This is a transcription of a conversation Dennis had with Graham Lawrence on 1 February 2006.
We were in the Shoe at Exton which was the headquarters of our little local shooting fraternity and it was quite late one Saturday evening and we’d had one or two light ales when Bill Godley, who was a very keen golfer and the landlord of the Shoe, accepted a challenge that John Freemantle, my old friend, and I would play against Bill. John called across to me “We’ll take him on, won’t we?”. I thought John was talking about dominoes. I hadn’t played golf before. Anyway on the Sunday we went up to the golf club to play. I had to borrow clubs as I didn’t have any. My first shot went up the fairway and I thought to myself that this doesn’t look too difficult. I asked John which club I should take for the second shot. He suggested a club which I took. I lined up the ball and took a swing at it and looked to see where it had gone to. It had gone nowhere. I had swung over the top of it. My second shot at golf was an air shot and that’s how I started.
I joined Corhampton at the beginning of April, 1957, aged 31. I was proposed for club membership by Frank Lindley and Fred Banting.
Bert Dedman was the first person to start me off by telling me what you should do to play golf properly. He used to wear a cap and one of his pet theories was that you had to keep your right arm into your body when you swung the club. He’d take his cap off and put it under your arm. “Now hit the ball”, he’d say. So if you moved your arm out the cap would fall, and that was wrong as far as Bert was concerned. He repeated this lesson with me many times. Golf swings have changed since then. I started off with a set of borrowed clubs but eventually bought a set of my own. I thoroughly enjoyed the golf.
I used to shoot with the Silvesters. There was Percy Silvester, John Freemantle’s wife, Jill’s father, Ernest who was David’s father and Sidney who had four daughters. Percy and Sidney didn’t play golf. Then there was their grandfather, Jim. He was a wonderful old man, a great character. He came into the Shoe one day rather upset and he said “I don’t know what it’s coming to. Somebody passed me on my left hand side coming up here”. Somebody asked “What were you doing on the right hand side?”. Jim replied “I was looking at my cattle”. He kept his cattle on the field opposite where the Hampshire Hunt stabled their horses on the road from Corhampton to Warnford.
I played a lot of golf with John Freemantle, Bill Godley, Frank Lindley, Fred Banting, Fred Bunce, Mike Lutman, Len Goodall and AGP Lewis (the accountant) ,when I first joined Corhampton. There weren’t many ladies, just a handful. I remember, Mollie Lindley, Daphne Jacobs, Elizabeth West. It was a great social centre. You’d get up there on Sunday afternoon, one o’clockish, and as we used to roll up so we’d make fours. Nothing was really pre-arranged. The ladies used to make the cake and cut the sandwiches for Sunday. It was wonderful.
We had a great association with Alresford Golf Club and Waterlooville Golf Club. We used to support one another. We used to hold dances together. We also played matches against Royal Winchester, Portsmouth Municipal and Lee-on-Solent.
I was co-opted onto the committee because I made too many comments about the state of the course. Dear old Reg Reeves took over looking after the fairways and the greens. We had a very old tractor. I think I was chairman of the greens but I’m not sure. It would take a couple of hours to get the old tractor to go. I said we were losing too much time that I said I’d send one of my tractors up. I had an old Fordson Major in the yard at Forest Lane, Wickham which was spare so I sent it up and we wore that one out at the club. The next major journey that did was to Wheatleys for scrap but it did get the job of cutting the fairways done. The rough was what I’d call ‘modest rough’. We had to be as economical as possible in course management as there was only one person to do it all, Reg Reeves. Some of the members would help repair divots on sociable occasions. The greens were possibly smaller than they are now but not a bad size. It was one of the driest courses in the area. You could play all year round. It was a super course.
I was also a member at Lee-on-Solent. I used to do a lot of work for the building company, John Hunts. One day I was playing with John at Lee and he asked if I was a member of Lee. I said I was a member at Corhampton. “Right”, he said, “I’ll ask the secretary to make you a member straight away”. I wasn’t proposed or seconded, I just went straight in. I joined Lee about the same time as I joined Corhampton. I became Captain at Lee in 1967.
I had a little bit to do with engaging Ron Crockford. He was a great lad. He was a great golfer, a county player. I played several rounds with him. He had a lot of knowledge about machinery and green keeping.
They had a fruit machine in the club house. It was a good member. It belonged to Reg Reeves. He sadly died on the golf course at Bramshaw. I remember Nellie Reeves ringing me up to tell me and to say she had a large parcel of money which needed banking so I went up and took it down to Fareham.
We had a lot of burglaries in the clubhouse. I had two very good friends in the police force, Wally Jones, head of Hampshire CID at Winchester, and Jack West, who was the chief at Fareham. I used to play with those two guys and with Leslie Day, who’s at Royal Winchester now. We’d just been playing and over a beer afterwards I asked if they got some device which would help us catch the burglars. They said they’d got a mat which was being tested at Hayling and was about to be taken out but they did not want many people to know about it. At first there was only Frank Lindley, Reg Reeves and myself who really knew about it. The police came up to the club and set it up. The electricity for it was supplied by a twelve volt battery. We used to have an honesty box where people would pay their 5/- or 7/6 for green fees which was hanging above the mat. The police mat was hidden under another mat and the last one out at night would connect the power to it. It was connected to Droxford police station. When trodden on it would cause a buzz in the police station. A number of burglars were caught.
On Sundays we used to take it in turns to man the bar and one Sunday it was my turn. At the end of the day I cleared up, set the alarm, locked the door and got into my car. Suddenly I remembered I’d left the money on the bar so I opened the door and walked over the mat to the bar and realised what I had done. I went round the back, and got out some glasses and bottles of light and brown ales and put them on the table. I left the door open a bit and it wasn’t long before lights came in. I saw the bobby come in with his torch and I said to him “Would you like a light or a brown ale?”. Ah, did I feel an idiot? The bobby went out and told his mate what was happening. They had a laugh and a glass of beer. It was the next morning when the telephone rang in my Wickham office, “Is that the barman speaking?”. It was Jack West on the phone. It went round Hampshire. Wally Jones knew about it. Immediately I’d walked over the mat I knew what I had done but there was no way of telling the police at Droxford. It only took them four minutes to arrive.
We used to play dominoes in the club house. It was all good fun. Mrs Valentine used to do the post in Fareham. Val, her husband, was worth a pound a minute when it came to golf. I had one share in the club. It was all so easy. You couldn’t have had better brains than Lewis and Goodall.
When I was Captain at Corhampton in 1961, my vice captain, Mike Lutman, and I were organising getting water and electricity to the course. I put in the alternate tees. Mike wanted me to carry on as Captain but he and his wife were captain in 1962 and I was captain again in 1963.
I did a very big building for Commander Dowdeswell at his farm in Dundridge Lane and he phoned me, said how pleased he was, and invited me over for a gin and tonic and to collect my cheque. I happened to say to him “If ever you retire Commander, would you be kind enough to give the Corhampton Golf Club the first offer of your farm land and buildings”.
One evening I took a phone call and it was Commander Dowdeswell and he asked me if I remembered our conversation because he wanted to retire. He wanted £19,500 for it. I pleaded with him not to do anything about selling it until I had had a chance to discuss it with the committee. The first guy I saw was Alec Newbury who was our treasurer and he thought it was a wonderful idea and thought we would be able to work out how to pay for it. I bumped into Frank Lindley, Fred Banting and the Clarkes and their reaction was “What do we want any more land for? We’ve got nine holes. You’ve put in nine alternate tees – lovely”. I said we wanted an eighteen hole course. This is progress. We were then thinking about improving the club house. I said that the buildings on the farm would make an ideal club house and would also provide a place to keep all the machinery for maintaining the course. It would be off the main road and quiet.
We had a committee meeting and they weren’t happy with my proposals but I forced the issue and got an extraordinary AGM convened. The opposition got enough votes. We had a wonderful old boy called Valentine. He was a man of vision. He said to me “Dennis, I’m sorry you’ve lost but I’m going to put you up for committee again”. I asked him not to as I’d lost heart. It was a great opportunity lost. I could even have arranged for the financing through my own bank. There were also quite a lot of older members who did not like spending money which didn’t help my cause and nine holes was just about right for them. On reflection look at how much it has cost them to buy the land for the new holes? I understand it was about £180,000 which is a lot of money. It nearly broke my heart to lose the opportunity to buy the land. The club was not going to become an eighteen hole golf course so I left the club.
We used to have three sections on the golf course on which we used to grow a bit of corn. If there was any profit we used to split it with Hazleholt Estate. There wasn’t much profit and one day I said at committee we ought to get another farmer to cultivate the land. I said Mick Gamblin from Bishops Waltham would look after it. I used to do a lot of work with Mick. I would hire his bulldozers often. He said he’d do it and we’d split the profit 50/50. There really wasn’t much profit in those days just a load of coppers. We arranged for Mick to look after the land. No contract existed. When the committee sought fit to turn the course into eighteen holes and needed to recover the farmed sections Frank Lindley rang me up to say he couldn’t find a contract between the golf course and Gamblin. I told him there was only a verbal contract which I had made with him. Frank laughed and said I would not be able to get him out but I said I would. I phoned Mick up and reminded him of our arrangement. I said the golf club wanted the land back for extra holes. He said that was fine. He’d take the crop off and the club could have the land back. I thanked him. The termination of the contract was all settled with a single phone call. I was brought up by a very strict father in business when a handshake was good enough for me. I knew Mick wouldn’t let me down and he didn’t. All that land has now been incorporated into the golf course.
I’m still invited back for past captains events. The club is still very good to me. I wish we’d had the enthusiasm of the people they now have because we could have made something out of the club when I was a member.