This is a transcription of a conversation Brian had with Graham Lawrence on 31 March 2008.
Growing up in Twickenham there were few opportunities for youngsters to play golf. On a few occasions I went to Syon Park where there was a pitch and putt course but that was really the only contact I had with golf until I moved to Southampton in 1973. I bought a house in St James Road and by chance one of my neighbours was an elderly gentleman, or so he seemed to me at the time, called Ron Rosier. Ron offered to take me to Corhampton, where he was a member, to try golf out. I had been playing a few holes at the Southampton Municipal 9 hole course and thought after a few weeks that I was ready to try a private course, so one fine day Ron drove me to Corhampton and there followed a testing few hours as I discovered that I couldn’t play golf and needed to practise a lot before I would be ready to try Corhampton again. So I persevered at the Municipal course and also, fortunately for me, discovered that the Western Hospital where I was working had two short holes in the grounds, originally for long stay TB patients but, by the time I arrived there, the holes were no longer used and I used to practise chipping and short iron shots when I had a break. The greens left something to be desired, but any practice helped. Eventually I bucked up the courage to ask Ron Rosier if he would take me to Corhampton to try again. Ron was obviously a glutton for punishment and took me back to Corhampton. I only lost 6 balls and finished the round quite pleased with myself. The balls were the old small balls which, in my defence, I claim to be much more difficult to hit straight than the modern ball.
I was under the impression that golf clubs were snobbish places with long waiting lists, so when Ron asked me if I was interested in joining Corhampton, I assumed that I would have to join a waiting list, be interviewed by an intimidating panel in plus fours and possibly be black balled as a novice. Nothing of the sort! Ron introduced me to the Secretary, Bob Abercromby, who responded to my “do you have a long waiting list?” by asking me if I had a cheque book with me, and after passing over a cheque for what seemed a lot of money, I think it was £25, Bob told me that I would become a member after the Committee met the following Wednesday.
Once I became a member I played with Ron for a few weeks until one day Ron told me he was emigrating to Australia. Perhaps he was fed up with my golf; however I started playing early on Saturday mornings with a group that included Arthur Hansley, Stan Shaw, Bob Strickland and Murray Cheyne. At this time I was playing a lot of squash at the Trojan Club in Southampton, and it took me about a year to come down to a 24 handicap, the maximum for men at that time, as I was playing left hand squash and right handed golf, the result was a wild slice. As my golf improved I decided to have some lessons with John Harris, the club professional. John was the best club pro I have come across. He would go out of his way to introduce new members to existing groups so that they could get a regular slot, he was always ready to give you a tip to help your game and regularly played with the members on a Saturday.
One day I was drawn to play against Terry Nicholas in the Valentine knock out competition. I shall always remember this first meeting with Terry as it had been raining heavily and it those days the course was never shut – ice, snow, and thunderstorms floods were taken in the members’ strides. We started playing and eventually arrived at the 6th hole, the present 4th, to find the green flooded with the flag in the middle of a large pool of water. I asked Terry if we should carry on, he said “of course” and as I was a relative beginner compared to this low handicapper, I teed off and managed to hit the green but was some 6 feet from the flag and under water. Terry then proceeded to put his ball within a foot or so of the hole and I felt compelled to give him the putt. I of course made a complete hash of my 6 foot under water putt and after 3 putts was still 4 foot from the hole and lost the hole. I never recovered and lost the match.
After a year or so my handicap came down and one day in the late seventies, Terry Nicholas suggested I join the Saturday afternoon crowd. By this time my family was growing up and I was able to negotiate Saturday afternoons off. Sometimes there would be 20 to 25 players teeing off, all wanting to have bets that John Harris would organise and you could end up having £50 out in bets. This was a lot of money in those days. After golf the group would play cards in a curtained off part of the club lounge. They would play 3 card brag and sometimes carry on until the early hours. I had already found out in the Army that I was not a good gambler so only occasionally joined in. The group used to consist of Abby Moore, Dave Shawyer, the two Pratt brothers, J R Manson, London Jim and a couple of local car dealers and perhaps half a dozen others. It was a lot of fun, if you didn’t lose all your money, and with the lax drink driving laws of that era we were sometimes somewhat the worse for wear. It was not unknown for members to back into each other in the car park or to drive straight across the road into the field after one of these sessions.
At one time you could get cut 3 shots if you had a good medal round and eventually I found myself with a handicap of 5 after two good rounds. I was never a good 5 handicap player but I enjoyed the achievement. However pride comes before a fall and my descent from the realms of a good player started in June 1984 when John Harris and I played in a competition at St. Pierre. I started to shank when I chipped and eventually I shanked 6 times in a row around the 17th green and into the lake behind. My sand wedge followed the ball into the lake where it remains to this day unless a fisherman has landed it. I have never really recovered since; you would think that after 24 years I would have found a cure! Poor old John Harris couldn’t watch me chip because he had a similar problem with short irons. He used to regularly hit the ball over the trees on the right of the 2nd hole at Corhampton and then have to try to run the ball up to the hole with a 4 iron because he didn’t trust himself not to shank a wedge.
Over the years we have a number of incidents on the course ranging from the police making arrests on the course, the hunt chasing a fox across the course, to a case of attempted murder when one of our members was attacked by a visitor with a 4 iron when resulted in him having a fractured skull. The members playing partner then hit the attacker with a club and a fight developed before help arrived. Fortunately the member, Terry Nicholas and his partner Dave Shawyer survived what could have been a fatal incident, purely caused by bad course etiquette. The upshot was that the visitors were charged and prosecuted for GBH. Needless to say the attackers were banned from the course for life.
When I got to within 5 years of retiring I decided that I didn’t want to live near the hospital where I worked and heard that a member, Bill Trivess was selling his house in Corhampton. In those days there were no signs on the A32 saying Corhampton, so I drove my wife to Wickham and up the A32 so avoiding the golf course, telling Liz that the house was in Meonstoke. I was quite surprised that she agreed to buy the house as the property needed a lot of refurbishment. One day I was in the bar and overheard two members saying “I hear some mug has bought Bill Trivess’ house. He must have got a good price as he’s bought a new car. I hope the new owner knows what a wreck he’s buying.” When I started clearing the garden I found a large number of beer cans and on talking to Bill’s friends learnt that they used to play cards and throw the empties into the undergrowth. Bill told me that he hadn’t been in the garden for years. The house was next door to Periwinkle Cottage which had been Bob Abercromby’s home while he was Secretary at Corhampton. The garage on the other side of the house had once been Reeves Garage, owned by the Reg Reeves who had been Steward at Corhampton.
Shortly after I retired I had a phone call from Ian Borrow who said that the club needed people to stand for committee. I asked what vacancies there were and Ian said they needed someone to do Finance. As I had been running my private practice alongside my NHS work, I felt that I could read a balance sheet and could do the job. I stood for Committee and as there were only two candidates, I was elected and then discovered at the first committee meeting that the Chairman, Dave Goodlake, had asked Colin Mottram to do Finance and that I was going to be in charge of the refurbishment of the Clubhouse as Chairman of the Estates Sub Committee. It felt a little like being in the Army “hands up who knows nothing about building works”. I knew nothing of building works and was therefore automatically the guy for the job. Fortunately I had already booked a ’round the world’ cruise so, although I spent a lot of time on the design and layout of the clubhouse, the choice of furniture and fittings and the technical details of the plumbing, the day the work on the clubhouse started I set sail. Dave Goodlake bore the brunt of the day to day supervision of the works, for which he was well qualified and by the time my ship returned to Southampton all the work was complete. I then spent a lot of time trying to sort out the many problems that we had with the drains. As we are a long way from any main sewer the club had its own system which over the years had been added to, so, to save money, the club had incorporated the existing pipe work into the new Klargester septic tank system. Depending on the weather and usage of the showers, we had nasty smells entering the clubhouse. I learnt a lot about drains, frequently having my head down various manholes trying to rectify the problem. I hate to admit it, but the problem still occurs occasionally.
In 2002 I was finishing my 3 year stint on committee and was approached to see if I would consider taking the place of Peter O’Malley who had to stand down as Vice Captain. After discussing the suggestion with my wife, I agreed, not without some trepidation. Harry Spooner was Captain and provided a good role model for me. We became good friends which continues to this day. When the AGM came along I was much relieved and delighted to discover that nobody voted against me and I became Captain. I was privileged to have as my Vice Captain Alan Deuchar a good golfer and great company. The year flew past and I must say that the more members I met the more I became certain that joining Corhampton all those years ago was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Alan was a super Vice and like Harry became a friend. My year ended and I was asked to join the Business Planning and Development sub committee and the Greens sub committee mainly because of my knowledge of the layout of the building and drains. In the last 4 years we have improved the Greenkeepers’ accommodation, repaired the bungalow drains, built new buggy stores and numerous other works to maintain and improve the clubhouse and course.
One day in 2006 I received a phone call and was invited to stand for election as a trustee of the club. This was a great honour and after discussions with the President, Fred Hartwell and Barry Butler, a trustee, I was delighted to accept. Two trustees, Derek Williams and Keith Collins had stepped down creating two vacancies so at the next AGM I had once more to hope that I had not offended too many members and that I would be voted in. Fortunately Jojo Buchanan and I were elected. Trustees not only hold the assets of the club in trust for the members, but also have a very useful job in attending committee meetings and using their long association with the club to inform the current committee of the discussions and decisions of past committees. Trustees also have the duty to safeguard the interests of the members.
The club has changed over the years and is not as sociable as it once was but I don’t think that this is unique to Corhampton. Most clubs have problems getting members interested in social functions and this is probably a reflection of different attitudes to clubs and the competition of other forms of entertainment. In retrospect; I think the club made the right decision in limiting the refurbishment of the club to essentials. Many clubs have extended or built new clubhouses and are now struggling to finance the cost of the works. There are a few occasions in the year when the chef struggles to serve 80 people at a dinner, but the costs of providing a new kitchen to serve 100 members would look to be money wasted in the present climate.
It is sometimes frustrating to find that members think that the committee is cavalier with the club’s money. All committee members do what they think is in the interest of the club and it is disheartening to be criticised, sometime quite vehemently, for what after all is unpaid work on the member’s behalf. For example, Harry Spooner has been organising a working party of members to clear a lot of the undergrowth, particularly along the right-hand side of the tenth fairway. The idea is not to make the course easier, but to speed up play. Much thought goes into the decision as to which branches should be cut and what left so that when the ball is found the only option is to chip out sideways. The only reason that the members are doing this work is that in concentrating on the bunkers the routine clearing work has been overlooked. This has not stopped some members complaining. We are not attempting to turn the course into an urban course with pretty flower beds etcetera, we just want the members to be able to find their balls.
When I joined the Management Committee I realised that the history of the club, one of the oldest in the south of England, was almost none existent. Most of the honours boards were in the loft as were many mementoes relating to the association that the club had with the Royal Navy. During the Second World War such records as existed at that time were taken away for safe keeping and have never been recovered. I felt that the club should resurrect as much of the history as could be traced and therefore set about trying to collate whatever could be found, whether this was in the attic in the form of old committee minute, in the County Library and perhaps most importantly in the reminiscences of the older members. Graham Lawrence joined me in this project and if I were honest has done most of the work for which I and the club owe him a vote of thanks. This work continues and I hope one day a written record of the club and its members will be produced.