England Golf still off piste on the Slope

?????????????Picture the scene. Two golfing pals still meet up regularly for a game although one has left the course where they first met to join a club that is altogether more of a challenge. Both still play off a 14 handicap although when they play for their standard post match bottle of wine the player at the tougher course always wins and his friend is getting more than a little fed up with it.

It is at times like this that the slope system pioneered in the USA would be perfect because it adjudicates how tough a golf course is and allocates strokes accordingly. In the US the minimum slope rating for a course is 55 and the maximum 155. The average course stands in at 113 although different tee positions may have different ratings. Continue reading

Golf in their hands- the rise and fall of Artisan Clubs

JHTaylorGolf owes a great deal to John Henry Taylor. A five times Open Champion winner, the last- in 1913- a remarkable 19 years after the first. He was also the first Englishman to lift the famous old claret jug.

But as well as being a great champion, JH Taylor was also a great champion of golf in general feeling strongly that everyone, regardless of their financial standing, should have access to the game of golf.

He came from humble origins, born in Northam overlooking the country’s oldest golf course, Royal North Devon, and the first outside Scotland to achieve Royal status. Taylor’s father died when he was still a boy so he went to earn some money as a caddy.

Golf was a patrician game in those days although the North Devon Course was laid out on common land, which meant that everyone had access to it.

Caddies amongst the local villagers, including Taylor, lobbied for a club of their own, accepting that they would not be allowed to join the Royal club, which was dominated by retired military officers, the clergy and men of independent means.

And so, in 1888, the Northam Working Men’s Club was formed, the first ever artisan golf club, accepting 200 golfing members living in the parish.

Whilst clubs founded specifically for working men were not uncommon, the nine-hole Furness Golf Club in Lancashire had been formed in 1874 by expatriated Scots working at flax and jute mills and the local shipbuilding company, it took another four years before the second working men’s club was formed and was based as much on political expediency as any desire to see the game extended across the class divide.

At the time there was considerable local opposition to the playing of golf in the Ashdown Forest from residents of Forest Row who wished to continue the grazing of their animals and the cutting of timber undisturbed by the affluent club members.

And so a competition was held, played for by the boys of the village in order to gain popular favour. Club founder Archdeacon Scott said later, ‘Little did we think that we were laying the foundation of the Cantelupe club and that from its members would issue men who would be in the very front rank of the golfing world.’

Named after Viscount Cantelupe, eldest son of the 7th Earl De La Warr, owner of the forest and Lord of the Manor, the Cantelupe did indeed issue champions.

Men such as Abe Mitchell, said by JH Taylor to be ‘The finest player never to win the Open’, 1936 Open champion, Alf Padgham, three-times Scottish professional champion, Mark Seymour, and Jack Smith who won the 1922 long driving competition traditionally then held before the Open Championship.

And the growth of the artisan clubs, as they became known, mushroomed: after North Devon and Ashdown came Crowborough Beacon, then Buxton and beyond. The principle was honest labour undertaken on the course in return for fairway access.

Taylor, before founding the Professional Golf Association also created the Artisan Golfers’ Association in 1921, which during the 1980s still had some 200 clubs as members. Now, with social divides blurring, it has fewer than 90.

It will be fascinating to see over the next few years how many of the artisan clubs can remain robust and active or simply vanish as an anachronism of a stratified society that no longer has a part to play in 21st century golf.

Can artisan clubs survive and thrive? Let us know what you think.

The Unsettled Golfer

765240-golf004We were sitting in the spike bar the other week when one of the members sloped in in a very sorry state. His head was down, his lips pursed and he had a wild look in his eyes. He even forsook his usual pint of ‘Gunner’ for something much stronger and a large one to boot.

Gazing at his glass he shook his head slowly and sat down on his own looking, for all the world, as though this could well be his last day on earth and the VAT man had just impounded his favourite gun dog.

He had taken a regal thumping in his match and his game had slowly and steadily dissolved in his hands as he whiffled, foozled, topped, shanked and generally slashed his way around the course in the manner of an irate matador trying to bring his bull to ground by carving at it with a broom handle.

One of the bolder chaps in the bar went over and asked him precisely what had happened to produce the lengthy catalogue of errors that had left our man shaking hands on the 12th and collecting his ‘Dog license.’

Apparently it was no fault of his but entirely down to his opponent, who had whistled, chattered, told gags, sang songs and genuinely been as chirpy as the proverbial linnet as he knocked his ball greenwards on every occasion.

And each time our man lashed his ball into a thicket or topped it into a brook his opponent laughed merrily before crying, ‘What rotten luck, I thought you had cleared it on that occasion.’

That great wordsmith, P.G. Wodehouse, wrote of such a golfer, ‘The least thing upset him. He missed short putts because of the uproar of butterflies in an adjoining meadow’ and, sadly, there is no doubt our man fits most into that category of player who can blame absolutely anything onto an opponent, and very often a partner, without ever facing the sad reality that he is not really cut out to concentrate on the 95 or so times he has to hit a golf ball, whilst also expecting with total sanguinity that one day, given a following wind, a decent slice of good fortune and if those damn putts finally drop he will most certainly shoot 78.

But golf, being the game that it is, it is with utter certainty that our man will be out again tomorrow hoping against hope that this day will be the one when everything falls magically into place and par will beget par.

Perhaps he would find the game a much less self lacerating experience if he simply followed another of Wodehouse’s splendid maxims: ‘Sudden success in golf is like the sudden acquisition of wealth. It is apt to unsettle and deteriorate the character.’

What is the best excuse you have heard or used for a shocking round? Do let us know.



Short but sweet

Tired (literally) of hitting your driver off every tee and a long iron into every green? Try these little beauties for size!

Many courses built during the last couple of decade- no doubt to a backdrop of their owners ambitiously hoping to stage a Tour event of some description in the future- routinely hover around 7,000 yards in length. Whether such enormous length is required to test today’s power-hitting professionals is open to debate.

What is certain, however, is that 7,000 yards is simply too much for the average club golfer to handle. In most instances, courses of 1,000 yards less present a more appropriate and enjoyable challenge for amateurs. So with that in mind, we have compiled our list of 10 courses nationwide that come in under 6,000 yards.

But while they may be short, you shouldn’t expect to simply turn up and breeze round with a lot of pars and a handful of birdies on your card at some of these beauties. What you will be able to do, however, is leave the driver at home and simply enjoy the expeience. None of these courses are a slog and all of them ooze class.

#1 Royal Ashdown Forest (West)

The West is equal to Royal Ashdown Forest’s prestigious Old course, but in a different way. Tight, tree-lined fairways, small, undulating greens and the same heather, ditches and streams that wind through the Old also come into play here. It’s a beautiful walk through the heart of the forest without the precipitous climbs. royalashdown.co.uk – 01342 822018

Green fees: £35 weekdays; £40 weekends