In 2010, the Chipstead Golf Club committee asked Robert Heppenstall, a long standing member of the club, to write an illustrated booklet about the club’s history. The result was “The History of Chipstead Golf Club”, which was published in 2011. This article includes edited highlights from the booklet:
In 1897 Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee with the triumphant participation of a grateful nation. But ever since the cataclysmic trauma of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 the Empire over which she presided, and which embraced a quarter of the globe, had become a fractious and troublesome responsibility. What seemed to be needed was a generation of upstanding and redoubtable generals and judges, governors and financiers, engineers and educators to control and manage the largest empire the world had ever seen. As J.A.Froude, the historian of the age, remarked in 1885: “Nature has made us unequal and Acts of Parliament cannot make us equal . . . Some must lead and others must follow and the question is only of degree and kind.”
Such an atmosphere fuelled the extraordinary popularity of ‘manly’ sport in late Victorian England. Over 30,000 supporters attended Yorkshire county cricket matches and 90,000 packed into the White City for the London Olympics. Countrywide there was a rapid growth in the number of clubs for enthusiastic devotees of rowing and running, shooting and swimming, cycling and cricket. For W.G.Grace its spread would allow cricket “to knit together the various parts of the Empire.”
Golf in particular perfectly conformed to contemporary aspirations demanding as it did extensive support staff, significant capital, adequate leisure time and the comprehension of impenetrable rules. Subtly the game reinforced social status and distance. In 1890 there were fewer than 400 golf clubs and societies in Great Britain but a decade later there were more than 2,500, mostly characterised by an atmosphere of decorum and exclusivity.
The catalyst for this development in sport was the rapid expansion of the railway network, allowing people to live, work and play in different places for the first time in human history. In November 1897 the line from Purley to Kingswood was finished with Chipstead the only intermediate station and in 1904 the possibly better known club at Walton Heath opened its doors to the highest ranks of London society.
Looking towards Court Hill, with the original clubhouse on the left, c1910. Note absence of vegetation and the beginning of property development in Court Hill
In 1906 a group of one hundred supporters duly sponsored the establishment of Chipstead Golf Club and their names are listed on an original document held at the club. Their enthusiasm coincided with the rapid expansion of housing in Chipstead as the professional classes moved out of insanitary London into the suburbs. The group included T.M.Cheeseman, the owner of Elmore and a prominent member of the London Stock Exchange, A.E.Tritton, later the owner of Reeves Rest and son of the M.P. for the Norwood Division of Lambeth, and Frank Goad, owner of The Lodge in Hazelwood Lane and the principal fur auctioneer for the Hudson Bay Company. A contemporary article in Country Life magazine described the Chipstead valley as “one of the most picturesque strips of scenery in the whole county” and although the course was short and compact it was commended for “ the absence of monotony” with “a good deal of hill climbing to bring the muscles of the legs into unaccustomed use.”
The founding members, 1906
Confirmation has only recently come to light that James Braid had a significant influence on the design of the course. Braid was appointed the professional at Walton Heath in 1904, won the Open five times and was a prolific, and itinerant, course designer despite suffering acutely from travel sickness. He would hardly have needed his well-worn Bradshaw’s railway guide to travel the three miles or so to Chipstead but Braid’s contract required him to obtain special permission to work at courses within a six mile radius of Walton Heath.
The magazine Golfing in the edition of 2nd April 1908 refers to his work on “bunkers and other improvements” at Chipstead and in January it mentions his involvement in the possible extension of the course to “up to three miles”, implying a previously very short layout. In Hamer’s Who’s Who inGolffor 1913 reference is also made to Chipstead. “Course recently extended and two new holes added” it records, presumably with Braid’s participation. It conclusively reports that on 30th September 1911 Braid played an exhibition singles match against John Rowe, the professional at Royal Ashdown Forest, winning 3 and 2 having been 2 down at the turn. In the afternoon they were joined by K.Perry, a founder member of the club and H.B.Wade, the club professional. In such august company The Scotsman newspaper reported that “Mr Perry seldom managed to do himself justice” and he and Braid lost by a single hole.
The original clubhouse, opened in 1906
One of the other early golfers of distinction to play at Chipstead was Charles Mayo. He played in the 1910 Open and in exhibition matches round the country with J.H.Taylor and George Duncan. There is also a record of a match being played on 17th March 1908 between the home club and a team of well-known county cricketers which included the Crawford brothers and the Victorian sporting idol W.G.Grace. He was a member at Walton Heath and, ever competitive, he duly won both his matches at Chipstead. The home team included E.H.Stodart, the club’s first joint secretary, John Kinnell, the first professional and four of the original sponsors of the club.
Mention should also be made of the significantly large section for lady members which was formed in 1908. The course itself was laid out on land within the Stagbury House estate and Mrs Pine-Coffin from the house became the first lady captain and her husband a joint secretary. The ladies had to campaign hard for their rights, just before the Great War threatening to resign en masse “if rather more courtesy cannot be shown them in the future.” A magnificent shield trophy, the oldest in the club’s possession, was presented by Mrs Pine-Coffin and players at the club compete for it still.
“We really ought to have another try to get out of that fearful bunker….Can you come on the links Saturday p.m?”
Dressed in the fashion thought suitable for the game in the year the Ladies Section was formed at Chipstead, 1908
The golf club did not escape the ravages of the Great War and the course was reduced to 9 holes. At least one member of staff who lodged at the clubhouse lost his life as did several members, - Captain G.F.Neame, Lieutenant R.Ross and Captain C.A.Shaw amongst others.
Records for the inter-war years are scanty and the period appears to have been uneventful. Caddies were widely employed on golf courses and at Chipstead those in the 2nd class received 1s 3d per round and those in the 1st class 1s 6d per round, - not trivial amounts at the time for a day’s work. During the 1930s much thought was given to providing watering for the greens on the course and gas and electricity for heating and lighting in the clubhouse. The ladies section continued to press for better changing facilities, privacy for their meetings and somewhere to play bridge on wet days. With nearly 150 members the section was probably flourishing more vigorously than at any other time before or since.
The fourteenth green, looking across the modern fifth hole towards Woodmansterne, 1920. Note the absence of houses.
During the 1930s the appearance of the course changed considerably. In 1933 shooting was banned and the terrain became less rugged. The quality of the greens improved and the rough became less penal. As more bunkers appeared so did the new sand-wedge to negotiate them. Two players of note amongst the membership were Alex Corder, a butcher from Coulsdon and Eric Rawlings who remained a member for 56 years. The celebrated cricketer Jack Hobbs also played several times at Chipstead and a trophy was established in his honour.
The formation of the Chipstead Land Company in 1935 - shares were subscribed for by Chipstead members and residents - preserved the course for recreational use at a time when many other courses were falling foul of speculators and developers. In 1938 a page of cartoon sketches by Mel of personalities at the club appeared in Tatler magazine. The text refers to the course as “an interesting one of great variety and delightfully situated . . . On a clear day . . . one can see Saint Paul’s so that the City man playing there need never feel homesick.”
During the Second World War hoops were erected on the course to prevent enemy aircraft from landing and a long defensive ditch was excavated close to the railway line and filled with concrete impedimenta to serve as a tank trap. Three blockhouses were constructed on the course and craters appeared (which are still visible) when enemy aircraft dropped surplus bombs after raids on Croydon and Kenley. Exhibition matches still took place however, to raise money for the Spitfire Fund and the War Relief Fund. They featured Ryder Cup players such as Percy Alliss and Charles Denny, and Open winners Dick Burton and Reg Whitcombe. Alf Padgham who was born in Caterham and won the Open in 1936 also played in these events.
Ian Caldwell joined the club as a junior around 1940 and later became probably the most accomplished player to have membership associations with the club. His father, Rev. Mathew Caldwell, was a Free Church of Scotland minister who combined pastoral work at Cane Hill Hospital with a keen interest in sports psychology. The family lived in Hollymead Road and Ian often played three rounds in a day. In 1946 and 1947 he won the Carris Trophy for schoolboys and this led on to Walker Cup appearances although at the same time he was a qualified and practising dentist. In 1961 he won the English amateur title in dramatic fashion holing a putt on the last green to stay in the match and then winning the first play-off hole. His golf career ended at Sunningdale and he remains the only golfer to have won the English boys’, men’s and seniors’ amateur titles in one lifetime.
Ian Caldwell, playing in a boys’ international match at Hoylake in 1947, later English amateur champion in 1961
After 1945 the course was slowly restored to its 18-hole status. Lodgings in the clubhouse still provided some income and in 1948 the War Department paid £1,700 for the partial removal of military installations. A hardcore car park was laid out using 4,000 tons of rubble from construction of a railway bridge in Wallington. After intervention by the Education Officer on behalf of the boys the employment of caddies on the course became a rarity. In 1964 the sequencing of the holes was changed to reduce hill climbing at the end of the round and place the 10th tee nearer the clubhouse.
Extensive repairs were carried out to the damp and ageing clubhouse in 1965 and bore holes also improved drainage on the course. A Jubilee Tree was planted to mark Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee and a new scorecard gave apt names to the holes on the course, - some self-explanatory such as “Sheer Drop” and “Damnation”, others such as “Cleopatra” requiring a visit to the course to be appreciated.
By the 1980s competition from other clubs left Chipstead under pressure. There was a growing feeling that more professional and skilled management was required to run a modern social and sports facility. A new Management Board first met in February 1984 to improve the club’s finances and administration and a long drawn out process put in train to purchase the freehold of the course from the Chipstead Land Company. In 1991 the acreage of useable ground was increased through a sizeable land fill scheme. Of greater significance was the project to demolish the old clubhouse and its replacement opened in 1994 with an exhibition match and celebration dinner.
The new clubhouse, opened in 1994
Groups within the club have retained their own traditions. Later than at some clubs an Artisan’s Section was formed in 1954 and its members have achieved considerable success. In 1979 three members sat on the national governing body for artisan golf and at different times six members have played in the Surrey scratch team. The Veterans Section was set up in 1979 with conviviality valued equally with expertise.
Several charity events around this time attracted support from celebrities in the worlds of sport and entertainment. The Junior Section has been notably talented given its limited size, guided by successive professionals. Stephen Kepler went on to play in the Walker Cup in 1983, Robert Mullane won the Surrey Junior Championship in 1991, Ben Daniels won the Surrey Colts Championship in 2005 and Nic Torbett, amongst other successes, has played for the county before turning professional.
More recently Josh White won the Surrey Junior Championship in 2007 and he was the youngest ever winner of the Surrey Amateur Championship in 2009 (repeated in 2011). He also won the prestigious Berkshire Trophy and played in international matches for England. In very difficult weather conditions he won the West of England Championship with the lowest round on the last day and shortly afterwards turned professional. The longest serving professional at the club has been Stanley Foreman who came to the club in 1929 and became a life member in 1972. The current Director of Golf, Gary Torbett, played in the Open at Muirfield amongst other distinctions. He completed twenty five years service at the club in 2015.
The course at Chipstead, although short, remains deceptively difficult while the club prides itself on being sociable and accessible. An article from Country Life magazine in 1907 about the newly established club remains however true today. “When one looks all round at the extensive view of wooded hill, and the cultivated slopes and valley, one begins to realise that, after all, not the least inconsiderable share of the enjoyment from golf on such a course as Chipstead is to be derived from the aesthetic pleasure of allowing the eye to dwell ever and anon upon the rich autumnal scene spread out around one.”
Robert Heppenstall January 2015