secret of good golf, or at least that is what he claimed after every round. In his later years he would, after 17 holes suggest that the final hole was played from 'his' forward tee, which was alongside the ladies' tee, then just short of the bridle-way. Even today many people suggest playing the last hole from 'Doc. Morphy's tee'.
As indicated earlier Jack Garner joined the Club during the 1930's and was what was called a gentleman farmer - more of a gentleman than a farmer. He played most days during the week as well as weekends and was a joy to play with. After the game he would consume half pints of lager indefinitely. No matter what state of sobriety he was in at the time he always stood to welcome any lady member who entered the bar. A one in a million gentleman was Jack Garner.
At the other end of the bar could be found another gentleman - John Harrison. A single figure golfer, a concert pianist and drinker extraordinaire. It was quite normal for him to have half a dozen pints of beer before going out to play a round and then return to the bar for more until a taxi would collect him and take him to his home which was 200 yards away. He was employed by the Foreign Office and one of his postings was to the West Indies. He was flown out on a Friday but was back in the clubhouse by the following Tuesday. Apparently the free gin and tonics on the journey out were rather too much for him and he was reassigned back to the U.K.
Another much loved personality was Maud Allen, who still lives in the bungalow at the side of the men's 16th tee. Maud (nee King) joined the Club in 1922 and after a few lessons from Charles Willmott entered her first competition. It was a 'flag' competition and playing with a handicap of 36 she completed 18 holes and still had 18 shots left. The result was that her handicap was reduced to 18 (Silver Division) and she remained in that division up to the time she finished playing golf, when she was in her 80's. Her first husband was Joe Bushell, a long-time President of the Club, and when he died she donated the Bushell Cup to be played for by all ladies on Ladies' Day. In later life she married Joe Allen and with him won the Grace Trophy.
No records of the Club would be complete without mentioning Charles Willmott who was recruited by the Club in 1913. Initially he was engaged to complete the design and construction of the course, but following the opening in 1914, he continued to have responsibility for the maintenance of the course as well as being the Club Professional. In 1918, like so many others, he was drafted into the army, during which time he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery and when the war was over he returned to continue his service to the Club. Charles was a founder member of the Professional Golfers' Association when it was formed in 1920 and he became a contributor to Golf Illustrated, a connection that was to last until his retirement in 1956.
In 1987 a Pro-Am competition was held at the Club to celebrate Charles's 100th year and the day's proceedings concluded with the unveiling, by Henry Cotton, of a bust specially commissioned to honour Charles's immense contribution to the Club. The bust which is displayed in the clubhouse stands as a fitting memorial to this very fine gentleman and most loyal servant of the Club.
At the present time there are more than 80 members of "The Willmotts" playing their own competitions and inter-club matches.
From October 1939 until May 1946 the Committee and Officers were held in abeyance. No inter-Club or County games were played during the war. There were no recorded minutes of the period but it is understood from other sources that the ladies continued to be active in the Club during those years.
From 1960 the membership of the section increased on an annual basis to 20% of the total membership which explains why it takes much longer for ladies to obtain membership than their male counterparts.
The elected Committee consists of President, Vice-president (the immediate past Captain), Captain, Vice-Captain and 10 members; the average period of service on Committee is 3 years.
Since 1990 ladies have been able to seek election for, not more than 2 Committee vacancies. In addition there are 5 sub-committees - Finance, House, Handicaps & Competitions, Development and Greens. The officers, sub-committee Chairmen and Secretary / Manager make up the Management Committee, which is primarily a discussion forum on major items of Club business and which makes recommendations for consideration by the full Committee.
The permanent staff comprises the Secretary / Manager, Assistant Secretary, Head Greenkeeper, plus a staff of 4. The Chef and Senior Bar Man and a cleaner / handy-man all report to the Secretary / Manager. The Club Professional is self employed but is paid a retainer.
THE CLUB AND COUNTY
The Bedfordshire Union was formed in 1923 at the Swan Hotel in Bedford. Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands was not present at the inaugural meeting but joined in the following year. The Clubs involved were BEDFORD (now Bedfordshire), MID BEDS (now Beds & County), SOUTH BEDS, DUNSTABLE and ASPLEY GUISE & WOBURN SANDS. An annual subscription of £2. 2s. 0d. (£2.10) per Club was agreed.
Seven years later a certain Henry Longhurst won the County Championship. Henry was a Bedfordian, his family owning a furniture store in Bedford. He is best remembered for his golf commentaries on the BBC. While Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands was always represented in the County Championships it was not until 1950 that we produced winners, in the scratch foursomes - Michael Evans and Frank Canvin.
Vernon Stevens in 1961 became the first member of Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands Golf Club to be elected County President and in 1964 he became County Captain (non-playing). He continued to take a very active part in County golf until the time of his death in May 1985. The first President was W E Browning from South Beds.
In January 1978 Dick Sinfield was elected County President but his death in December of the same year was a great loss not only to Bedfordshire but particularly to Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands; both he and his father before had been generous benefactors of the Club.
The Presidents of the County Golf Union retain the position for a period of two years, and in general, each club takes it in turn to provide nominations for the office.
In 1971 it was decided to form a County Captains' Society. As a result positive links with Clubs in the County are maintained and it provides helpful contact for current Club Captains who through their membership of the Society are able to compare notes. It also enables Captains to meet their counterparts from other Clubs with whom they do not have an annual fixture.
For those past Captains who find it difficult to attend any County Captain's events we have, at Aspley, a gathering of our own past Captains once a year. In the 10 years since this was started an attendance of 75% has been achieved, with Captains from as far back as 1951 being present.
Gathering of the Past Captains of the Club, back row: D A Alderton, A Reynolds, M A Beadle, A E Frost, T S Bali.
Middle: D Clark, T White, R A Hale, H J Worsfold, A L M Horner (President), D R Cole
Front: T E Simpson, B Copperwheat, M J Evans, R F Crisp, A Crook, P W Taylor
|Since the foregoing was written in 1999, the clubhouse has again been renewed. For all current information about AG&WSGC, please see their website.|