Weeke local History - Royal Winchester Golf Club


Royal Winchester Golf Club

The club was formed in 1888 by a group of local men very interested in golf. They included local gentlemen, military officers and masters at Winchester College. The group was set up by the Earl of Northesk by a meeting at the Guildhall.

Land was rented in Morn Hill on the road from Winchester to Petersfield and a golf course created. Money was raised by a debenture raised from each member. A hut was erected on the site and a retired soldier hired to look after the new course. The new club was called ‘The Winchester Golf Club’ with the idea at a later date permission would be sought to add the word ‘Royal’ (URL31).

Regular general meetings were held in a room in a city restaurant in Jewry Street. In 1891 the meeting agreed to start a Ladies’ golf club. A second course was laid out on the other side of the Winchester to Petersfield solely for lady players. This may well be one of the first Ladies only golf course in the world. The club was soon to recruit its first professional golfer and by 1900 the club was playing matches against other clubs.

At a General Meeting in September 1893 it was proposed to make HRH, the Duke of Connaught patron of the club. The Duke had kindly agreed to this position. The Club also agreed to change the name ‘The Royal Winchester Golf Club’. The Club captain wrote to the Duke’s Aide de Camp asking if the duke had any objections to the new name. The Aide de Camp replied that the Duke had no objections (URL31).

In 1898 the club was very much in the lead in organising all the golf clubs in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to create a county golf association. This provided plenty of opportunities for matches with other members of the association. As other clubs were formed in the county they joined the county association (HRO TOP343/1/319).

On 20th May 1898 a letter appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle proposing that a golf club be formed and a links laid out on Teg Down for the benefit of north Winchester residents. This letter had been written by commander Grant-Dalton who lived at Wyke Lodge. In the following week another letter appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle from Mr E. Eames, the tenant of Teg Down. He indicated that this was the first he had heard of this idea and his landlord had given him no notice of such a plan. Subsequently an apologetic letter from the commander was published in which he said his earlier letter was simply an exploratory probe to establish whether there was any interest in such an idea. He had not as yet contacted the landlord of Teg Down. This was to create a seed of an idea but initially no further action was taken (URL31).

At the General Meeting of the club in March 1900, two years later, it was suggested that the club be moved from Morn Hill to a new course to be laid out on Teg Down. The problem at Morn Hill was that three landowners were involved and the land was only held on yearly tenancies with six months notice on either side. Clearly the club was now well established and found such a short tenancy agreement totally unsatisfactory. The three landlords would not all agree on a much longer lease. In comparison the land at Teg Down (197 acres) could be obtained on a 14 year lease. The landlord was the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who had taken over from the Dean and Chapter at Winchester in 1852. The Commissioners wanted to reserve 35 of the 197 acres, if required, for possible future development. As well as rent a sum would have to be paid as compensation to the existing tenant. Some of the outlay for the rent could be recouped by sub-letting grazing rights. As well as the security of a 14 year lease the site was nearer to the railway station. If stabling was not provided at the proposed new cub house they were readily available at the ‘Roebuck’ and ‘Old Red Deer’ public houses on the Stockbridge Road (HRO W/C11/2/490).

Although there was some debate concerning the move it was agreed and before work could start the club needed to finalise the new arrangement with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the existing tenant. At the next General Meeting in September 1900 agreement had still not been finalised, the club were awaiting agreement from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners concerning the course layout and buildings required.

On 26th April 1901 an article appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle that a silver salver had been presented to the club by Colonel Burnett Hitchcock. This was as commemoration of the opening of the new course in March 1901. The salver was for a competition between members and was to be referred to as the Fairburn Cup (URL31).

The club house had been built on the Teg Down side of the recently created Chilbolton Avenue. At the time of the building of the club house Chilboton Avenue ran from the Stockbridge Road up to the club house and no further. It was not until 1910 that the road was extended to join the Romsey Road.

The period between the opening of the new course and the outbreak of the Great War was one of steady expansion of the club. In 1909 some members from Southampton resigned to join a new course being established at Stoneham.

In 1912 a letter was received from the Home Office asking for an explanation concerning the use of the Royal prefix to the club name. The club replied that HRH the Duke of Connaught had agreed to the title in 1893. The Home Office asked for documentary evidence as there was no official documentation of the title on file. The original reply from The Duke’s Aide de Camp could not be found and a letter was returned from Major Russell, who had been captain of the club in 1893. He explained the circumstances leading to their use of the ‘Royal’ title. The Home Office replied that the correct procedure was for applications to go through their office for recommendation and onward transmission to the Sovereign. This lead the club to immediately request the use of the title and H M King George V granted permission on 2nd January 1913 (URL31).

At the time of the original application to HRH the Duke of Connaught, was in command at Aldershot. It appears that neither he nor his Aide de Camp had any idea that there was a procedure for conferring the ‘Royal’ title. If he had been at his London residence when he received the request, the Duke’s secretary would have dealt with the matter. In this case the request would have been processed through the correct channels. It is inconceivable that the request would not have been agreed.

It is not clear why the Home Office had suddenly decided to investigate the use of the title ‘Royal’ by the Winchester golf club. It is probable that another club had approached the Home Office and referenced Winchester as a club that had been given the title. This had lead to someone at the Home Office trying to find the earlier agreement for Winchester and found no such agreement.

In 1910 when the Chilbolton Avenue was extended the Ecclesiastical Commissioners wanted to reclaim the land to the west of the new road for development. They wanted to reduce the notice time for availability of the land from three months notice to one month. In exchange they offered a new lease for 21 years from 1910. In addition extra land was granted free of reclaim, adjacent to the clubhouse for the erection of additional buildings required by the club. This was agreed and it secured the future of the club until 1931.

Chilbolton Avenue must have been a poorly maintained road, because a lady member of the Golf Course, in 1924 complained that it should be renamed 'Still Jolting Avenue' (HRO TOP343/1/319).

In 1926 the Church Commissioners who owned the Teg Down land where the Golf Club was based agreed that golf could be played on Sundays. By 1929 the Commissioners wanted the club to buy the land for £2,000. This was eventually agreed and the Club finally owned its course.

Membership was low in the twenties and thirties. In 1936 there were only 200 men and 65 lady members. Trespassers were causing a lot of damage and a policeman was engaged to patrol on Sunday afternoons and a member of the club staff patrolled on Sunday evenings. The club patron HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught died in 1938.

On the outbreak of World War II the club decided to continue as long as possible but that all competitions should be suspended. Sir George Cooper (Bart) President since 1919, died in 1940 and his son Captain Sir R.G. Cooper consented to become the new President. Membership at this time was down to 187 men 70 ladies and 39 Artisans (for members that did not earn more than £200 per annum). The County High School took over the Club Dining Room and some of the land was ploughed for crop planting. Many of the members were away in the Services and many of the rest were involved in Red Cross, W.V.S. and A.R.P. work (HRO TOP343/3/273).

By 1944 the cub was in serious financial difficulties and the ladies were persuaded to amalgamate and as from October 1944 they became Lady Members of the Club. They wound up their finances and were able to hand over £118 to the Club. In 1946 there were 142 men and 27 lady members. The green fees were raised to 3/- (15p) per round.

In the years after the War the Club finances were not good leading to reduced green staff and in 1952 many resignations and complaints due to the state of the course (handbook, 1955).

A change of various members in important positions in 1956 saw the beginnings of the recovery of the club. By 1961 there were 320 members and finances for the year showed a profit of over £57.

In 1962 an approach was made to the Church Commissioners to see if they were prepared to sell the club a strip of land that would allow access to the club from Sarum Road. In 1963 the committee were given a mandate to build a new clubhouse on a site off of Sarum Road.

Between 1964 and 1966 the land on which the old clubhouse was built on Chilbolton Avenue was sold for £10,500. The new clubhouse was opened to members in 1966 (HRO TOP343/1/319). The popularity of golf was on the increase and the days of financial struggling were over. In fact some restrictions on new members might become necessary. Developments improving the Clubhouse and course continued. In 1994 the clubhouse was burnt down and this lead to a bigger and better facility being built and opened in 1995. The club continues to this day and improves the facilities for its members.

Release 1.0 last update 02/09/08

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