The opening shot was struck on Saturday, 18th May 1895, unfortunately it is not recorded who had that honour although it was likely to be either Mr. A.H. Lisner or Mr. Bulmer Howell. Lisner should rightly be regarded the founding father of what is now The Surbiton Golf Club. It was Lisner, as the lessee of the Waffrons and its farmland, who placed an advertisement in the Surrey Comet asking for golfers and prospective players to attend a meeting on Friday, 29th March 1895 at the Southampton Hotel, in Surbiton, in order to form a Golf Club. The meeting was presided over by Bulmer Howell, who subsequently became the Club's first Captain, a position held until 1899.
That a Club could be formed and a course laid out in six weeks appears unthinkable by today's standards. However, there is some evidence that preparations had been made some years earlier. A bank account, for whatever may have been the Club's predecessor, was opened at the Westminster Bank in Surbiton in 1892, where it remains to this day.
The fact that the course was playable so soon may have been due in part to the likelihood that the Richie family who occupied the Waffrons, laid out a rudimentary course for their two sons. The official opening of The Waffrons Golf Club, as it was originally known, took place on Saturday, 8th June 1895 when an 18 hole competition was won by James Wild with a net score of 78.
The first surviving record of an official competition at the Club is in Golf magazine of 8th November 1895. It details the results of the Autumn Meeting held on Saturday, 26th October.
The original course comprised nine holes and was designed by local Professional, Tom Dunn. His golfing life started as the Professional at London Scottish Golf Club on Wimbledon Common in 1869 before moving to North Berwick in 1881 and finally to Tooting Bec in 1889. Dunn was a prolific designer of the late Victorian era being involved in some 137 courses in Great Britain. Unfortunately many of his local courses such as Raynes Park and Walton on Thames no longer exist. Three of his designs, in particular, remain as examples of his undoubted expertise, Broadstone, Lindrick and Ganton, the latter designed in conjunction with Harry Varden.
The increase from nine to 18 holes took place very soon after the Club's formation. The minutes of the A.G.M. held on Saturday, 16th May 1896 indicate that work was to commence in October and be ready for play by the Spring of 1897. It was also agreed at this meeting that the name of the Club should change from The Waffrons to The Surbiton Golf Club. The exact layout of the original 9 holes does not appear to have been reliably or accurately recorded. Also there is only fragmentary evidence of the 18 hole course which came into play on 13th March 1897. All that we reliably know is that the distances of the holes vary from 130 to 411 yards, the total length of the round being 4,541 yards. The bogey was 80.
The most accurate evidence of the early composition of the course comes from an official souvenir and handbook produced in 1913. By this time the course had been extended to 5,728 yards, probably to accommodate the improvements made in Club and golf ball design. The course comprised two loops of 11 and 7 holes. The first four holes following the same pattern as today's course. The 5th was significantly longer than now at 577 yards, bogey 6. It would appear from this evidence that folklore in the Club of the 5th hole as a monster par 6 of over six hundred yards, is probably not true unless the course was altered between 1897 and 1913.
The original 6th and 7th holes no longer exist, probably sacrificed for the building of the Kingston Bypass in 1924. The 8th & 9th holes appeared to occupy the land close to the current 6th & 7th holes although perhaps closer to the land on which the houses of Claygate Lane were built, with the 10th hole played across what is now the 6th fairway to a green near and to the right of the existing 8th medal tee.
The 11th hole seems to have followed the line of the current 8th hole but played from the forward tee. This hole shared a double green with the 18th (as does the 8th today). The twelfth was played from a tee near the 18th green and followed the line of the current 9th hole. It was, however, considerably longer with the green situated on the other side of the hill, in what is presumably today's 12th green. The remainder of the course was very much the same as it is today, occupying the same land, although both the 14th & 16th have been lengthened.
Thus from the available evidence it is highly likely that holes 1 to 4 currently played are part of the original 9 hole course of 1895, virtually unchanged, and that the existing holes 13 to 18 remain from the enlarged course of 1897. The only significant change to the course since 1913 was the result of the building of the Kingston Bypass in 1924. This led to the loss of two holes, the 6th & 7th , and the shortening of the 5th by nearly 200 yards. Three new holes were created, the current 9th, 10th & 11th, with the 12th, reshaped but probably using the same green.
No accurate record exists of the precise length of tenure of various professionals and the following, certainly for the early years, is an approximation.
1895 - 1896 W. Buckle (who was also the Club's greenkeeper)
1897 - 1900 George Founds
1900 - ? James Hepburn
? - 1914 G. Doughty
1914 - 1962 Jim Coleman
1962 - 1971 Peter Gill
1971 - 1973 Brian Purdie
1973 - 1978 J.A. Sandy Meadon
1978 - To date Paul Milton
Perhaps the most famous Professional golfer associated with the Club was David Dai Rees who was assistant to Jim Coleman over the period 1934 – 1938 and a Ryder Cup-winning Captain in 1957.
The original lease of the Club was granted by Lord Lovelace to Mr. Lisner who then sub-let it to the Club. This situation, however, appears to have been a cause of discontent as the handbook of 1913 quotes the tenancy at this time was a yearly one and was the source of much dissatisfaction, and in consequence in 1906 the Club was wound up and the present one formed.
A new lease was granted by the Right Honourable Mary Caroline, Dowager Countess of Lovelace, on 30th November 1906 for 21 years at an annual rent of £300. Further leases were granted in 1919, 1924 and 1932 and an additional agreement made in 1937 to allow for the building of the, then, Ordnance Survey printing works by the 5th hole, shortening it to its current yardage. The annual rent was reduced from £300 to £297 as compensation.
The first major threat to the Club came in October 1952 when the then owners of the land, Henry Gillitt (and others) who had purchased it from the Countess of Lovelace in 1937, put the golf course and the Waffrons up for auction. The highest bid was £19,500 which was below the reserve price and the lot was withdrawn. For the next five years the club lived under the threat of possible extinction. This threat became a distinct possibility when for the second time the Club and surrounding land was to be auctioned on 19th February 1957. Not even this was simple, as the course had been divided into four separate lots and only if all four lots were purchased would the Club survive. However, on the day of the auction the Club's representatives led by Captain Freddie Pyrke were informed that the lots of interest had been sold by private treaty to Mr. Laurence Knight.
The Club's representatives contacted Mr. Knight who offered a lease until March 1958 and in subsequent conversations agreed to sell the freehold for £26,000 (subsequently reduced to £25,000). The offer had to be accepted by 18th March 1957 or Knight would be free to dispose of the land as he saw fit.
At a Special General Meeting held on 16th March the Captain informed those present of Knight's offer and that the members' loan scheme had raised barely half of the required sum and other forms of finance were not available. This is the point at which the Club could have died and at which we should all be thankful to Mrs Gwendoline Betts, daughter of a past Captain, and herself Captain of the Ladies Section (1934 and 1935) who proposed and had accepted, a resolution that in spite of the absence of the necessary funds that the Club should endeavour to purchase the freehold and then raise the money.
Three weeks later, the funds were in place comprising £14,610 of members' loans, £1,220 of debentures and a mortgage of £4,000 to £5,000 from Eagle Star Insurance. This, of course, was still below the total amount needed and the balance was made up by the purchase of The Waffrons by Councillor William Dewe for £5,800 without whom the total purchase would not have been possible. Contracts were exchanged on 11th April 1957 and the Club's tenure secured. To mark this milestone, the Celebration Cup competition was inaugurated in 1958.
So there it is - the history of a Club; founded in a pub in Surbiton, playing on a course designed by one of the foremost golf architects, served by only eight professionals during its first hundred years and saved from extinction by the tenacity and hard work of those who went before us