This is a transcription of a conversation George had with Graham Lawrence on 12 January 2007.
I started to play golf just before I was 40 in 1970. A group of us, Mike Pitter of Pitter’s Transport, Mike Cusack, who worked for his father in law’s property rental business, and Mike Dunne, who worked for the GPO putting in cables, got together and decided that we needed to take up a hobby instead of working so many hours during the week. The taxman took a lot of our earnings and I didn’t intend spending the rest of my working life pleasing the taxman. We chose golf and we used to go and play at Southampton Municipal and Corhampton, as visitors.
By chance one day I saw Bill Wilson up at Corhampton. He was a past captain and on the committee. I knew Bill because my late step-father had an orchard and would sell Bill his produce. Bill ran a very successful greengrocers in Winchester. I asked Bill how we could join. He said they were organising the Annual Dinner Dance and asked if we’d like some tickets. The four us agreed to have a table for sixteen which pleased Bill a lot as they were having difficulty people along to the social events. We all went down to the Curzon Rooms in Waterlooville and had a good time, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. About a week later I saw Bill and he asked me if the four us would still like to join. So the four us paid our £11 for the annual subscription and £11 entry fee and we were in. Mike Pitter and Mike Cusack fell by the wayside, they lost interest, but Mike Dunn and myself continued.
I hadn’t been a member long when I got talking to Alan Haigh. He was a typical Yorkshireman, abrasive but very likeable. A spade was definitely a spade but probably a blunt one. He was telling me how they were working on getting eighteen holes. There was an old brigade on the committee who were against going eighteen on the land we had. There’d be balls flying everywhere. Umpteen people came up with schemes for eighteen holes. With nine holes it was very constrictive. You couldn’t have a lot of members with a nine hole course. Even then there was a sort degree of respectability about an eighteen hole golf course but with only nine holes you were the poor relation of everybody. We got on well with Alresford because they too were nine holes. Waterlooville was a short eighteen holes with several crossing fairways. Alan said he wanted some of the newer members on the committee to outnumber the old brigade so we could go to eighteen holes. After much discussion I stood for committee, so did Jim Firth and Peter Reeves. We were elected. This displaced older members on the committee so we managed to just swing the vote for eighteen holes.
Shortly after joining the committee Alan asked me if I would be his vice captain. I declined. He told me I might not get another chance. I explained that I was a new member, hardly found my way in the door. He said that the Club would be doing a lot of agricultural work on the course over the next two years as we go to eighteen holes and that he wanted someone with a knowledge of agronomy or agriculture to overlook the course extension work. I said I’d think about it. I would have liked to have waited another five years to become better known and part of the club. Alan continued to try and persuade me and eventually I agreed.
When we got agreement from the membership to go to eighteen holes the members insisted that we employed a reputable golf architect to design the course. They did not want the Committee to design it. Charles Lawrie was the representative from Cotton, Pennink & Lorne delegated to design our course. He was, in my opinion, as much use as a chocolate watch. After he’d finished and gone everyone asked why had he built all those elevated greens. On a dry course subject to frost you don’t need elevated greens. We’ve got rid of some of them since. It was suggested we went round other courses Charles Lawrie had designed – all have elevated greens, whether on chalk, downland, clay or whatever. He was a very good golfer. Even in his fifties he played off 1 or 2. The greens had all been compacted down a lot so that it became difficult to drain. The fifth hole would be much better if it had been placed nearer the road. The old short third between the current 17th and the 18th was another elevated green. I’ve known people tee off using a sand wedge, with an immense amount of back spin on, land on the green and then the ball would roll on another fifty yards ending up on the 16th fairway.
We went from a membership of three hundred on the nine hole course to five hundred. When the eighteen holes were first completed we let them mature for a year before we played on them. Some of the old nine had been dug up. The next project was to build the new clubhouse. We had hoped to open the new holes and the clubhouse at the same time but it didn’t quite work out like that. We started playing on the new holes at the latter part of 1974.
Peter Reeves and his brother, Victor, Jim Firth and the Banting boys used to come up to the club as teenagers, became junior members and formed a junior section which kept them out of trouble. They were encouraged to play by their parents who were members of the club.
The basis of the old clubhouse came from huts in the first World War. As the wood rotted we got it reclad with cedar. It was small.
During the building of the new clubhouse in 1974 we used the bungalow as a club house. There was an alarm in it which had a radio connection with the police in Winchester. Very few people knew how to work it. It was a little battery powered thing which stood in the corner. There was a key to it hidden away. When you entered the bungalow you had about twenty seconds to turn it off otherwise it would sound off and then the police would turn up. Quite often if you failed to turn the alarm off a couple of pints were put on the bar for the police. For example, Johnny Heathcote and Gus, his wife, would come in, set the bar up, lock up and go and play golf. When they got back they’d open up and let the crowd in, start serving and then suddenly remember they hadn’t turned the alarm off. It needed a special key, which only the police had, to turn it off.
I made George Davis my vice captain. He and his partner, Norman Francis, owned Meon Valley Metals and they would hold an annual Pro-Am, at Corhampton alternating each year with Alresford, where they were both members as well. I did a lot of business with George when I’d moved my business from being mainly agriculture to agricultural engineering. It took me a lot persuasion and drink to get George to be my vice captain but he never regretted it.
During my year as Captain we planted a lot of trees down the Bishops Waltham road. It used to be completely open. We planted the hawthorn hedge and the birch trees. I went to Tilhill Nurseries at Frensham Ponds and bought a lot of hawthorn whips which Bill Wilson planted. At the back of my place in Shamblehurst Lane in amongst the Christmas trees at Moorgreen Nurseries the birds had come in and had planted birch saplings. I went up there with a couple of men and a digger and scooped out these fifteen foot high birch saplings and planted them all along the roadside. The County Agriculturalist who was advising us about what trees to plant said they would not last as they were being planted too deep. Birch are surface rooters but these were tall and needed to be sunk down otherwise they would have been blown over. We had about a 95% success rate. During the winter the fairway became exposed so for the next stage I went off to the nursery again and brought back a load of evergreens which were planted to the right of the fifth fairway. The ones on the 17th fairway and the ones by the fourth tee were planted later. They are out of place but they do give shelter.
In the mixed matches I played a couple of times with Adelle Evelyn who went to France and became a pro on a small course there. I also played with Peggy Linell.
I donated the Captains Cup but the engraving on it is very poor. I was very disappointed with it and have often thought of replacing it.
I had two men who came to me as young men (they are now sixty) and they helped on the course. I made a red tipping trailer which lasted for twenty years. Another trailer I built for Bill Wilson to take his equipment from green to green. I charged the Club the cost of the parts and saved the club a lot of money.
We had a super design for the new clubhouse but we had a bit of a fight with the Hampshire Architects Panel. We thought that the clubhouse would not be allowed to intrude above the hedge line as it is an area of outstanding natural beauty, but no, that’s not what was acceptable to the county architects. After a lot of discussion we eventually got them to do a rough sketch of what would be acceptable and that is what was built. We were amazed. That roof added another £10,000 to the cost of construction. There are four inch thick timbers in the roof. It was going to cost £65,000. It was to include a flat for the steward, a pro shop, a secretary’s office and a beer store. There was a great debate about the costs so the design was cut down by lopping off the two end bays so it would only cost £44,000 to build. Of course when it was built it was not big enough and had to be extended at a greater cost than if they had been built to start with. It was false economy.
Time passes and things change and no doubt the course and clubhouse will continue to change. I’m still a member but I do not play as frequently as I used to. I wish the Club every success for the future.