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The Remarkable Story of

Hampstead Golf Club...

Painting and photo circa early 1900s

It stretches back over more than a century and a quarter, from a small, hopeful band of enthusiasts developing an empty plot of heathland to a thriving, 500-member modern-day club with a renowned course and an outstanding reputation throughout London and beyond. It’s a story worth reading…

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By the latter half of the 19th century in the midst of Queen Victoria’s reign, the land on which Hampstead Golf Club now exists – once within the vast Forest of Middlesex – had become part of an area of common land owned by the Bishop of London and used by Londoners for their pastimes and leisure.

Reports of golf on this part of Hampstead Heath date back to the 1870s, with small groups of golfers playing there informally, cutting out a few holes in the land for their own recreation.

At one time, golfing was popular enough to be completely banned on the heathland, deemed “a menace to other users” and, so it was, that a group of regular players decided the time had come to build a real course and form a club of their own.

There were less than 100 golf courses in the whole of England in 1893, so the creation of Hampstead Golf Club and the laying out of its nine holes at that time was no mean feat for a membership which reached 125 within 12 months.

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The 1890s

In 1893, HGC course designer Tom Dunn began plans to lay out the original nine holes on a near-undeveloped part of Hampstead Heath using 38 acres leased from the church commission. The land, known as Spaniards Farm (named after the nearby Spaniards Inn), was situated between two woodland areas, Turner’s Wood and Bishop’s Wood.

Tom Dunn was a fine golfer who had finished 6th in the 1868 Open Championship – Tom Morris Jr & Tom Morris Sr finished 1st and 2nd. HGC’s Tom was part of a famous Scottish golfing family from Musselburgh – father Willie Sr was a prominent golfer/greenkeeper and brother Willie Jr was runner-up in the inaugural US Open of 1895. Tom was also a renowned teacher and gave golf lessons to Britain’s Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Once completed, HGC became – and continues to be – the nearest golf course to the centre of London, 5.5 miles from the statue of Charles I near Trafalgar Square.

The original 1st tee was over 100 yards away from today’s location – it was situated where Winnington Road (which did not exist at this time) would later meet Hampstead Lane. The 2nd ran close to parallel to where the current 1st is now played, while the 3rd and 4th were much the same as the modern-day 2nd and 3rd holes. Golfers used the Spaniards Inn (built in the 1580s and known as a haunt of the highwayman Dick Turpin) as their changing rooms.

THE SPANIARDS INN ACTED AS THE FIRST CLUBHOUSE AND CHANGING ROOM
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An 1894 map of the HGC course (click here for the 1894 map) shows both the original 1st and 2nd holes laid out on the east side of what would later become Winnington Road, while a 1903 course guide said that “hazards are hedges, ponds and bunkers”. On 9th June 1894, the first HGC captain – Francis Hoare, a member of the famous London-based banking family – led the club’s first official meeting along with a handicap competition won by John George Glover with a net score of 102. Glover’s prize was two guineas (£2.10). 

1894 – James Govan came from St Andrews to become HGC’s first golf professional; his duties described as “Groundsman, Club Maker and Mender, and Coach”. Govan stayed at HGC for five years before emigrating to the Philadelphia area of America. He took the job of construction foreman and then first pro at the renowned Pine Valley Golf Club, rated by some experts as the best course in the world. James Govan made many golf clubs in his workshop on the site of the Club. One of his wooden drivers remains on display in the clubhouse today. Church commissioners offered HGC members extra land to construct an 18-hole course in October 1895. Four adjoining fields of about 50 acres were available at a £150 annual rent. But plans for a course extension fell through, probably because the Club failed to double its current membership of 150 and so could not fund the project.

 1895 – The Hampstead Ladies Golf Club was founded with as many as 50 members quickly signing up. The first ladies captain was Mrs W Scrimgeour. Her husband – wealthy stockbroker and founding HGC member Walter – donated a trophy that same year,
The Scrimgeour Cup, that is the oldest in the Club’s history and is still contested annually as a competition for winners of the men’s monthly medals over a 12-month period.

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Early 1900s

Golfers outside the original clubhouse circa 1906
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1901 – Alex McLaren came down from North Berwick GC near the Scottish border to become HGC’s second professional. He was a founder member of the British PGA and played in the 1903 Open Championship at Prestwick (withdrawing after just one round) before emigrating to Australia to become clubmaker and professional at Royal Melbourne GC. Alex was runner-up in the inaugural Australian Open in 1904 and won the first pro tournament in New Zealand. Alex’s brother Jack took over the pro’s job at HGC for a short time.

1902 – Tom Dunn died of tuberculosis at aged 52 having ‘laid out’ (the verb ‘designed’ was not attributed to golf course construction at this time) or re-constructed over 130 courses in the UK and Europe. Many of his signature design traits such as fairway cross hazards (the row of bunkers across the 9th and the small berms like those on the 5th and 7th are fine examples) and wing bunkers at the entry point of greens are still in play at HGC today.

1903The Golfing Annual says HGC was a par 32 course of 9 holes ranging in length from 100 to 342 yards.

1907 – the Club was believed to have bought seven more acres of land to lengthen the course from 2,478 yards (par 41) to 2,803 (par 39). Although no definitive records exist, the course was likely to have been slightly re-configured including the old 2nd (now the 1st hole) moving across to its current position from the eastern side of what would become Winnington Road and the original 1st becoming a practice ground.

George Adams, HGC professional from 1911 to 1947, was a renowned golf teacher. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) was among his pupils.

1914 – Club membership had risen to 300 (175 men and 125 women) with members including the then Bishop of London, Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, who would later give his two surnames to the two roads around the course.

 1927 – various changes added another 60 yards to the course making it 2,863 yards long with an 18-hole standard scratch score of 71. In the same year, HGC was one of a small number of London golf clubs to help create the Ryder Cup by making a donation to the PGA to fund the travelling expenses of Britain’s first team that visited America for the inaugural match.

1929 – On 2nd August HGC’s first clubhouse on the site, described as a “handsome, wooden (one-storey) structure”, with one large clubroom, a long balcony, workshops and changing rooms (costing £600 to build in 1895) burned down. Most early records of the Club were lost in the flames and the cost of an improved clubhouse was set at £5,000.

With the Club’s lease on the course land due to expire in 1932, the Committee agreed to buy the freehold from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for £23,000 in October 1929 on condition that, if ever the Club abandoned the land, the commissioners would receive an extra £5,700 (Ed -this fee has, obviously, never been paid!). For a worrying few weeks, the Club was under threat as it was uncertain whether enough money could be raised. However, a £10,000 mortgage was secured and a company, Hampstead Golf Club Ltd, was formed with 32,000 one shilling (5p) shares (with a total value of £1,600) and 1,280 debentures of £25 (another £32,000 in revenue). The newly-formed company protected the assets of the members and Hampstead Golf Club was saved from any threat of closure.

1930 – The purchase of the Club’s land was completed and the current clubhouse, built in the same Arts and Crafts design used across Hampstead Garden Suburb, was opened. At around the same time, a large number of houses were being built surrounding the course on newly constructed roads especially Ingram Avenue and Wildwood Road.

Bernard Darwin, one of the all-time great golf writers, played HGC and reported in 1936 that:

This is now one of the most venerable of London courses and offers a very pleasant afternoon in a most engaging oasis.

Hampstead Golf Club viewED from the air – 1935  – Courtesy: © www.britainfromabove.org.uk

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1939 – As World War II began, club membership had risen to 201 men and 179 women. Wartime subscriptions were 21 shillings (£1.05) per month, while a special all-day golf offer for members of the Armed Forces was set at two shillings and sixpence (12½p) during weekdays and five shillings (25p) at weekends.

During the entire six years of World War II, HGC was open to golfers, although the course was also used by the Home Guard to operate military training exercises in case of an invasion, while the practice area was converted into allotments.  

A series of tall poles were embedded in the fairways to prevent the possible landing of enemy aircraft and the practice ground near the Spaniards Inn was used as an allotment, but a plan to close the course and use it as grazing land never materialised.

1944 – In July a V1 flying bomb landed on the junction of Ingram Avenue and Winnington Road badly damaging the upstairs flat in the clubhouse. Another bomb fell on the edge of the 1st green a month later breaking some clubhouse windows.

HENRY COTTON - THREE-TIME OPEN CHAMPION
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Britain’s greatest golfer of this period – three-time Open Champion Henry Cotton – said of HGC’s 9-hole course at this time that:

If you can play to your handicap at Hampstead,
you will do so anywhere.

Charity matches involving several Open Champions were staged at HGC during and after the war. Henry Cotton (who held the claret jug in 1934, 1937 and 1948) played in a fourball match in November 1944 that raised £75 for the Red Cross. Fellow Englishmen, the 1936 Open champion Alf Padgham and the 1939 winner Dick Burton, played together at Hampstead in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Flood Distress Fund two years after VE Day.

1946 – a first-class caddie at HGC cost four shillings (20p) for nine holes; a second-class caddie cost a mere two shillings and six pence (12½p).

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1951-1980

In the post-war years, HGC was a Saturday lunch destination for members who enjoyed three-course meals (soup, a roast and apple pie) in a tradition that carried on into the late 1980s. Up until the mid-1950s, produce from the Club’s own kitchen garden was on the menu. 

HGC’s fairways had lain almost unchanged since 1927, but by 1953 an area of war-time allotments on the course were returned to the Club, so the final four holes could be re-configured. The most noticeable change, when the course was officially re-opened for play in 1956, was the abolition of the then 6th hole which was a par 3 at 193 yards, with a tee behind the current 5th green and that played to the existing 7th green. The new hole arrangements meant that the 7th became the new and current 6th; the old 8th (a 378-yard par 4 to a slightly different green) was lengthened by 40 yards to a new green and became the current 7th; and a brand new 8th hole was constructed as the course’s second par 3 with a pear-shaped, two-tier green; and the 9th tee was moved closer to the boundary edge. The new course measured 2,906 yards (nine holes) with a standard scratch of 68. 

1957 – After a protracted series of claims against local councils and the national government for wartime loss of potential development rights (Ed – even though members never had any intention of building on the course!), a settlement cheque of over £70,000 was received by the Club and the monies used to pay off its mortgage; redeem all debentures; and purchase outstanding shares at a tidy profit to members. With some leftover cash, the clubhouse was upgrade, a car was bought for the secretary and a house in Cumbrian Gardens on the nearby Golders Green Estate was purchased for the golf pro. Annual club subs remained at £12.

L to R: Alastair Sim; Lord Soper; Harold Wilson; Tim Brooke-Taylor. 

Celebrities connected to HGC have included actor Alastair Sim (star of many St Trinian’s films of the 1950s); Lord Soper, one of Britain’s most outspoken Methodist ministers and renowned pacifist; and British Prime Minister of the 1960s and 70s Harold Wilson who were all members, as was comic Tim Brooke-Taylor (one of The Goodies), who filmed an episode of his Golf Clubs TV programme at Hampstead in the early 2000s.

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1981-2000

One of the most impressive achievements by HGC golfers came in 1985 when Gillian de Ayala and Benthe Gregory won the prestigious Daily Mail National Foursomes competition.

1986 – HGC’s clubhouse was extended and improved again with monies from the sale of the Club-owned house in Cumbrian Gardens.

During the whole of the 1990s, a series of significant work projects were begun on the course and clubhouse, some took many years to complete. They included a comprehensive programme of new fairway drainage; an extension of the clubhouse office and the ladies changing area in 1998; the construction of a new shed for greenkeeping equipment alongside the 8th fairway the following year; and, two years later, a refurbishment of the men’s locker rooms.

One of the most troublesome areas of the course was the 8th green. Initially, the surface was re-laid, the second tier removed and the front “flattened out” as well as the surrounding grass banks lowered. However, a second re-surfacing was required in the late 1990s and early 2000s after problems with the new turf; this work cost £30,000, an amount gathered by a series of fund-raising events by members. In addition, the drainage ditch in front of the green was filled in for a few years in the 1990s, but then re-introduced more than a decade later.

The largest tree-planting programme in the Club’s history began in the 1990s under the watchful eye of ex-club captain Jim Sharman. A small copse was planted to the left of the 8th green; a row of trees to protect the 8th tee from tee shots from the 2nd were also put in position; and a forest of trees on the left of the 4th fairway replaced an out of bounds area. In addition, two other internal OB areas were removed: one between the 4th and 5th fairways and another at the elbow of the 6th which was used for allotments for many years.

1993 – Club Centenary celebrations included a members’ trip to the Open Championship at Royal Sandwich; clubhouse drinks with actress Maureen Lipman; and a dinner at the Mayfair Hotel. Members could boast enjoying “the best nine-hole course in the Greater London area”, according to a golf publication review published around this time. Annual subscriptions were approaching £600.

THE COVER OF THE CLUB’S CENTENARY BROCHURE

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The Centenary brochure reported that only small course changes had happened in the previous 30 years “mostly at bunkers and the shape of greens and tees”, but “a perennial challenge for inventive Committees are the 2nd and 8th greens and the 9th tee!”.

HGC marked the contribution of the Adams family during the Centenary year. George Adams was club professional for 36 years until his death in 1947 and both his wife Winifred (who died in 1975) and daughter Tess (who passed away in 1990) were club stewardesses for many years. Between them, the three HGC stalwarts racked up around 150 years of service to the Club.

sport_022-golf-ball-entertainment-gameCreated with Sketch.Created by Pham Thi Dieu Linhfrom the Noun Project

2001-Present Day

2007 – The 2nd green was given an extensive makeover. It was re-laid with new drainage; a small bank at the back was levelled out; and the pot bunker to the right made deeper. Cross bunkers on the front edge of the fairway were removed around this time as well.

2008 – The practice area behind the 8th green was re-invigorated with improved drainage and a designated chipping area. A decade later, an all-weather green was added.

HGC Captains Drive-in Day 1993
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2011 – The Club’s management operation underwent its first major change in many years. A general manager (rather than a club secretary) was appointed to take responsibility for HGC’s future alongside a slimmed down committee structure: a Management Committee supported by just two other bodies, a Captains and a Membership Committee. HGC’s first General Manager arrived from his job in the commercial department at Celtic Manor GC, Ryder Cup venue in 2010 – Mark Smith was also a former Wales amateur international golfer.

2016 – Peter Brown, HGC’s longest-serving club professional, retired after almost four decades of service to the Club.

2018 – HGC celebrated its 125th anniversary with a hickory club competition (competitors wore period costumes) and a black-tie dinner in the clubhouse.

2019 – Luke Willett, golf pro at HGC for a number of years and known as The Iron Golfer, completed an unprecedented 830-mile, nine-day charity cycle while carrying a few clubs and balls in an old cloth bag, and playing all 14 Open Championship venues, raising over £5,000 for The Golf Foundation.

2020 – A most distinctive change to the course was the complete re-design of the 3rd green, removing the riveted bank on the front bunker as well as the small grass banks surrounding the entire putting surface and changing other bunker positions. In addition, two notoriously magnetic bunkers at the elbow of the 6th hole dogleg were filled in.

* The HGC History was authored by Ross Biddiscombe (Member since 1997).

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