Bob Abercromby

Artist’s Impression at the Belfry 1990

Secretary from 1976 to 1983

This is partly a transcription of a conversation, Bob and his wife, Stephanie, had with Graham Lawrence and Liz Borrow on 18 December 2006.

I started playing in 1922, aged eight, at Trinity Muir, about a mile outside Brechin, Scotland.   The Course allowed cattle-droving across it and held an annual horse fair.   It is now an eighteen hole course and called the Brechin Golf and Squash Club.   We lived on the edge of the course.   I was not allowed on it, so I started playing with a walking stick and tennis ball on my own little course by the side of the proper course.   I found a head and a shaft and my father stuck them together.   I could then play on my own little course with a proper golf club.   When I was about ten I acquired some hickory golf clubs and was allowed to play on the proper course.   The annual subscription was five shillings.   When I was eleven I played for the Club with my set of hickories.

When steel shafted clubs were first introduced they were very thin tapered things and people said “Don’t worry – they are only a gimmick -they won’t last”.   We played with Dunlop and Silver King balls when we could find them.   In l930 the “Durable” came in, costing a shilling each and that was a good ball.   The Kroflite was another good ball. I played in the Opening Tournament of the Caird Park Golf Club, Dundee, in 1926.   I won a prize of a safety razor.   I was only twelve, so I had no use for it.

Before the war there was no golf on a Sunday anywhere, so the lads and lassies in the village used to take a mashie and a golf ball into the woods, playing round the trees.   We made holes by sinking syrup tins into the ground.   During the Second World War the three-hundred-year ban on Golf on Sundays in Scotland was lifted.

After the War I returned to Germany in a civilian capacity, where I stayed for seven-and-a-half years during which time I met my wife, Stephanie, on the Wannsee Golf Course.   We married in 1947.   At that time I was captain of the British Golfing Society in Berlin. We moved to Herford in the British Zone of Germany late in l947, where Tom Barnes (father of Brian Barnes) and I laid out a nine-hole course at Bielefeld, where we encouraged German membership.  I used to write a weekly column on Golf in a local gazette under the pen-name ‘Spade Nashie’.

We returned to the UK in l953 when, in due course, I joined Strawberry Hill Golf Club and later Fulwell.

In 1976, in preparation for retirement from the Civil Service, we removed from Teddington, Middlesex to Periwinkle House, Corhampton, and I joined the local Golf Club.

At the Club one evening, Bob Harvey told me the Club was looking for a new Secretary.   I suggested he need not look any further – I would take it on.   This was agreed in Committee and I accepted a “Labour of Love for Golf” for the next seven years.

Situated up on the Downs, the Club is miles removed from members’ homes, thus calling for a Secretary’s responsibilities to be very much full time, seven days a week, with the complete running of the Club, financially and competition-wise.

For the first two/three years I motored every Tuesday to a Cash & Carry store at Eastleigh, purchasing a week’s supply of bottled needs for the Bar, cleaning materials and prizes for Club competitions.   We agreed a good deal with the Brewery – a ‘Write-off’ loan – against the amount of beer consumed each month.

I gave the County Constabulary, the Ambulance and Fire Services reduced green fees.

In his Captaincy year, Bob Harvey hosted a Celebrity Golf Day when Henry Cooper, Jimmy Hill, Jimmy Tarbuck, two well-known International Goalkeepers (whose names escape me) and others, came down for the day.

Fred Hartwell, in his year, together with Club Members adopted HMS Hermes and, on their return from the Falklands War, all golfing crew members were given reduced green fees.

At the outset I resolved never to enter Club competitions, but to be available to play for the Club, if required.   I broke the rule once each year, when the Winter League was instituted.   Our team of four – Peter Reeves, John Manson, Dave Daniels and myself – won the Tankards a couple of times.

On occasion, very senior Club members would drop-in for a chat.   It was a case of pen down and get involved – they were always interesting to listen to.

My advertisement for an Assistant brought Jill Robinson.   She was a gem and immediately became a great addition to the Office, so much so she was indispensable to Peter Taylor, who took control when I retired.

John Harris, the Club Professional when I arrived, remained in post throughout my term of office.   We got on very well as members of the Club team.   During the rebuilding of the Club House, John – over a period of many weeks – slept each night in the Club House to guard against break-ins.

With the addition of a new Dining-room, improved catering and Bar facilities required efficient stewards and kitchen staff.   Several changes occurred down through the years – but nothing new in that – most Golf Clubs experience staff ups and downs in that field.

One or two Club caretaker/cleaners arrived and departed.   I was fortunate to engage Reg Daniels, who lived down the hill at Meonstoke.   Totally in charge of his daily work-remit, Reg was never anything other than the best, inside the Club or tending the gardens surrounding the Club.   We still keep in touch.

One Whit Monday a delicate situation arose on the very busy Course. A family settled down for a picnic on the seventeenth green – oh dear!!!   I asked Tug Wilson, the Head Greenkeeper, to tactfully get rid of them.   Tug, quiet of voice, said he was delighted to see them but before they started that picnic, would they all carefully wash their hands as the Green had been treated with a poisonous anti-worm preparation.   They were gone for good in five minutes flat.

When Tug retired, Morrie Salter took over very ably assisted by Mick Smith a Greenkeeper who moved over from Waterlooville Golf Club and who was engaged to a lass from Warnford.   They were an exceptionally hard-working duo, knew their job and got on with it.   They also trimmed the extensive hedges surrounding the Course.

Elisabeth Ralls, who resided at Fareham, was the longest serving Ladies Secretary – a joy to work with – we still keep in touch.

During their year of office, Club Captains, who differently resided ten – fifteen miles away, as did most of the elected Committee, turned up mainly for a game of Golf – naturally enough!!’   Each would look into the Office to satisfy themselves that the running of the Club was all in order.

Several members freely gave time, equipment, printing and photography for the benefit of the Club – Gordon Jackson, Wally Pinhorn, Bob Goble, Bob Harvey and many others but, with age, names now escape me.

I ran the competitions, made out the cards and checked them.   For our Open events we used to have an elderly gentleman as a starter. We’d give him a Brandy, wrap him up in a blanket and sit him in a chair because he was a bit infirm.   He was well-known in Hampshire Golfing circles.

I remember being asked by a Canadian if he could be a member for a fortnight.   He and his English wife had come over for a holiday and were staying at Bishops Waltham with his mother-in-law.   It seems the two women never stopped talking!   I was pleased to help him out and gave him temporary membership.   He made return trips for a couple of years after that.

I used to have long chats with Charles Locke from whom I learnt a lot about the history of the Golf Club.   There were two members who lived in Droxford who had fought in the first World War.   One was Horace Clark and the other – a Pilot in the Royal Air Force – lived on the north side of North End Lane – I’ve forgotten his name.

When I was preparing the Official Corhampton Handbook I wrote to Tom Scott at Golf Illustrated and he replied to the effect that from 1885 Golf was played at Corhampton provided it did not interfere with Cricket Matches.

Any day at the office

A Golf Club Secretary’s office door is always open.   Very often a Member will drop by for a chat and to off-load personal problems. One day a member told me that, because of Stock Exchange difficulties, he would not be able to renew membership.   I advised him that he could remain a Golfing member but to tell no one – but no one – about this and to pay up when he could.   All was resolved a couple of years later.

One day a member came in, dropped his bag of clubs on the floor saying he wouldn’t need them again and walked out.   I retrieved the clubs and parked them in the office Strong Room.   Two years later or thereabouts he returned.   “Hello, Bob, I’m back”.   I went to the Strong Room, picked up his bag of clubs and returned them to him.   His delight knew no bounds because his late Father’s putter was still in that bag.   He then related how, two years earlier, he momentarily died from Alcoholism and got a fright seeing himself in spirit -looking down at his inert body below.   The shock put him into the hands of “Alcoholics Anonymous” – Oh Happy Outcome!

Four or five miles to the south-east an elderly couple lived in a well-known village.   Occasionally General Sir ! would appear in the office – to play Golf!!   I would ask him to take a seat – we had two very comfortable easy chairs in the office – Jill, my Assistant, would slip out first to ask Club Professional John Harris to go in and talk about Golf to our visitor and then she would go to a ‘phone upstairs and call Lady ! whose quiet reaction was “Oh Dear!   Is he up there again?  Thank you – I’ll come and get him.”  Twenty minutes later Lady ! came in – “There you are!  Come on home” and off he went.

During those far-off years hold-ups occurred.   The Club was about four miles from Bishops Waltham. Weekly transporting a load of money – I was vulnerable!   There were two different routes to the Bank and, by previous arrangement, all I had to do was ‘phone Hampshire Constabulary stating time of leaving the Club and which route, and a Patrol Car would fall in behind and only depart when I was safely in the Bank. This was a very necessary arrangement – thank you again H.C. for your co-operation.

Around the early years of my Secretaryship the Southampton Football Team under a Manager, who was one of the top in his trade – if not the best – took a liking to our Course and came regularly for a round – so much so, several of the side played quite a bit. Occasionally the Manager would ‘phone me “Bob, are any of my team up there Golfing?   I am short of a few for training this morning.” “Don’t know, Laurie, but I’ll go out, check and ring you back.”   By the time I got back to the office, two or three of his players would be well on their way back to Southampton.   I would call him back and would truthfully report “None of your team on the Course”.   Laurie was no dumb bell, but we all remained good friends.

One day the Hampshire Constabulary Golfing Society arrived for a game.   It started to rain “stair rods”!!   Golf was out of the question, so we provided packs of cards and, with the occasional “soft” drink, they settled down in the lounge, followed by a good lunch, before calling it a day!

The Course Bore Hole is of interest.   Permission to bore was authorised provided we went down 400 feet before extraction. At 200 feet there was nothing to bore except water 200 feet deep flowing from south east to north west.   The underground river came from the Alps – under the Jura, Vosges, English Channel and the length of the Downs, eventually to surface in the hills in the Malvern area.   Similarly flowing under the Rhone Valley then 2000 feet up in the Ardeche Mountains fresh water from the Alps provided for a swimming pool at a homestead where we spent some time.

I could relate dozens of further incidents, but will end with this one:   It was the evening of an A.G.M.   We were seated and about to open proceedings, when a member stood up and, reading from a scruffy slip of paper, said “I propose we sack the Secretary.”   In the short hush which followed, I stood up and told the Meeting “This is one Secretary you will never sack – this Secretary quits right now.” Leaving the Meeting, I went down to the office and started to clear my desk.   Five-ten minutes later a group of members came in – “Please, please come back to the Meeting”.   Apparently the member’s proposal was a mistake in wrongly reading his scribble!   I looked each member of the group in the eye – they were sincere in their plea.   I returned upstairs, shook the hand of the Proposer and took my seat at the top table.

When I reached seventy I was playing at Haywards Heath in a tournament where they were using some new fangled equipment to do the scoring and printing-off the results.   It was a computer:   I thought if this is the way forward, I’m not going to learn all this and, in a way, I was missing playing more Golf.   By the way, I won the tournament at Haywards Heath.   When I left Corhampton in 1983, I was given an Honorary Life Membership and a very handsome winged armchair, which is now in my living room here at Bexhill.

A Golf Club Secretary goes home in the evening, sometimes late at night, happy with his/her day’s work.   There are rare occasions, however, and all Golf Club Secretaries experience these, when they “trundle down the hill” with a “kick in the gut” feeling.   Such is the wide-flung membership they try to serve – one just cannot please all of the people all of the time.   I thoroughly enjoyed every day of my seven years at Corhampton Golf Club.

Nowadays, happily playing off 16, I am an Honorary Member at Cooden Beach Golf Club, East Sussex.   I have “Golfed on the Green” in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe but, at this stage of my life, Golf on the fifth Continent is ‘way beyond my reach.

Bob Abercromby’s Golfing History

1914Born 6 June at Culloden
1922Started playing golf at Brechin Golf Club
1925Played first match for Brechin Golf Club, aged 11
1926July – played in the Open Tournament at the opening of Caird Park Golf Club, Dundee
1945November – demobbed at Tournai
1946/47First post war Captain and Hon. Sec. of the British Golfing Society, Berlin, Germany
1947/51Captain and Hon. Sec. of Bielefeld Golf Club, Germany
1948Bielefeld Golf Club voted to welcome German golfers as members, the first British golf club to do so, postwar. I was in continuous contact with Frau Nora Zahn, Secretary, Deutscher Golf Verband (German Golf Federation).
1952Assumed control of Marienburg Golf Club, Cologne, vacated by German members on completion of the new course at Renfrath.
1953All “plus” amateurs converted to scratch and all scratch golfers set to 3.
I was playing off scratch until1953.  I did get back to 2 but never again to scratch.
1962/65Secretary, Civil Service Golf Society – the largest golf society in the UK.
1973Won home international, Daily Express/Evening Standard Centenary
1973Won the Gibraltar Plate at the Royal Tangier Golf Club, and awarded Honorary Life Membership
1976/83Secretary, Corhampton Golf Club, Hampshire
On leaving, awarded Honorary Life Membership
1983Team winner in the Secretaries International versus Scotland at Royal Birkdale despite being a Scot
1985Won the Alverstone (Open) Trophy at Woodhall Spa
1986Scored an Albatross at the 1st hole (481 yards) in the Secretaries Spring Meeting at Whittington Barracks
1986Won the British Seniors Open (Over 70s) Championship at Panmure and Carnoustie Golf Clubs
1987Won the British Seniors Open (Over 70s) Championship at Deal and Sandwich Golf Clubs
1991Awarded Honorary Life Membership of Brechin Golf and Squash Club (Founded 1893) where I first played golf in 1922
 Other successes include:-MOD Champion, West HillChiswick Cup, FullwellNations Cup, FullwellTeam member 1990 Golf Club Secretaries Winners, Kubota Centenary Trophy, BelfryTeam member Cooden Beech Golf Club Cyril Blake Trophy, 3 in 4 wins

Abercromby – Albatross 1986

1946 – Grunewald Forest with Major General E P Nares CBE MC

1948 – Bielefeld Golf Club – Tom Barnes putting while my caddy Tam watches

English Scot 1987

Hermes Thanks 1982

Opening of Caird Park Golf Club in 1926

Outside the office at Corhampton Golf Club

Pro-Am 1979

Southern Region Juniors Qualifying Meeting 1983

The Paytons 1987

Visit to Corhampton GC 1985