Newbury and Crookham Golf Club is situated on the south side of the town, between Greenham Common and Newbury Racecourse, both of which venues have been in the headlines on many occasions. Greenham achieved notoriety because of the peace movement, when the ladies camped to protest against the nuclear arsenal of cruise missiles which were present there. In contrast Newbury, one of the prime venues of the Sport of Kings, was the scene of many fabulous races, such as the Hennessy Gold Cup, now the Ladbrokes Trophy.
The current course dates back to 1923, when the Newbury and District Club was founded. The course was designed by James Sherlock and John H Turner, and fully utilised the wonderful, undulating heathland, capitalising on the hollows and rifts in the ground to channel the holes. The club was opened with an exhibition match between the two designers and James Braid and Ted Ray. However, that is only part of the story. The history of the club has two distinct origins, and the Crookham Club precedes its younger sibling by several years and in many fascinating historical elements.
The Field reported in July 1873 that a golf links had commenced at Crookham, near the Thatcham railway station, an important fact since transport was far less available in those days. The club was founded by a naval officer and a vicar, Captain Robert Dashford Fowler and another golfing enthusiast the Rev John Scott Ramsay. Captain Fowler had learned his golf at Westward Ho and many influential visitors from that club came to visit Crookham.
Ramsay had been educated at St Andrews University and played golf there and, within a year of the Newbury club being formed, noted golfer T Manzie of St Andrews was employed as the professional. However, he proved too expensive and shortly moved on to Blackheath. Aside from the trophies at Blackheath, the Newbury club has two of the oldest trophies in English golf, the premier one was called The Open Cup and attracted all the best players of the day. Both trophies were almost lost. The first was won three times by the renowned Horace Hutchinson and thus won outright, but he eventually gifted it back to the club. When interest wained in the 1880s, the other important trophy, The Challenge Cup was given to Westward Ho. They followed the example of Hutchinson and gave the trophy back, so that they both are played for at the club today.
There have been numerous icons of the game on the Newbury course. In the early days JH Taylor, James Braid, and Ted Ray, all major champions played there. After the war Reg Whitcombe came, and there were exhibition matches featuring Ryder Cup stars Harry Wheetman, Neil Coles and Open Champions Max Faulkner and Bobby Locke.
JH Taylor who was at Royal Winchester first visited the club in 1893, not long after he became a professional. By the time he returned in 1926 he had won The Open Championship five times and was one of the legendary Great Triumvirate, alongside Harry Vardon and James Braid.
Interest was revived by another member of the cloth, Rev Herbert Skrine, when the club was based at The Volunteer Inn, as it was nearer the road. The club attracted many new players to the game, including all the masters at Horris Hill School, lead by Henry Evans, a noted sportsman and multiple Oxford Blue. Play was suspended during the First World War and was slow to get reorganised after it. That fact coupled with the launch of the proprietory Newbury club and course set the seeds for the ultimate amalgamation of the two clubs, although at that time both existed side by side.
In 1940 Greenham Common was requisitioned by the MOD, which resulted in the loss of the course for ever. The members were given temporary membership by their neighbours, and it crystalised into a permanent position. The club then changed its name to Newbury and Crookham Golf Club. The new course was on land leased from the Baxendale family. The clubhouse is in the former laundry and stables of Greenham Lodge, and then in 1952 the family finally sold the land to the club for £7000.
When researching the history of any club, there are always characters who have an abiding influence on the evolution of the organisation. The one consistent element at Newbury was Jack Hughes. Jack started at the club as a fifteen year old assistant in 1923, at the time of the formation. Despite never having a golf lesson, his game progressed to such a level that in 1931 he was made club professional, with universal approval of the members.
He remained in that position for forty six years, spending his whole working life until he retired in 1977, and then continued to play until 1991. During all those years he had a profound influence on the evolution of firstly the new club, and then the union of the two neighbours.
From that fascinating pedigree evolved the current golf club, sited on the course that survived because it was built on the side of a hill overlooking Newbury racecourse, whereas Crookham was on ideal land for military use. Like many other famous courses, it was created on land that had little purpose other than for recreational use, but what wonderful recreation.
Although the golf club is just a mile from the centre of Newbury, when out on the course you could be in the middle of the countryside, miles from civilisation. From all around there are panoramic views, north to Berkshire and south to Hampshire, and below in the Kennet Valley lies Newbury Racecourse.
Whilst the airforce base was still operational, many of the servicemen became active members of the club and indeed appear on the honours boards, but when it closed, the environment changed to a more peaceful setting. Set out on wonderful undulating heath and parkland, it is a patchwork of plateaus, ridges and gullies, that provide the perfect home for a golf course, one that has been crafted by nature, and groomed by mankind. Holes have been fitted into the landscape with startling effect, great short par fours that are perfect risk and reward holes, just as challenging as they were when first designed, despite the advances in equipment.
The Golf Courses of Newbury & Crookham by Brian Bowness
Much of the information regarding the history of Newbury & Crookham Golf Club was researched by Brian Bowness. Brian was born in Newbury in 1932 and attended St Bartholomew’s Grammar School. He joined Newbury & Crookham Golf Club in 1962 and by 1974 was playing off a handicap of 4. He served for 5 years on the committee and was captain in 1999. In 1991 he started a project that would last 4 years and culminate with the publication of a hard back book entitled The Golf Courses of Newbury & Crookham Golf Club. Brian sadly passed away in 2011.
Copies of Brian’s book can still be purchased from the golf club office, priced at £20.