THE SUNNINGDALE STORY
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE OLD AND NEW
COURSES OF SUNNINGDALE GOLF CLUB FROM THE
Originally compiled by GUY BENNETT 1962
Secretary of Sunningdale Golf Club 1934-39
Additional historical material including old photographs,
some regrettably in poor condition, topical
comments in italics, and recent photography has been
added by John Churchill. Sunningdale May 2012
All rights reserved
- Editors Acknowledgments
- Early History
- Changes to the seventh and eighth holes
- The “St Andrews” double green
- The Luftwaffe alterations
- The Colt lost holes
- The Simpson re-design
- The New Course finishing run
- The Colt and Morrison alterations
As the present Secretary at Sunningdale Golf Club I feel fortunate to be asked to write a foreword to what is essentially a republishing of a book by one of my predecessors, Major Guy Bennett, Secretary from 1933 to 1939. Originally published privately in 1957 and 62 his booklet was distributed to those of his friends who might have been interested, with no record of it having ever been actually sold.
Bennett was well acquainted with the earlier Club Secretary, Harry Colt, who was also Captain during Bennett’s period as Secretary, during which Colt and John Morrison created the final re-arrangement of the New Course. All three were members of that nebulous organisation, the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society, as was another writer on Sunningdale, Bernard Darwin, and indeed is the Editor of this re-publication.
Bennett has done the golf world a favour in leaving his work to posterity, and as Sunningdale Golf Club is now known world wide through the medium of television, the issuing of his work on the internet is now the more valuable and interesting for a wider spectrum of readers, as a record of how the two Sunningdale courses, both in the world’s top hundred according to various ratings, have evolved to their present layout.
The Editor, John Churchill, has been a member of Sunningdale Golf Club for well over 50 years, covering the period when Guy Bennett was still an active member, and he has pulled together much new material and personal observation which should interest anyone with a general interest in golf architecture and history, or a specific love of the Sunningdale courses.
Stephen Toon. 2012
This photograph is of Major Guy Bennett MC, taken in 1938 when he was Secretary of Sunningdale Golf Club, a post in which he was ideally placed to study and write about the early development of Sunningdale’s two golf courses. Guy Bennett was also the Honorary Secretary of the Senior Golfers Society for a number of years. James Moir, Sunningdale member and one time Captain, followed him in both secretarial roles.
Bennett was an Oxford Cricket “blue” 1904-6 and played against both the Australian and South African touring sides. He was a prolific run scorer for Berkshire, making several centuries. Although not a Golf “blue” he was elected a member of the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society following his winning of the Hertfordshire Championship in1928. He regularly played for Harrow in the Halford Hewitt tournament and also in the Presidents Putter, at one time holding a handicap of plus two.
Thanks are due to Sunningdale Course Director, Murray Long, for mapping the lost holes of the New course and member Christopher Lane for his painting of Colt’s sixth hole of the New Course. Valuable help in finding old photos of Sunningdale courses was received from Dale Concannon of Old Golf images (ref 9), and Gerry Westall of the Museum of English Rural life in Reading, curator of the Suttons Seeds collection. Members Dru Montagu and Peter Trower kindly made available their family photos of the courses in the 1930s.
The contribution of Russell Talley, of Golf Course Architects Hawtree was also invaluable in locating the owner of a Bernard Darwin 1924 booklet, “Sunningdale Golf Club” and to the owner of that apparently only surviving booklet, the Australian golf architect, Neil Crafter of Adelaide, who has provided a copy to Sunningdale Golf Club.
We should also thank Jess Stiles, Secretary of the Tom Simpson Society for copies of 1934 Field magazine, and mention has been made of comments in the “Courses” chapter in “The History of Sunningdale Golf Club” (2000) by John Whitfield, and available from the Club office price £35.
Finally the Editor would like to thank Major Graeme Bennett, grandson of Guy Bennett’s, for proof reading and for the encouragement to edit and re-publish his grandfather’s work, which may be repeated if further historical material becomes available.
The original author of this booklet, Major Guy Bennett, was the Secretary of Sunningdale Golf Club from 1934 until 1939. He had the opportunity for numerous conversations with a Club Founder, Mr. TA Roberts, and the Head Greenkeeper who had actually helped build the Old Course, under the management of Willie Park. Bennett was in situ during the drastic alterations to the New Course in 1934 and 1938. No one could have been better equipped to write the histories of these great courses.
He first wrote this treatise in 1957 and it is recorded in a golfing bibliography as having been printed privately and a copy was found in an internet bookshop in 2010 which is now in the Club archive. A copy had been held in the USGA library, though not held by the R and A at the Golf Museum in St. Andrews. The booklet was updated and retyped in 1962. Certain comments from the booklet are recorded in John Whitfield’s “History of Sunningdale 2010”, available from Sunningdale Golf Club or Amazon.
Bennett’s purpose was to supply a record for posterity and making it available in edited form to Sunningdale residents and members, past, present and future, and to others who also love these golf courses, will help to achieve this. It should increase the interest in and knowledge of the development of these courses, and add a golfing archaeology interest to dog walking and hiking by helping to identify lost holes and features that have been long ago grown over by trees, bushes, heather and scrub.
Comments, photographs and diagrams have been added by the Editor, with the approval of the copyright holder, and the work is intended for those who already know Sunningdale and are interested in golf architecture and history. Editor’s comments, occasionally contradicting Bennett as better historical data has become available, are included in italics to ensure that none are mistaken as part of the original Bennett typescript. Some may seem superfluous, but will be less so to some younger members and many visitors to Sunningdale.
It appears that in writing his history of the courses Bennett may not have had access to, but might have been aware of the booklet written in 1924 by Bernard Darwin, at the behest of the Club, and entitled “The Sunningdale Golf Club”, which contained much local advertising, including an advertisement from a local shop owned by the first US Open Champion, Horace Rawlings and his wife, which sold golf clubs and hosiery!!
Bennett also made no mention of the several pages on the Sunningdale Old Course in Darwin’s epic book, “The Golf Courses of the British Isles”, published in 1910. First editions of this book today change hands at over one thousand pounds.
Sunningdale Golf Club is indeed fortunate to have had two such dedicated authors as Darwin and Bennett, one professional, and acclaimed as the outstanding golf author of the twentieth century, and the other a skillful and dedicated amateur, to have recorded the history of the evolution of its golf courses.
Additionally, Robert Browning was commissioned to write a booklet on the Sunningdale courses in the early fifties, and that was periodically updated, mostly supported by new local advertisers, throughout the fifties and sixties, but as the courses became more famous, thanks in part to the effects of television, the practice has been discontinued. Copies of the Browning booklets are often available for sale on the internet (ref 11).
The lack of any historical information in these Browning booklets possibly prompted Guy Bennett to write the 1957 first edition of the present work, which was contemporary with the 1957 edition of the Browning booklet.
The Sunningdale Story
It is now over sixty years since, so to speak, the first sod was cut in the making of Sunningdale Golf Course. What is its history and what the evolution which has made it probably the best known inland course in the world? In writing this story I have had the advantage of the knowledge of two people who were in at its birth, the late George Roberts, one of its founders, and Hugh MacLean, foreman of works during its making and for forty years its Head Greenkeeper now, in this year of grace 1962, in his ninetieth year.
The land on which the Old Course is constructed belongs to St. John’s College, Cambridge. The Sunningdale estate formed part of the possessions of the Benedictine Nunnery of Broomhall. Suppressed by Henry VIII, its possession was obtained for the College in 1524 by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and one of the executors of the Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of Henry VII, the Foundress. The Sunningdale property, until its recent development by the Ridgemount Estate Company, consisted of three farms, Broomhall Farm, Titlarks Farm and Stavehall or Broomhall Waste. The rest was heather, gorse and pine.
In 1897/98 two brothers, T.A. and G.A.Roberts, built a house on the estate. It faced in one direction what is now (in 1962) the eighth green of the Ladies’ Course, and in the other direction what is now the “exit” from Sunningdale Golf Club. A photograph shows this house and Gordon House very bare and treeless. There were a few golf holes on part of what is now the Ladies’ Course.
The photographs shown in Figures 1 and 2 were included in the 1957 version of Guy Bennett’s booklet. In Figure 1 the building on the right is today’s Dormy House retirement home; on its left the original Ladies Course clubhouse. The first tee, now the seventeenth tee of the Sunningdale Ladies course, was to its front left.
Figure 2 shows the Dormy House and original Ladies course clubhouse.
There were then no shops near the station and no Ridgemount Road, merely a bridle path over the property, continuing as it still does, past the thirteenth green, the cottages, and the ninth green of the New Course, as far as “Valley End”. Sunningdale village with an accent on the “dale”, lies, with its Church, below the main road and is in Berkshire. Sunningdale Railway Station with its level crossing and shops, and the whole of the golf course is in Surrey, though the postal address is Berkshire.
The house, “Ridgemount” which the brothers Roberts built, was some years later enlarged out of all recognition and became the Dormy House Club and is now the property of B.O.A.C. (a predecessor of today’s British Airways. Today the Dormy House is an old people’s home.) Soon after taking up residence Tom Roberts, affectionately known for many years as “T A”, approached the College with a view to making a golf course from the creation of leaseholds on the land round about for the building of a good class Clubhouse. (A Mr. Kirle was agent for the college at the time and when he retired in 1914, “T.A.” was appointed their agent, a position which he held till his death in 1944 when he was succeeded by his brother, George).
Almost immediately a Founder’s Committee, with the brothers Roberts as promoters, was formed comprising keen golfers who were interested in the proposition. Willie Park was approached with a view to laying out the golf course, and in the same year an agreement was signed with him for the making of the course for the price of £3800. As mentioned previously, Hugh MacLean, “Mac”, became foreman and remained in the service of the Club till he went into honourable retirement in 1939. There is moreover another servant of the Club, Bert Chapman, who is still in service after more than 60 years. His story told to me some years ago when I met him going down to the village is as follows:-
“I used to work for a greengrocer in the village and one Saturday I wanted to go to the Cup Final with a pal. I asked me boss and he said “Yer can’t go”. But I went. I turned up as usual on the Monday, but he packed me off, said he didn’t want me any more. One day I met a pal and he says to me “Hallo, Bert, out of a job?” “Yes” says I,” I got the sack.” “Look ‘ere” says ‘e, “they’re makin’ a golf course or something up on the Common. There’s the man who’s making it.” And he pointed to a man smoking a big cigar. It was Mr. Willie Park. I went up to him and said “Excuse me Sir, I ‘ear they’re making a golf course or something up on the Common; Any chance of a job for me?” He say “Go on up there and you’ll see me foreman, Mr. MacLean, and ask him.” I went along and I sees old Mac. “Are you Mr. MacLean” says I. “Yes” he says. “‘ave yer got a job for me on this golf course yer makin?”. “Can yer dig?” says Mac. “I can do anything” says I. “Then carry on” says he. And next Tuesday I shall have been ‘ere fifty years”.
The Old Course
Now I will try to describe the Old Course as it was originally laid out. I was always interested in this and must have played it in the early days, and have often discussed it with “Mac”, who was “in” at the making. The teeing ground for the first hole was more or less under the big oak tree, and only moved to its present position when the New Course was commenced. Then more land was taken in nearer the road, part of the gardens of Derry House and Sunnyside. Part of this can easily be recognised from the different, rather lush texture of the grass near the hedge. The flowering cherry tree, halfway down the right hand side of the fairway was well inside the garden.
The angular piece of bank and heather, which has considerable nuisance value to the not so long player marked the corner of a field, and if the sides of the angle are followed across the seventeenth, the boundaries of the field can be made out. (The humps are described in some old Ordinance Survey maps as “tumuli”, or Anglo Saxon burial mounds. During the course construction several urns of Iron Age body parts were found here, and are now in Reading Museum as “The Sunningdale Urns”.)
The first green was more or less as it is now. (It was originally a double green with the seventeenth, see figure 14) Willie Park had the reputation of being a very good putter, and practically all his greens were large, much more so than they are at present. Their size was considerably curtailed, chiefly for economic purposes during the war, which one thinks, makes for an improvement. The second and third holes were substantially the same as they are now, but the fourth green was on the lower ground to the left of where the present green is built, and this hole was played from the extreme right of the teeing ground.
Figure 3 shows the original fourth green of the Old Course which is in the foreground left of the bunker. The current green is seen to its right.
Another view of the current fourth green painted in 1920, well after the green was relocated, is shown in the well known Cecil Aldin water colour picture (Figure 4) the original of which is owned by Sunningdale Golf Club.
This picture has been sold in the form of limited edition prints more than once by art dealers. It was painted from the hill above the present fourth green.
Looking over the fourth green in the picture in Figure 4, and down the length of the fifth hole one can see the original site of the fifth green to the left of and beyond the pond. Some period after 1914 and before 1920 this green was moved to its present position shown beyond the pond on the right. It is likely that before the green was moved, the back sixth tee was to the right of the present green, where its raised profile is a greenside hazard and can still be seen on the ground. The green in front of the gabled house is what is today’s eighth green on the Sunningdale Ladies golf course.
The fifth hole was (originally) driven from the very top of the hill, but otherwise this hole and the sixth were as at present (apart from the change in position of the fifth green). An early drawing of the fifth hole in a 1914 Sphere magazine schematic shows the green thirty yards left of today’s location and also shows the disused bunkers in the edge of the wood on the left and opposite the pond, quite irrelevant to current play (see figure 4 and 5).
Figure 5 is a photograph part of mural accurately painted from this same Sphere magazine schematic of the Old Course as it was in May 1914, with the green numbers added. It shows clearly that the line to the fifth green, middle left, was much to the left of the visible bridged pond.
In Bernard Darwin’s book “Golf Courses of the British Isles“, 1910 (ref 7), Darwin comments on the fifth hole as follows; “The drive from this particular high place having been safely accomplished, there is an accurate second shot, which varies greatly in length according to the winds, to be played between a pond on the right and a bunker on the left. Some will pitch it and pitch into the pond; others will run it and run into the bunker, and Mr Colt will play a particular low, scuffling shot right onto the pin and win it from us in a four, which will very nearly be a three.” If Colt could play a scuffling low shot it simply confirms that the target was to the left of the pond.