Surrey Golf

A Brief History


In the latter part of the nineteenth century the great golf boom spread across the county, and from then until the 1920’s three quarters of the English clubs existing today were formed. Surrey was no exception and the great variety offered by its heaths, downlands, commons and parklands provided admirable sites for the game. By 1923 there were over 50 clubs in the county.

It was a natural development that, as more and more clubs were formed, associations of clubs should be established to promote the interest of the game on a common basis and to stimulate inter-club activities. It was equally natural that such associations should be based on counties or groups of counties and many County Unions were formed, some as far back as the 1890’s. Surrey was late in following suit. The influence of the London metropolis spreading over several counties had probably been against the development of a county spirit. It was not until 1923 that Sir Hedley Le Bas of Reigate Heath together with E W E Holderness of Walton Heath, initiated a meeting of Surrey Clubs in October of that year, to propose the formation of a Surrey County Union. This was attended by representatives of 25 clubs. The idea was well supported, and a committee was appointed with Sir Hedley Le Bas as Chairman and E W E Holderness as Honorary Secretary to draw up rules for a Union whose objects were to be:

  • To hold County Championships, County Matches and other Meetings so as to encourage County Players, both Amateur and Professional, more especially the younger ones, to compete for County distinction.
  • To enable affiliated clubs to voice their opinions on all matters in connection with the game
  • To further the interests of golf in the County.

On the 13th December 1923, the first meeting of the new Union was held at the Golfers’ Club in London at which officers and an executive committee were appointed. Sir Hedley Le Bas became the first President and two well-known figures in the golfing world, Bernard Darwin and A C M Croome, were appointed Vice Presidents. E W E Holderness, who had won his first Amateur Champion title that year, became the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer.

The Formation of the English Golf Union

Quickly following the formation of the Surrey County Union came a proposal from the Lancashire County Union that an English Golf Union should be formed. There had long been Irish and Welsh Unions, dating back to the 1890’s, and a Scottish Union had been formed in 1920. At a conference in Manchester on 13th February 1924, where 600 clubs were represented, the English Golf Union came into being.

On the following day, another conference, convened by the R&A, was held at York. Here a Joint Advisory Council was formed consisting of representatives of the National Unions of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Its role would be to co-operate with the R&A Championship Committee on all matters within its jurisdiction and in particular to deal with what had become a vexed question, standard scratch scores for courses and handicapping.

Sir Hedley Le Bas and E W E Holderness, representing the Surrey Union, had attended the Manchester and York meetings in support of these developments. Sir Hedley Le Bas was appointed one of the English Golf Union representatives on the Joint Advisory Council. In the following year Sir Ernest Holderness, Bart. (he had succeeded to the title in 1924) became the second President of the

English Golf Union

Standard Scratch Scores (SSS) and Handicapping Schemes

In 1926 the Executive Committee of the Surrey Union assisted in the introduction of a Standard Scratch Score and Handicapping scheme to replace the existing chaotic conditions and to ensure that handicapping would be uniform throughout the country. By 1932 the need for a revision of that scheme had become apparent with the introduction of steel shafts in 1929 and the improvements in manufacture of the golf ball. The Joint Advisory Council put forward a Revised Scheme, and by 1935 Surrey clubs had been allocated new Standard Scratch Scores and given advice on handicapping throughout the County Union.

Competitive Golf

A programme of competitive golf was quickly introduced by the Executive Committee of the Surrey Union. It embraced both low and higher handicap players and individual and team championships.

The major event, the Surrey Amateur Championship was first played in April 1924. It was combined with a Club Team Championship and an additional knockout competition for players of handicap 1 or over who failed to qualify for the match-play of the Amateur Championship. A hundred players competed over the Old and New courses of the Addington Club. There was a gold medal for the winner, silver for the runner-up and bronze medals for the losing semi-finalists. A challenge Cup was presented by the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph. A contemporary account of Golf Illustrated records that the weather was particularly unfriendly, with a bitterly cold wind that froze the hands and made the greens like glass. Only two players broke 160 for the two qualifying rounds, Douglas Grant of Royal Mid-Surrey and E Noel Layton of Walton Heath. The sporting press thought that the many leading players of the county who were taking part had put up ‘an unworthy performance’. Grant, a Californian, proved to be more acclimatised than the natives as he went on to win the title, beating Douglas Fish of Addington in the final.

The Surrey Open Championship followed in 1926, and a Challenge Cup was presented to the Union in 1926 by Major Collis Browne. He had become Honorary Secretary when Sir Ernest Holderness was elected President on the death of Sir Hedley Le Bas, in 1926.

The first competitions introduced for longer handicap players inspired little interest, but a popular form of club team competition, the Inter-club Handicap Competition (Surrey Fives) was started in 1927.

In 1937, recognising that it had been largely the longer handicap player who had paid to join the County Members Scheme (referred to below), the Executive Committee introduced a new Handicap Competition. The Surrey Handicap Bowl was for players of affiliated clubs, with handicaps from 4 to 18, who were nominated by their clubs to compete over 36 holes stroke play. The name of Lt. Col. C W Myddleton OBE will always be linked with these two handicap competitions.

Financial Problems

Since the 25 clubs that had originally supported the formation of the Surrey Union, the number of affiliated and associate clubs increased steadily over the period. Money, however, was a problem. The Union’s own expenses were increasing as its activities increased, as were those of the English Golf Union, to which the County Union contributed, and those of the Green Keeping Research Board. The Board had been set up by the Joint Advisory Council of the County Unions, and its Research Station at Bingley was supported by County Unions’ contributions. Despite the advocacy of F S Bond of St. George’s Hill, the Surrey Union member on the Board, and F G Hawtree, Vice President of the Green Keepers’ Association, many Surrey clubs were unwilling to accept the advantages of a new scientific approach to green keeping to the extent of paying anything towards their cost. In consequence, the contributions of those clubs willing to pay had to be supplemented by help from County Union Funds.

In 1936 when many schemes for regulating contributions to meet all the Surrey Union’s commitments had failed to secure general approval of the clubs, the Executive Committee of the Surrey Union, through the initiative of C F Woodbridge of Royal Mid-Surrey, introduced a County Members Scheme that had had some success in other counties. Members of affiliated clubs, whether their own club took part in the scheme or not, could now buy a County Card for five shillings a year which enabled them to play without green fee, on one weekday a year, on the courses of those clubs that were willing to participate. The response was immediate. At its peak the scheme had over 40 clubs taking part, and in one year over 2,000 members bought cards. A halt had to be called to further membership, but the Surrey Union’s financial worries had been overcome.

The Outbreak of War

The Second World War brought to an end this first phase of the Surrey Union’s activities. A few clubs had remained outside the Union but a peak membership of 72 affiliated and associate clubs had been achieved. A programme of county and inter-county events had been established; the Surrey team had won the English County Championship three times, in 1927, 1932 and 1936. Surrey players had achieved the distinction of playing in the Home Internationals and the President of the Union, Sir Ernest Holderness, who had won the Amateur Championship for the second time in 1924, and played for Great Britain in the Walker Cup matches of 1923, 1926 and 1930.

On the 18th March 1940, the Council of the Union held its last Annual General Meeting before suspending the Union’s activities. Trophies and records were to be stored in the strong room and cellars of the Burhill Club. The President, Vice Presidents, Secretary and members of the Executive Committee were re-elected for the duration of the war. The meeting resolved, with complete optimism, that the Executive Committee should hold its next meeting within six months of the end of the war.

The Resumption of Activities

Throughout the war, the Surrey Union had been kept alive by the Honorary Secretary, Captain Dawes Smith who, in his spare time, had kept in touch with clubs and collected their nominal contributions to the English Golf Union and Green Keeping Research Board, both of which had functioned on a reduced scale.

On 25th January 1945, the Executive Committee met again and restarted competitive golf, although on a limited scale because of continuing food and petrol rationing.

The Surrey Union Council held the first post-war Annual General Meeting on 29th March 1946, with the President, Vice Presidents and Secretary re-united to carry on where they had left off six years before. Sir Ernest Holderness was to continue as President until 1953, a period in all of 27 years.

Financial Problems Again

No money was coming in for the Union itself and what small expenditure had been incurred during the war had been met from the Union’s Reserve Fund and the financial situation was reasonably satisfactory. However, everything was now costing more and while an increase in club contributions was inevitable, the County Members Scheme was brought in again to keep subscriptions down. Re-introduced in 1947, it again proved popular with an immediate response from many clubs and members but here too times had changed. Mobility continued to be restricted by petrol rationing and many clubs, anxious to get revenue from fee-paying societies and events, were reluctant to risk overcrowding. The Scheme declined, for these and other reasons, and with regret the Executive Committee was forced to discontinue it at the end of 1953.

The problem of raising money was back. Many schemes were considered and rejected by the clubs until a ‘Bob a Nob’ scheme was proposed by the EGU and was universally accepted. Individual members of clubs were then invited to pay a shilling a year to meet the expenses of the EGU and the Green Keeping Research Board (now the Sports Turf Research Fund). In 1960 the ‘Bob a Nob’ became a compulsory levy and in due course became an element in the present per capita contributions paid by clubs to the County Union for all its commitments.

Competitive Golf

Throughout this period opportunities for improving standards of golf in the County and for taking part in County events had been substantially increased. The major events introduced before the war had continued with some changes made in the light of experience; and new events had been introduced for both low and higher handicap players. Details of conditions on entry of all events are shown under the Regulations.

Clubs had been encouraged to put forward names of likely candidates for County honours, and the succession of new SSS and Handicapping Schemes had brought better means of judging ability.

A Junior Championship was introduced in 1951 for younger players and this was run on similar lines to those of the County Championship and with a range of competing age groups to encourage boys of all ages to enter and obtain early experience of competitive golf. A Colts Championship was introduced in 1968 for those over the age of 18 but under the age of 23, playing for the Irvine Edwards Cup which had been previously awarded at the County trials.

In 1951 the English Golf Union introduced a coaching scheme on a national basis and young Surrey players had continued to be accepted for this Scheme. In 1964 a further scheme was introduced with the Golf Foundation as its starting point and with counties being responsible for coaching arrangements up to the stage when selected players qualify by age and ability to be passed to the EGU national scheme. Within the County, Robin Robson, the professional at Addington and later at Croham Hurst, was engaged to undertake this coaching for selected juniors with finance provided by the County. Many young players have received help through these schemes and many of them have gone on to reach the highest amateur honours. Some, like Peter Oosterhuis the former Surrey Boys Champion, progressed to gain distinction as professionals. In 1981 Jeremy Bennett, a former English Youth International won the Henry Cotton award for the ‘Rookie of the Year’ in his first year as a professional. From the same era Stephen Keppler went on to win on the USA tour while Richard Boxall enjoyed much success on the European Tour. The most successful players in this category in the 90’s was undoubtedly Anthony Wall (Surrey Champion in 1992 & 95) and Andy Raitt (1993) both of whom will be on the Tour in 2003.

They have now been joined by Paul Casey who was ‘Rookie of the year’ in 2001 and played for England in the World Cup in Mexico in December 2002. Today the coaching of juniors is in the capable hands of Lee Johnson, Alan Barber and Ewan Campbell. Kevin Bull looked after the first team squad in the 1990’s ably assisted by Philip Talbot himself a Surrey Champion and European Tour player, until Jeremy Bennett took over the role in 2000.

The Surrey Amateur Championship has continued to be the principal individual County event. Three titles each have been won by John Davies of Royal Mid-Surrey, Peter Flaherty of Addington and David Corben of Hindhead but the performance of Douglas Sewell of Hook Heath Artisans, who won the Championship four times in the years from 1954 to 1958 has yet to be equalled. (He also won the Surrey Open Championship in 1964, but by then he had become a professional.) Many Junior Champions have gone on to win Senior honours, the most notable probably being Stephen Keppler who won the Boys title in 1978 and the Championship in 1981. Stephen Keppler was also picked for the Walker Cup side as was Paul Casey, the 1999 & 2000 English Champion. Paul won the Junior cups at all age groups and the Colts Championships. Due to his college commitments in the USA Paul has not been able to compete in the County Championship in the last few years.

The Surrey Open Championship, although now primarily a professional event, was initiated by the Union in 1926 and the Committee had continued to organise it. They were dependent for a prize fund, however, on what they could raise by appeals to Clubs. The results did not always do justice to the high standard of professionals in the County. The Committee, therefore, welcomed the decision of the professionals in 1965, to follow the example of the artisan Clubs who had formed a Surrey Artisan Golfers Association; the Surrey Professionals Golfers Association was created, and the organising of the Open Championship was transferred to the new body. In the next year the title was won for the first time by an amateur, Nigel Paul of Effingham, a feat which was repeated by double amateur champion Anthony Wall in 1995.

International Representation

Representation of Surrey players in international team events has embraced all the major events in the amateur golfing calendar, nationally at all levels, including the Home and European Internationals, the World Cup (the Eisenhower Trophy), the St. Andrews Trophy (Great Britain versus Europe) and the Walker Cup. In the post war period Surrey players selected for the Walker Cup have included P Benka, I Caldwell, B Critchley, J Davies, D W Frame, W Humphries, G H Micklem, D Millensted, P Oosterhuis, P Scrutton, D Sewell (who was the first artisan golfer to gain this distinction.). Steve Keppler was selected for the 1983 Walker Cup team while there was a long wait until 1999 to see another Surrey player, Paul Casey, achieve this distinction. Stiggy Hodgson and Steve Brown have since represented Surrey in this wonderful event.

National and Overseas Championships

Personal victories have been gained in a number of overseas championships. These have included, for example, between 1957 and 1972, the Dutch International Amateur, the Austrian Amateur Open, and the Portuguese Open Amateur which was won again in 2001 by Chris Rodgers of Royal Mid Surrey. The Danish Open Amateur was won in 1950 by G E Hewan. who became Secretary of the Union in 1977. In 2002 Zane Scotland won both the Spanish and Portuguese Championships and James Heath won the Greek Amateur Championship. In 2003 Ross Fisher carried on this run by winning the Finnish Amateur.

Home Championships

At home there have been successes in many open competitions, including the Championships organized by the English Golf Union. Thus, players entered from Surrey clubs have won the English Amateur eight times; The Brabazon Trophy and its successor the English Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship, seven times, including three times by the late Philip Scrutton. The Berkshire Trophy has been won ten times. The Philip Scrutton Jug, donated by the mother and widow of Philip Scrutton for the best joint scores in the English Amateur Stroke Play Championship and the Berkshire Trophy, has been won by Surrey club players four times. The Lytham Trophy has only been won once. In 1999 the County held three of the four national Championships run by the EGU, Paul Casey being English Champion, a title he retained in 2000. Mark Side winning the Brabazon and James Heath the Macgregor Trophy for 16 & under boys. In 1999 Zane Scotland became the third Surrey Amateur to get through to the Open Championship in the 1990’s, following the footsteps of Simon Griffiths and Jonathan Wilshire. As well as Paul Casey winning the English again in 2000, John Jermine of Sunningdale won the Welsh Amateur Title and Zane Scotland the Carris Trophy. In 2004, James Heath won the English Amateur Championship and The Lytham Trophy, and in 2011 Steve Brown won the English Amateur Championship.

County Team Events

Successive Captains appointed by the Executive of the Union have been responsible for the selection and management of the County teams except for a brief period when match managers were appointed, an experiment that was reported to have had ‘dismal results.

The County team competes in friendly matches against Clubs and other Counties and in the matches for the South Eastern League Championship and the English Championship. Success in the English Championship has been intermittent. Since the war the title was won in 1957 and 1958, in 1966 and 1968, 1980 and 1981 but not again until 2000 and again in 2004. In the South Eastern League Championship, which was instituted in 1964 with a Salver presented by the Daily Telegraph, the County had frequent success, starting with four consecutive victories in the first years of the tournament. Sadly, the win in 1982 was our last in this event.

Similar programmes of friendly matches and competitions within the South Eastern League for Colts and Junior teams have been developed. The Colts have won the SE League title in 1975,1978,1998, 1999, 2001 and 2004. A second County team, the ‘A’ team, was also introduced to play against clubs giving potential County team players the opportunity of match experience and of bringing County officials into closer relationships with the Clubs. In the same way the Individual County Membership Scheme introduced in 1961 offers club members the opportunity of a wider association with golf in the County through the members’ meetings held in the year.

Training of Green-keeping Staff

Traditionally, green keeping in this country has depended on the personal “know how” of men who have learned their skills by hard practical experience and what may have been handed on to them by their predecessors. With courses becoming increasingly heavily used, equipment becoming more sophisticated and expensive to maintain and players demanding perfection in conditions of play, a scientific approach to the training of green-keepers had been long desirable. It will surprise many that it was not until the early 70’s that any training or qualifications were available to green keepers. At that time the EGU called a meeting in Birmingham where our representative was Malcolm Russell. This was followed by a tour of clubs trying to convince them of the need for training and also for help for Club Secretaries.

The next phase came when the Youth Training Services agreed to put Greenkeeping on their agenda and at the same time the City & Guilds would offer a certificate of proficiency for those passing their exams. The EGU gave support to this special training scheme and support by Surrey was immediately given. Clubs were encouraged to take advantage of the training available at one of five colleges where courses had been set up. Our local college was the Hampshire Agricultural College at Sparsholt and the STRI also provided more specialist training and advice. The schemes have evolved until today we have the Green Keepers Training Committee which is responsible for training nationally. Some 8p of the EGU per capita fee goes to fund green Keeper training. This is backed up by contributions from the R & A, the European Tour and the other Home Unions.

The college at Merrist Wood has become recognised as one of the top training establishments in the country for sports turf maintenance. It has the advantage of its own golf course on which to give practical experience to trainees.

Malcolm was also very much to the fore when it came to the conditions under which green Keepers worked. Few clubs provided decent accommodation with toilets, hot showers or a rest room. Malcolm spent at least two years in the early 80’s almost begging our clubs to improve their facilities before they were faced with the Health & Safety demands which now make much of this mandatory.

SSS and Handicapping

Revised Schemes of Standard Scratch Scores have been a feature of the administrative problems dealt with by the Union over the last 80 years, in the transition from the Norfolk-jacketed player with his hickory shafted clubs to the golfer of today with his graphite shafted big headed driver and other modern equipment. In 1983 a new handicapping system came into force that brought the modern golfer a stage further into the microchip era of computerized handicaps. The centralized system has not yet reached these shores but surely it cannot be far away. The rating of courses changed in 1998 and the system has been further updated. All clubs should be re-rated by 2006. To date half of the clubs have been rated.

The Union Today

In 1929 there were some 60 clubs affiliated to the Union, 66 in the 1960’s, and there are now 112.

In 2013 the Union changed its status to that of an Incorporated Company limited by guarantee, with each Club a member of the Company.

In the last ten years the County has greatly increased its input on the coaching front, particularly for Juniors, and this is still being expanded. As can be seen from the dates in the list of Championships, the activity of the Union has increased enormously in the last few years. There are over 90 days a year on which a County team is in action or a Championship being played. This work is handled from the office at Sutton Green Golf Club by the County Secretary, John Davies, (Mike Ashton retired at the 2003 AGM after 15 years in office), and the Assistant Secretary.

As well as running all County events, the Union is the Area Authority for Handicapping matters and also deals with Rules queries and matters of Amateur Status, mainly re-instatement applications, before these are passed on to the R & A if appropriate.

The County and National Unions are funded by a levy on all male playing members of affiliated clubs. The fee is now £15.25, of which £7.25 goes to the EGU. In 1996, the EGU levy was increased by £2 due to their purchase of Woodhall Spa in 1995 to be their centre for administration and coaching. The EGU moved to Woodhall Spa in June 1996. In addition to the existing course they have built a second 18 hole course and a teaching academy with all the modern technology that is now available. Counties and Clubs are able to make use of the coaching facilities, which include a magnificent area for short game work. The new course opened in 1998. Club Members are eligible for reduced green fees both on the old Course, now known as the Hotchkin Course, and on the new Bracken Course.

All male non-junior Club members are now offered a free County Card which enables them to play over hundreds of English courses at a reduced green fee rate, as well as six competitive meetings a year at Surrey’s leading Clubs.

The Union relies heavily on the support of its constituent clubs in providing venues for matches and championships. We are particularly grateful to some of our more established clubs who continue to provide venues for our major championships despite the enormous pressure on their playing facilities. Many of our new Clubs are now offering their courses and the County is encouraging more Clubs to volunteer their facilities.


This brief history was originally written in 1983 by C Hewertson OBE (Walton Heath). It has been subsequently updated by Peter Barkham, Mike Ashton and John Davies.

Unfortunately, not all the records seem to have survived so if any club or member has any information on County matters that would help build a more comprehensive record, we would be pleased to have it. It would be good to have small pen pictures of any County Player or official to provide a good background for future generations.

Sir Ernest Holderness, A painting of Holderness by James Quinn in 1925. Celebrating his two Amateur Championship wins in 1922 and 24.

Copyright Walton Heath Golf Club

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