“Simply by playing the game and being a golfer you earn the right to praise or criticise golf courses. Your opinion is neither right nor wrong ; it is merely an opinion. However, the more types, styles, eras you play, the more weight your opinion conveys”
- Tony Dear, author The History of Golf in 50 Holes.
Middlesex Golf and its associated clubs illustrate many and varied types, styles and eras of the game. This series endeavours to highlight that infinite variety of golf clubs, their golf courses and an extremely diverse community of golfers, to those who are, and will, play the Royal and Ancient game of Golf within the County of Middlesex.
The author of these historical pieces, Lee Patterson, is a member and Past Captain of Stanmore Golf Club. During his 45 years of playing and watching golf he has played a wide variety of the game in many places. Lee enjoys an eclectic interest in the history of the game with a particular focus on golfs development in the London area, this interest includes its clubs, their personalities and the golf course architecture of the Metropolis.
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Middlesex Golf 1920
Golf first came to Middlesex about 1890, a number of Clubs claiming to have been among the first to be established. Certainly, by the turn of the century courses were in existence in most parts of the County and around this time, a meeting of representatives of all Clubs was arranged at the Golfers Club. At this meeting an organisation was formed known as 'The Middlesex Golf Association'.
A trophy inscribed 'Middlesex Club Challenge Trophy - Presented 1900' was provided for annual competition, the first winners being Chiswick G.C., long since defunct. This trophy, in the form of an elaborate rectangular shield appears in a photograph in the possession of Muswell Hill G.C., winners in 1908. It would seem that this original trophy was lost, perhaps during the 1914-18 war, and that it was replaced by the present shield.
With the passage of time more clubs came into being and there was an increasing need and desire for closer co-operation. However, no real effort was made to bring all the clubs together until after the war when, on 29th April 1924, the Middlesex County Golf Union was formed. The prime purposes for which the Union was established were:
To further the interests of the game of golf and to assist in setting up a uniform system of handicapping in the County by means of an annual County Championship meeting, County matches and by such other action as may be considered desirable for the benefit of the Golf Clubs belonging to the Union.
At that time there were twenty-six Clubs of which no less than eight no longer exist. There are now thirty-six courses (seven 9-hole), ten being public courses. The facilities of twenty-two of the Clubs have been used for accommodating various County events and County team matches. To the Amateur and Club Championships have been added the Frank Rowse Trophy, Inter-club Team Scratch Foursomes, the George Gowland Salver, Colts and Junior Championships and the Coronation Bowl.
It was not until 1930 that the Union possessed a trophy for the Amateur Championship in which year a cup was presented by Sir Sidney Skinner for annual competition. Subsequently, in 1938, the names of those who had won the Championship before the presentation of the cup were inscribed on the plinth. In 1974, following the receipt of a donation, a salver was purchased for annual award to the runner-up in the Championship. This trophy is known as the 'Micky Roe Salver' as a tribute to the 1951 President, a long serving member of the Executive Committee and a distinguished County player.
The fiftieth Championship took place in 1980 and the occasion was marked by invitations to luncheon on the finals day to all past champions who could be traced. A number accepted and took part in the anniversary celebrations.
The name of Rowse became a household word in the annals of Middlesex golf and, following the death of Frank Rowse during his year of captaincy in 1936, his brothers presented the Union with a trophy in the form of a 'Seax' for an annual foursomes competition and named it after him.
It was that great golfer, Len Wilson, whose achievement in winning the County Amateur Championship six times has yet to be surpassed, who projected the idea of a scratch foursomes team event. In 1953 the Inter-club Team Scratch Foursomes tournament was established, the trophy for which was presented by Ealing Golf Club.
Following a suggestion by George Gowland in 1957, a match-play scratch tournament was introduced to give promising golfers an opportunity to prove themselves. A trophy known as the 'George Gowland Salver' was presented by the inspirer of this competition.
Up to 1956 the Junior Championship was run in connection with the annual handicap meeting (now discontinued). With the rapid development of junior golf it was decided that the Juniors should have a meeting of their own and the first independent competition took place in the following year. Here again the Union was indebted to Ealing Golf Club for presenting the trophy.
A further consequence of the growing interest in the game among young people was the formation of a Colts section in 1962 and a yearly programme of inter-county matches was arranged. At that time the maximum age was twenty-five. Today it is twenty-one, a further indication of the impact of young players in the 1970s, with their increase in numbers and their ever improving standard of play.
In addition to the matches there is now an annual Colts Championship. This was initiated in 1970 and a trophy was provided from County funds.
From about 1950 there was a steady growth in the number of inter-county matches and in 1955 came the formation of the Match Play Leagues, each consisting of a group of adjacent counties. Middlesex was placed in the northern division of the South Eastern League, the leaders of the northern and southern divisions playing each other to decide the winners. In 1964 the 'Daily Telegraph' presented a salver as a trophy for this competition, Middlesex being the winners in 1968 and 1969.
A similar inter-county Colts league was instituted in 1973 and Middlesex were the first winners. The County led the northern division in 1974, 1978 and 1979, each time failing to defeat their southern opponents in the final.
The nearest equivalent competition for the youngest players is the South East Junior foursomes, started in 1961 and played on a 'round robin' basis over two days. Middlesex tied with Surrey for first place in 1977, losing in the play-off. Compensation for this disappointment came in the following year when the County won the trophy with a record score.
No story about Middlesex County Golf would be complete without reference to the Coronation Challenge Bowl. J. Roose Francis, Mayor of Ealing, presented the original trophy in 1911 for competition amongst certain invited clubs. It was run as an individual competition until 1932 when it became a team event, all proceeds being donated to local hospitals. In 1951, with the death of the donor and the nationalisation of the hospitals, the competition came under the administration of the County Union and since then the proceeds have been donated to the Cancer Research Campaign. Up to the end of 1980 more than £17,000 has been raised and more than one piece of equipment in hospitals caries a plaque recording the generosity of Middlesex golfers. The present trophy is the third in line, the first being lost by fire and the second by burglary.
Since the second world war the dinner that follows the Annual Council Meeting has been a feature of the corporate life of the Union and its popularity has necessitated a series of moves to more commodious accommodation, ending at the Fellows Restaurant, Zoological Gardens - a far cry from earlier days when, after the annual meeting, a gathering averaging ten sat down to dine at the old Comedy Restaurant off the Haymarket.
It may be invidious to single out the names of golfers who have figured in the history of the Union but there are two who, while their names do not appear in competition records, have achieved great distinction. Not to mention John D. A. Langley and Dr. W. Tweddell would indeed be an omission.
To these must be added the name of George Walker who, in 1975, became the first Middlesex member to be elected to the distinguished office of President of the English Golf Union, an honour well earned by his enthusiastic work for golf over many years.
In the 1960s financing the greatly increased expenses of the administration of the amateur game was becoming a serious problem. The English Golf Union introduced the 'bob a nob' scheme, which was a compulsory levy on all male playing members of affiliated clubs. The counties followed this lead and the levy, increased from time to time to keep up with inflation and growing demands, is now part of every golfer's contribution to the game.
Further money was raised by the introduction of the County Associate Member scheme in 1969. The subscriptions form part of the Union's income and a number of low cost meetings for members are arranged each year to encourage support.
As can be seen, the last twenty years have brought enormous growth in County golf activity and with it an ever-increasing volume of work to the County Hon. Secretaries. Over this period Middlesex has been well served in this office by George Hearn, who died in 1971 and Terry Leeper who succeeded him. Middlesex golf suffered a severe loss by Terry's death on the very last day covered by this brief history, 31st December 1980.
The final paragraph of Part I makes reference to the 'enormous growth in County Golf activity' and it seems appropriate that Part II should commence in the same vein.
The level of responsibility devolving onto the administrators of Amateur Golf has continued to increase year by year. With County committees providing the link between the parent bodies and the Clubs, their officers and members are now being called upon to deal with a variety of additional duties which their predecessors would have found unbelievable and, perhaps, unacceptable!
The first major addition came with the introduction of the controversial National Handicapping Scheme in 1983. In this connection, special problems arose from the growing number of 'proprietary' Clubs whose constitutions varied greatly from those of the long-established 'members' Clubs and whose acceptance of the scheme was essential before affiliation could be granted.
Agreement was not always easily reached but discussion, often with 'velvet glove' approach, resolved most of the immediate problems. In time, the rapid increase in the number of such Clubs led the EGU into establishing a Golf Development Committee, which would be assisted by Golf Development Liaison (later 'Field') Officers appointed by the County Unions. Their responsibilities ranged from giving advice on preparing an acceptable constitution to assisting in such matters as planning law or potential loss of land by established Clubs. In Middlesex, no less than 15 cases required attention in the first two years.
More recently the 'tax man' has posed his special problems. The first was a retrospective relief of VAT on subscriptions, which caused major difficulties at both County and Club levels, many of the latter seeking advice from the former. Secondly, came a decision that the honoraria paid to the Secretary and the Treasurer were liable to income tax. This contretemps was successfully and amicably resolved but not without the input of a great deal of work.
In turn, the programme of playing events has grown considerably and the preparation of the annual fixture-list has become increasing complicated. And, of course, each event demands preparation and operation! In recent years, the successes of Middlesex teams and individual players have demanded more, if very welcome, work.
In team terms, almost all the '80s were 'nearly' years, results rarely coming up to expectations. The disappointment led to growing criticism and references to 'performance and discipline' and 'increased expenditure on team entertainment'. In a determined effort to improve this unsatisfactory situation a County Team Management - now 'Team' - Committee was established in 1982.
The team failure was all the more frustrating because several of the players were enjoying considerable success in national and other important amateur events. Particulars of some of these achievements will be found in the addendum.
The Team Management Committee had not been idle. First Team squad meetings were introduced, accommodation arranged for away fixtures, lessons made available and progressively improved on and off course uniforms provided.
Looking back, it is amusing to recall that, in 1983, the provision of blazers was rejected and the only item provided was a badge to be applied to the player's own white shirt! By 1985, pullovers and shirts had been added and at the same time, team accommodation was agreed whenever deemed desirable for the players to have a practice round together before the event.
Despite all this support and encouragement, the team results continued to disappoint and it was, perhaps, not surprising that the 1986 AGM was shaken by a question which implied that a lot of money was being spent to no purpose! However, the Team Committee continued with its good work and, in the following year, all the efforts were rewarded by a remarkable breakthrough that proved to be the start of a quite outstanding run of success.
In brief, having won the S.E. Group English County Championship, the team went on to become the champion county of England by winning the national finals at St Enedoc. Then, having been unbeaten in the northern section of the S.E. League, the 'double' was achieved when the 'Daily Telegraph' Salver was won by a victory over Hampshire at Woking.
It was totally appropriate that the Team Captain in this outstanding year was Ricky Willison who, apart from being an inspiring leader throughout, had been the motivator of the development in team support during the preceding years. In 1990, after failing to qualify for the English County Finals, the team won the League, again beating Hampshire in the final, this time at Crowborough Beacon.
If such a thing were possible, 1991 surpassed the successes achieved two years earlier. First, in winning the S.E. Championship, the team of six returned a record score for a 36-hole aggregate stroke-play event. Willison was not available for the finals at Hoylake but a new star had emerged, Warren Bennett, whose six out of six wins was quite outstanding for the quality of golf he displayed throughout. With fine support from the other players another victory was achieved. The 'double' was completed with a win over Sussex in the S.E. League finals, played at West Essex.
The following two years were less successful, the only win being in the S.E. County Championship in 1992. In the finals, played at Kings Norton in the most appalling conditions, Middlesex were runners-up to Dorset.
The1994 S.E. County Championship was played on a very 'tight' Sandwich course. The Middlesex aggregate was no less than 22 shots ahead of the second team and, with a margin of five shots, Warren Bennett stood clear of the rest of the field. By contrast, the win in the finals at Moor Park could not have been closer, the result depending on the last hole in the last game of the last match, Middlesex winning with a three to Lincolnshire's four. Two weeks later, with the team decimated by a wedding, the S.E. League final was lost to Hampshire at the Wildernesse Club.
In retrospect, the rewards for the players, the Team Captains and for the members of the Committee who had worked so hard to bring out the best of the teams were far greater than any of them had dared to hope. A special satisfaction could be found in the fact that only two of the winning team at St. Enedoc played at Moor Park, encouraging evidence of sustained playing strength.
As a footnote, it should be mentioned that, in common with other Counties, the teams now enjoy a full range of 'uniforms' for wear both on and off the course - a startling contrast to the 'badge applied to the player's own white shirt' only a decade earlier!
At domestic level, 1990 brought a major change in the format of the County's inter-club competitions, the Scratch Foursomes and the Rowse Trophy Handicap Foursomes both being dropped, to be replaced by a 10-a-side scratch match-play event for which the Rowse trophy is now awarded.
Away from the Green, the annual County Dinner has continued but at changing venues, moving from the Fellows Restaurant at the Zoo to Lord's, from there to the Wembley Conference Centre and then, since 1988, 'over the county border', to the Hilton National at Watford.
The years 1992/3 brought the deaths of two distinguished Past Presidents, George Walker (1959) and John Atkins, D.F.C. (1979). George was the only Middlesex representative to have been honoured with the Presidency of the English Golf Union (1975), while John, in addition to his distinguished war service, was a fine golfer and an ever-cheerful companion.
Following the death of Hon. Secretary Terry Leeper at the end of 1980, the search commenced for a replacement. It was in March, after various approaches had been made, that Peter Cooke (Pres. 1973) offered his services, while Jack Jones (Pres. 1977) volunteered to look after the books. In due course, Jack became Chairman of the newly created Finance Sub-committee and then, in 1987, Treasurer. Both received honoraria until 1993 when a change became necessary following a decision by the 'tax man'. Both positions are now salaried and have negotiated job specifications. The workload of the Secretary and Treasurer has increased over the years as golf in the County has grown.
The opening paragraphs of Part II of this History refer to the enormous growth in County golf activity, a growth that has continued unabated. There has been no let up in the responsibilities which fall to County Committees and, particularly, the officers, team managers, representatives on the English Golf Union and the like. Middlesex is no exception and this was clearly apparent when, a few months after his appointment as Secretary, Andy Williams, with considerable experience as a Committee member, wrote in a letter addressed to Club Secretaries, "The job is much bigger than I ever envisaged".
This inevitably leads to the resignation of Peter Cooke in May 2000, a few months after the death of his wife, Peggy, who not only supported him in his secretarial capacity but was, herself, a regular presence at County events.
When, in 1981, Peter agreed to take up the secretarial duties, these were still relatively light. Over the years, Peter dealt with the ever-increasing workload in his own, 'old fashioned' way - working at home with very little assistance from modern office facilities - but always getting the job done. His departure was followed by the renting of office accommodation and the acquisition of computers and printing equipment - a giant step forward!
A well-attended dinner party at Peter's Club, Hendon, was held in his honour, heartfelt, well-deserved tributes being paid to him. Despite health problems, Peter responded delightfully, this was, indeed, a most memorable occasion.
At this point, a failure to mention Treasurer Jack Jones would be a serious omission. The Union's financial position has remained in good order, largely due to Jack's detailed care of all the 'comings and goings'. It is hard to believe that he has been carrying this responsibility since 1981 but there is no doubt that, in addition to the Union itself, all Club members owe him a sincere 'thank you' for his care in ensuring that their contributions - year 2000 totalling £65,000 (EGU £52,000) - are properly managed.
There were a few exceptional events in the six years being reviewed, not least the Middlesex County Golf Union's 75th anniversary, in 1999. This was duly celebrated with a Cocktail Party at Ealing G.C. During 2000, a dinner was held to mark the retirement of Alan Hobson (President 1972) from the office of Secretary of the S.E. Counties Executive.
The Union's AGM and Dinner has become firmly established at the Hilton National at Watford and support has remained satisfactory.
During the period, four new Clubs were affiliated - Sunley (?), Grasshoppers, Heath Park and Northolt - while three were disaffiliated - C & L, Hazelwood and Rectory Park. Happily, the long-established Clubs have survived the problems, which have faced many of them, and they remain the bedrock of Middlesex Amateur Golf.
It is customary to record the deaths of past Presidents and, sadly, there are five, as follows:
It was asking too much to expect the wonderful playing record from 1987 to 1994 to continue much longer. With some of the outstanding players turning professional and other stalwarts who were by now, not quite so young as they had been at St. Enedoc, it was not surprising when a fall from the 'dizzy heights' came about. But this was not before 1995 had brought further success and credit to all concerned. For the fifth time in seven years the team led the S.E. qualifying competition and went on to Silloth on Solway for the finals. After beating Devon and Staffordshire, they lost to the eventual winners, Lancashire. The exposed, wind-swept course proved a very tough test for all, not least the spectators, who sought shelter in gulleys or behind any available hedge or bush!
In the S.E. League, after winning the first three matches, a loss to Bedford put Middlesex out of the final - another near thing. The Youths team suffered a similar fate, winning two and halving one, then losing to Essex to be deprived of a place in the final.
1995 also brought a fine individual performance from Gary Clark. In addition to winning the County Championship, he won the West of England stroke-play championship at Saunton, was leading qualifier in the British Amateur at Hoylake and won a bronze medal in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. He was runner-up in both the Duncan Putter and the Berkhamsted Trophy and he represented England in the Home Internationals and the European Championship.
Then came the crash! In brief, the years 1996 - 2000 brought only five wins in twenty S.E. League matches and the possibility of qualifying for the County finals became a distant dream. The Youths League record was similar, just one halved match better than their seniors.
This is no criticism of the efforts of the players or of the support and encouragement provided by the officers and the coaches. Putting the matter in simple terms, it just had to be accepted that we were 'starting again'.
Happily, over this period the Boys had a more encouraging record. In 1996/7 they were second and third in the S.E. Foursomes and, while failing to qualify for this competition in 1998, the 'A' side finished second equal out of nineteen teams in the E.G.U. S.E. Group Junior Championships and were fifth in the Foursomes Competition played at Thetford. In 1999, the side finished second to a very strong B.B. & O. team in the English County Championship Qualifying and were fifth in the Junior Foursomes, just four points behind the winners - B. B. & O. showing their strength again!
In the midst of all this, two very fine juniors appeared - Yasin Ali from Ealing and Jonathan Petrou from Muswell Hill. Yasin represented England in the Boy's World Championship in Japan and later on in the year 2000, captained England to a triumphant success in the Boys Home Internationals.
The County's internal competitions continued as usual but with the addition of a Seniors Division Championship in 1998, the appropriately distinguished first winner being Vice President David Morrison.
The three Associate County Members meetings have been held each year but, regrettably, with diminished support. A similar trend is affecting many Societies and Clubs who look to these visitors for a valuable contribution to their incomes.
Sadly, this history closes with the death of Peter Cooke on 2nd January 2001, a distinguished County player, an enthusiastic President in 1973 and, from 1981 to mid-2000, our dedicated Secretary.
1st January 2001