The fact that Epsom Golf Club was officially formed following a Burn’s Night celebration nods to some cultural influences in its formation. In fact, the course began as two separate rudimentary golf courses.
It is known that well before the formation of the Club, Dr Laidlaw Purves of the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club and Mr Richardson of Sutton ‘knocked a ball about’ upon the Downs. A Mr T.W. Lang lived close by and made the most of the rough and ready natural greens between the racing grandstand and the rifle butts playing with other ‘Wimbledonians’. The number of other local notaries joining them rapidly grew.
Further north another course was mapped out by the masters of Epsom College, which adjoins the Club, and began its life as the Royal Medical Benevolent College in 1851.
Towards the end of 1888 encouraged by Mr Mackey residents started to take up the game paying a small subscription to pay for the rolling and sweeping of the first proper greens. A preliminary meeting was held at Bromley Hurst in Church Road, the home of Mr G.F. Burgess on 25 January 1889, which happens to be Burn’s Night, and perhaps nods to the influence of the founding Scottish members. It was resolved that a club be formed with an annual subscription of 10 shillings and 6 pence. The Lord of the Manor, Mr J.S. Strange granted permission and Mr Alexander Patrick of Wimbledon was employed to lay out a course roughly combining the Master’s course and the one which had become known as ‘Lang’s’ course.
Arthur Jackson was appointed the first professional, soon to be replaced by Willie Dunn, who went on to great success in America.
To begin with the clubhouse as such was a room next to The Hussar (which exists to this day as a corner shop). Very soon the Club moved to a bungalow owned by founding member John Nightingall.
The fact that by 1893 the first purpose built clubhouse in Surrey was built, funded by the members, indicates that they must have been people of some substance. J Hatchard-Smith, a celebrated London architect, already engaged by Lord Rosebery on his estate, was the designer. He was paid just one guinea for the privilege. That the founders were men of some means is further borne out by the fact that a founding Vice President was the Earl of Rosebery, later to become Prime Minister of Britain, and another Vice President was Sir Allen Sarle, Secretary of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.
The Clubhouse, albeit with a number of improvements and extensions, remains as an architectural icon to this day. Typical of the recreational trends of ‘gentlemen’ in the Edwardian period, an extension was built to house the snooker table. To enter the snooker auditorium, for that is what it is, is to take a step back in time. The Victorian Snooker table, the wooden panels that adorn the room, the ancient scoreboard, the pictures of the Club Captains representing more than a century all conspire to create an ambience which exudes history. Only the billows of cigar and cigarette smoke, that would surely have immersed the room in the early days, are missing now.
Many stories exist about the Club. For instance there was the time that the Artisans were reprimanded by the Club for using parts of their own shack as fire wood just to keep warm. As you would expect of a club so steeped in history it has had some wonderful visitors. Six Open Champions, Vardon, Braid, Taylor, Herd, White and Havers have pitted their wits against this deceptively difficult golf course.
The story goes that when Harry Vardon put on an exhibition match the club collection was short for his fee and the hat had to be sent round a second time. In the year he won the Open, Sandy Herd took 10 strokes on the 18th – a signature hole and one which has changed little since that time. Sandy’s ball lodged in the hedge which straddled the 18th hole – which is perhaps why today a gap exists for the ball to travel through.
For lovers of golf and its history Epsom is a club to visit and to enjoy for the traditional downland challenge it offers and to soak up the atmosphere of bygone days in the clubhouse. We look forward to welcoming you.
The Clubs' Members outside the Clubhouse in January 2014, prior to playing in the annual Hickory match, which formed part of our 125th Anniversary celebrations.