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"Eltham Golf Club"

Eltham Golf Club
Image from a Private Collector

Eltham Golf Club

Eltham Golf Club - KENT-023 changed its name to the Eltham Warren Golf Club - KENT-067

Between the gravel pit and the eastern end of the (Eltham) village was a large irregular field, part of an area leased from the Crown by a Mr Edwards. It was called the Warren field, and the implication is that it was not suitable for much except sheep or cattle grazing. In 1890 a group of friends who, for some time, had permission to practice golf on this land, decided to form a club. They met on 7th May 1890 in the house of Mr Walter Richardson and formed Eltham Golf Club with a membership of eight. The Club became sub tenants of Mr Edwards at an annual rental of £10 and a 6 hole course was laid out on the 17 acres supposedly available. The exact boundaries of the original course are difficult to establish, but the eastern edge was certainly on a line from the present entrance drive to the 9th tee and the playing area certainly included the land right up to the edge of Bexley Road, where newish houses now stand which was club property used as allotments until 1955.

At the time the club was formed Westmount Road as we know it did not exist. There was a lane leaving Bexley Road at the present junction by the mini town hall which meandered down partly on the line of Glenhouse Road, past the western edge of Eltham Park Estate, with a (presumably) private driveway branching off in a north easterly direction to provide access from the south to the large mansion which then stood in the centre of the park. Old maps show a large uncultivated field stretching west to east from this driveway to the edge of the Old Gravel Pit and south to north from Bexley Road to the boundary of the garden of Eltham Park House. This appears to be the field rented from Mr Edwards. The area around the old pit and the low flat area which now contains the third green and the practice ground was completely derelict but north east of the embankment beyond the pond was fertile agricultural land stretching to Coalpits Wood (sic) in the east to the line of the Bexleyheath Railway (opened in 1895) to the north with a small farmhouse just above the pond.

When the railway first opened there were no stops between Well Hall and Welling, but a rather grand station was built at Eltham Park in 1908 to meet growing commuter demand. The area around Westmount Road and Glenesk Road was developed and the farm began to wither and disappear. As this happened the Golf Course was pushed further east and extended until, by 1910 or so, it occupied more or less its present site.

The club must have found life rather difficult in those early days. The lease of the land passed from Mr Edwards to a Mr Hunt, a local baker (who at one time wanted to use this land as a general recreation park) and then to a Mr Grace who seems to have negotiated a Crown lease through Messrs Cluttons for the whole area from the Warren Field to Gravel Pit Lane and the line of the proposed railway.

Once this was done the club was able to rent from Mr Grace a further field, the present practice ground etc, extending the playing area to a more generous 17 acres and in 1894 a very cramped 9 hole course was laid out. Not surprisingly this soon proved to be a dangerous experiment and the course went back to 6 holes.

Prospects of a more satisfactory extension of the course must have seemed slim, particularly as rent was negotiated on an annual basis with no guarantee of long term tenure. As early a 1894 the possibility of direct lease from the Crown was being discussed but it was not until 1905 that this came to pass, the Club now Eltham Warren, taking over from Mr Grace the lease of the whole site.

It is of interest that the exact dates and reasons for changing the name of the club are not recorded in any minutes. The AGM of 1896 is reported as “minutes of the Warren Golf Club”. Presumably by friendly arrangement the newly formed 18 hole club based on Eltham Lodge (which became the home of Royal Blackheath Golf Club in 1922) was allowed to take the Eltham title. In 1901 the AGM again without explanation refers to Eltham Warren Golf Club.

In spite of doubts about the future – particularly with regard to tenure of the land – the infant club grew rapidly. By early 1894 the agreed membership had been increased to 30. Some of the newcomers lived as far away as Lewisham, quite a long journey in those days, and needed somewhere to change, but it was not until the middle of 1896 that a satisfactory solution was found: then a room was rented from Mr Hands at 2 Elm Villas (Southend Crescent) at a rent of £5/5/0 per quarter, and it was soon further arranged that tea and light refreshments should be made available.

Further expansion of membership and the formation of a Ladies Club rendered this room quite inadequate; the next move was to 14 The Broadway where it seems that at least three rooms, one large enough to form a changing room with thirty lockers, must have been rented and meals and drinks were available. This in turn was rapidly outgrown and the next move was to a whole house, Montrose, in Eltham High Street, which was rented at £45 per annum. This, then referred to in minutes as the Club House, was the home of the Club until the first clubhouse on the present site was built in 1912.

By the end of the first fifteen years or so of formation and growth the Club had acquired the character we are all familiar with today. It had been started by men and then ladies were admitted; they became Lady Associates in 1905. By this time some of the earlier members had left the district so a class of Country membership was created for their benefit; then, in spite of membership numbers having an authorised increase to 100 (later to 120 in about 1910) there were more applicants than vacancies. Those on the waiting list were granted provisional membership on payment of a small fee which entitled them to play at quiet times during the week; in no time at all they were referred to as midweek members. Next there was a demand for the offspring of members to be allowed on the course – a class of junior membership was born. All of this before WW1.

During the first few years the founder members of the club and those who joined them soon after seem to have made and tended the course themselves using their own shovels, scythes, sickles and lawn mowers, but expansion from the original small 6 hole layout to the later 9 hole course made this impractical. At one time a horse and a farm grass or hay cutting machine were hired from a local farmer, but in the early 1900s the club bought a 36-inch greens cutter and a fairways mower with horse (the horse cost £10). They had to be housed. Machinery sheds and a stable were built on the (now) practice ground to the left of the path from the ladies second tee, just clear of the depression which seems to flood in very wet weather. The sheds, finally housing a mechanised horse in the form of an old Morris truck, were still visible until about 1960 when the present car park and garage block came into being.

Serious discussion about the building of an on-site clubhouse started in 1910. Then, as now, members knew useful people As a result plans were prepared and estimates received for a very nice building at a cost of around £1150. It was hoped to raise the money by voluntary donations and once £740 had been promised it was decided to go ahead. In the event the cost rose to around £1400 through the need to provide a connection top the sewer in Glenesk Road and because the need for fuel and liquor stores and some internal fittings had not been allowed for. Nevertheless the house was built and apparently opened in 1912 although there is no record of the exact date.

The shortfall in finance was covered mainly by £50 per head loans from a number of more affluent members and partly by bank overdraft. Because of the War the outstanding debts were not fully repaid until about 1920.

The period of WW1 was naturally one of stagnation. Mr E.J. Brown who had joined the club in January 1900 was very quickly elected Hon. Treasurer in 1901, Hon. Secretary in 1904, Captain from 1914 to 1919, and he ran everything almost single-handedly. He continued to serve on Committee until 1925 and made many contributions to the welfare of the club. Among other things he presented the Captain’s Board. In recognition of his many years of service a book of signatures was compiled and he was elected first President in 1931, an office he held until his death in 1947, being succeeded by Mr R.N.R. Blaker.

During WW2 formal activities were again largely suspended and again one man, Mr A.G. Tomkins served as Captain throughout the war years. He had some support notably from Mr T.G (later Sir Thomas) Spencer, Leslie Nightingale and the professional Stanley Mason who, between them, managed to keep the course fit for play.

Between the wars membership was rather low; for example in 1929 there were less than 130 Full and about 60 Midweek/60 Lady Associate. Nevertheless this was a considerable increase on two or three years earlier and at the time the Committee expressed the view that “ we were very full”.

In the early days annual subscriptions varied between 1½ and 2 guineas with a similar entrance fee but the subscription was raised to 3 guineas in 1902 because of the increased costs involved in renting “Montrose”.

Twenty five years later in 1927 these amounts were raised to “£5.5.0 or such sum as the Committee may hereafter direct”. The annual subscription stayed at 5 guineas for nearly twenty years but in the thirties the entrance fee was waived because of falling membership and was not re-introduced until well after WW2. The subscription rose to £7.7.0 just after the war and green fees were 1/6 per round (7½p).

From the earliest days the management of the club was on a sound basis. As soon as membership began to increase a small committee was formed with the Hon. Sec / Treasurer acting as chairman at meetings. In 1896 membership had risen to 60 and at the AGM in October the first Captain, Mr H Simpson, was elected. By that time a formal set of rules and byelaws had been established, similar in most essentials to those in force today. Fixture lists, mainly monthly medals and holiday competitions were drawn up and inter-club matches against Sidcup were inaugurated. In 1900 a monthly medal winners competition for the Gold Medal was played for the first time. Very soon, trophies were presented by past Captains such as W Scott, H Homfray and A W D Moore, and by Viscount Exmouth who was never a member but a close friend of E J Brown and others. Other inter-club matches, for example against Eltham, Sundridge Park and Royal Blackheath became a regular feature of the programme and more trophies such as the Blaker and Parkside Cups were presented so that the fixture list became quite a substantial affair.

Eltham Warren always took a keen interest in the promotion of golf. In 1911 it was one of twenty six London clubs that met at Sundridge Park with the aim of arranging annual competitive meetings. This informal gathering became the Society of London Golf Captains in 1922. Similarly in 1967 it was one of the nine clubs which founded the Society of Kent Golf Captains, and the ladies were among the founder members of the Society of London Lady Golf Captains. At various times the Club has provided Captains of all three Societies. The club also joined the Kent County Golf Union when it was founded in 1925 and the English Golf Union.

Soon after WW1 inter-club team competitions were founded. A group of eight clubs, including Eltham Warren formed an association to play annually for a scratch trophy – the Perman Shield. A little later handicap competitions the Wilding Cole Cup and the Gray Cup were added. Much later, in fact after WW2, the Royal Blackheath Trophy, West Kent Cup and Sundridge Park Trophy were added. The aim of these additions was to allow players of all handicap levels an opportunity to play serious team golf – to do this the Gray Cup lower limit was raised to 17 and the others were fitted in at appropriate levels. On different circuits the North Kent Trophy, the Yeomans, and the Jack Hicks were also introduced. A Ladies tournament, the Pearson Trophy, also came on the scene in the early 1920’s, open to all clubs in the Home Counties. Eltham Warren won this in its early days. The Club has had its fair share of successes in both team and open individual events over the years.

The first few years after 1945 were a period of restoration. The club house had suffered no serious harm during the war but some damage had to be made good, and at the same time a few modest improvements, particularly to the bar area, were undertaken. The machinery sheds were repaired, a new wire fence with access gates was erected along Gravel Pit Lane, and the course as a whole was restored to its pre-war condition. Membership gradually increased and so, to a small extent, did costs. Subscriptions were raised to £7.7.0 and then to £8.8.0 per year, but still with no entrance fee.

By 1951 the existing Crown lease had only another ten years or so to run. To ensure future continuity it was therefore decided to try to negotiate a new long term lease. At first Cluttons expressed a willingness to grant a sixty year lease at a rent of £204 a year providing a replacement club house costing at least £5000 was built. After a lot of argument this condition was relaxed and the club was required, instead, to spend at least £2000 on improvements to the existing house. Several different schemes were prepared, including one for a detached accommodation block comprising two or three staff flats near the western boundary of the course. This was felt to be too expensive – in hindsight however this would have been a very sound investment. Eventually it was decided to extend both wings of the house to make room for a billiard room, new kitchen, and an additional bedroom for the steward, the cost of which was about £4000. All necessary permissions were given, and the work completed by the end of that year. Enjoyment of this was short-lived, as during the night of Saturday 2nd June 1956 fire broke out in the steward’s sitting room resulting in the complete destruction of the whole if the centre of the building and some damage, mainly through smoke and water, to the approaches to the wings, particularly the dining room. For a time the billiard room was turned into a makeshift lounge bar while the ladies held their Lady Captain’s Day supper that year by candlelight in the blackened shell of the dining room.

The next move was the erection at the bottom of the car park of a large wooden contractors’ hut, provided by a group of generous members, which served as temporary club house while rebuilding took place. The new club house included a billiard room and ladies room upstairs, as they are today, and incorporated the old covered patio and the card room in the much larger lounge which has changed very little since it was built. Open fires were discontinued in favour of central heating and the bar extended to its present size using the bar counter from Walton Heath GC when their club house was rebuilt. The stewards flat was extended to provide a sitting room which then allowed the space behind the bar to be used for improved storage of stock and the present stud bar. The cost of the new club house, built by Tom MacFarlane, a member, was some £14000, appreciably more than the £12000 received in settlement from the insurance. The balance was covered by a bank overdraft. The new club house was occupied in September 1957. It was viewed with mixed feelings by the members. The larger lounge and improved facilities were appreciated but the old intimate atmosphere, particularly the ability to sit around the open fire on cold evenings, had been lost forever. At one time a dummy chimney breast housing a large electric fire was erected against the outside wall, but it was no substitute for the original fireplace and was soon dismantled. The wooden hut was retained for a few years for use as a trolley shed and general store for greens equipment, and was eventually demolished and replaced by the present row of lock-up garages. The Professional’s shop was erected at this time in its present position.

During the first few years after the fire inflation began to rise and all costs increased. Fees were raised by small amounts most years, but there was nothing very dramatic until; 1967. When the long-serving steward and stewardess Mr and Mrs Schofield retired, it was felt necessary, in order to attract suitable staff, to improve the accommodation. At the same time a ladies trolley shed was added and the men’s locker room extended. As a result the club was faced with bank overdraft of at least £10,000. After a lot of discussion it was agreed at the AGM in January 1968 to increase fees substantially to £21 for full members plus a £12 levy. It may be said that part of the reason for this increase was that bar profits had fallen considerably due to the introduction of the breathalyser!. Since this time, inflation, wage settlements, legislation etc have forced a ten-fold increase in fees and in spite of that it proved necessary to impose levies to cover major capital costs such as a sprinkler system for the course and the fence along Gravel Pit Lane.

More recent major problems on the course arose from the building of the Rochester Way Relief Road, finally opened in the spring of 1988. The north eastern tip of the course was lost together with a pond and a belt of trees which had been an attractive feature of that area. The new fifth green and sixth tee had to be constructed, and bad workmanship created many problems. Not only that, the curtain wall erected on the south side of the new road cut several natural drainage channels (at one time they fed a small brook which ran across the edge of Eltham Cemetery down the side of what became Fairoak Drive to a large pond near the bottom of Crown Woods Way). Much work had to be done to create effective new drainage. To make matters worse, at one stage the road contractors poured a large amount of waste bentonite on that end of the course leading to the poisoning of quite large areas of fairway which had to be closed to play for several months. Satisfactory restoration of the course after these setbacks was not completed until 1989. By then there was the serious likelihood of further minor or even major disruption caused by the proposed East London River Crossing.

It may be some comfort to present and future members that the club has survived many threats in the past. Loss of the area west of Glenesk Road was offset by the leasing of the present playing area. In 1905 it was proposed to create Eltham cemetery on the far end of the course, but in the end its present site north of Coalpits Wood was selected. Later, in 1932, a green near the junction of Bexley Road and Glenesk Road had to be moved because of road widening and re-alignment – there was room to do this without spoiling the course. Since the end of WW2 there have been other road building proposals which would have been disastrous, although the possibility of future encroachment to meet traffic demands cannot be totally ignored.

Any additional images and information about the Eltham Golf Club is appreciated.

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Eltham Golf Club

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