In the Beginning

Part of the history of the game of golf was reflected in no less dramatic fashion on its arrival in Buxton.PrizeTable_000

A Devon golfer from the Westward Ho Club moved to Buxton and one day brought his sticks to the Common ground at Fairfield. This man possesed with a love of the open air and a joy in seeing the gutta percha rubber ball fly away from his stroke, would have been amazed if he could have forseen the Club he was to found develop into an excellent 18 hole course

In the next 100+ years this Club collected a fascinating heritage even to affecting the history of the game itself. Some of its players were acknowledged as among the best amateurs in the land.

June 8th 1887- a date to remember. In the very month that the nation was celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a group of like-minded golf fanatics met to form a new club and the foundation of the Buxton & High Peak Golf Club, as we see today, was laid. It was destined to become the longest existing golf club in the County of Derbyshire.

From the early interest shown, a committee was formed and the very first extract from their minute book read, “The first meeting of this proposed club was held at 41 Spring Gardens when the following seven men being present, resolved themselves into a club for the purposes of playing golf on a course of nine holes as laid out by architect Mr. John Morris of Hoylake. In attendance were Mr. F. S. Higson, Mr. F. Drewery, Mr. J. Strang, Mr. E.C. Milligan,
Rev. M. Ayers, Mr. A. Mathews and Mr. W. R. Bryden, instigator”

The entry fee was set at 10/6d with the same annual subscription and the headquarters made at the Spring Gardens address and then later at the Devonshire Arms, Fairfield.

Having assembled a group of people willing to play on the new course they needed a place to meet and store equipment. At first the newly established club rented rooms at the Devonshire Arms Public House adjacent to the Common and, as membership grew moved to a house nearby in the group of houses beside Fairfield School on North Road. The organisation of the club was assisted by Mr. Bryden as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer with Mr. F. S. Higson elected the first Captain.

Heape, in his book “Buxton under the Dukes of Devonshire”, records the opening of the course; “In that year (1887) golf made its appearance in Buxton without ostentation. There was no ceremonial driving-off of the first ball.” The first the townsfolk knew about it was contained in a letter in the local paper. It noted that a nine-hole course had been laid out by a John Morris, of Hoylake, The author of the letter, Mr Bryden, won the first competition with a gross 148 score.

A week later at the St. Anne’s Hotel in Buxton, eleven more local members were accepted and six Manchester ‘Gentlemen’ were voted in. A membership code and the rules for the game were formulated and set down.

The Duke of Devonshire was invited to become Patron and eventually became the Club’s long standing President. Mr. W. H. Houldsworth, M.P. however, was made the Club’s inaugural President.

The Buxton Advertiser reported the new phenomenon in the following way, “Several parties were partaking of golfing on the Buxton Links. The Links were proving themselves a boon to those enthusiastic golfers that are visiting the town for a change of air, or for the benefit of the waters. Among others a foursome consisting of a Major Whiley and Mr. Newsome of Bath, played against Capt. Fowler of the St. Andrews Club, and the Hon. Sec. of the new club Mr. Bryden”. Although little is known or recorded of the playing standard in these early days the games were hard fought affairs for the report goes on,
“The game was an interesting one with the former pair going five holes up but Mr. Bryden and his partner succeeded in bringing it down to two up with two to play”.

At the annual meeting of 1888 it was agreed that the President, Captain and officers be re-elected to handle the increased work of the growing club, and Mr. T. W. Varley was asked to be Secretary, at the annual fee of two guineas.

Subscriptions were set at £1/1/0d for members living in Buxton. Rising interest in the game prompted the appointment of the Club’s first professional Mr. A. Walker of Edinburgh who was signed up at 15/0d per week, but it appears he was soon replaced by English Open Champion, Mr. John Simpson, who in turn it transpires, caused problems for the hard worked officials. The new professional’s coaching charges were; 2/6d for 18 holes and 1/6d for nine holes.

The Club’s financial position showed £18/13/1d in hand. That year the Duke of Devonshire gave a challenge cup worth £25. The competition was open to all comers and every fifth year the winners played off for the trophy.

Surprisingly, early in the Club’s history ladies were admitted as Club Members, however they were restricted to playing on only three days; Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays at a cost of 5/0d per year.

Simpson the troublesome professional was given orders to increase the course to 11 holes using more natural hazards including the stone walls, despite having to face the bitter December weather!

PIC CAPTION: The Bryden Cup presented to the club in 1901

In the year 1889 Mr. F. S. Higson was again elected Club Captain, and was involved in the continuing problem of the Club Professional. Simpson had been sacked and re-engaged on a month’s trial after a letter of apology had been received from him. Regretting his misconduct he promised “increased steadiness and industry and to abstain from drink under the penalty of instant dismissal”. He was then made to sign ‘The Pledge’, formally before a Minister of Religion, the Rev. Ayers, vicar of Fairfield Parish. Even so, later that year he was dismissed and a new man, Mr. Woodman replaced him.

The upright members of the committee found themselves with an incident in the summer play similar to those of sports administrators of today, when they had to reprimand and demand an apology from a Dr. Palmer for “using language of a nature calculated not only to destroy the good feeling which should exist between the members, but to bring the Club into disrepute”.

In 1891 the Club required better premises and moved to the Liberal Club, as it is now known, on The Front. The move caused considerable debate and worry for the committee, but the Club continued to grow.

The course was opened to the ‘ordinary’ residents of Fairfield. A Working Men’s Club (WMC) was established with a subscription of 5/0d and a membership limited to 20 inhabitants of the Local Board District of Fairfield. The committee met to set the general conditions under which the WMC would operate and a benevolent move to the people of the village was sealed. The initiator of the introduction of the new players, Mr. Sowden, was given honorary membership of the WMC.

Eleven years later the WMC became the Artisans Section and merged with the Club, under their own managing committee comprised of three Artisans and two parent Club committee members. Annual subscriptions were paid to the Club at 2/6d and they continued to use their existing premises at the Institute at a cost of £1 a year by courtesy of the Vicar of Fairfield.

Course Extended

The Club had grown to the extent that it was decided to extend the course to 18 holes which required the use of further land and the rent of more gates. During the latter part of 1893 and early 1894 the plans were drawn up and work commenced on the foundations of what is the present course.

The committee appointed a new greenkeeper appropriately Mr. Benjamin Green, to supervise the work and the limit of the cost was put at £110 for the alterations and all the additions, greens, tees and markers! The results of their labours were recorded in the following extracts from the ‘Golfing Annual’ dated 1894-5. “The new course included the first 400 yds plus holes, and the previous nine hole course was incorporated with its 120 acres of land on Fairfield Common. “The course”, was said to be, “on good ground with excellent turf well drained by the limestone base, well adapted for golf with formidable natural difficulties”, which meant the greens responded well to mowing and rolling, comparing well with the best seaside links.

Boys will be Boys … but sometimes Girls.

The succeeding years proved a time of growth for the Club and consolidation to the newly laid holes. So busy and profitable did things become that caddies were arriving to earn their pennies from the visitors and causing some disquiet by their behaviour until a committee meeting was called to review their organisation.

For many years it was quite usual for young girls to be used as caddies even up to the turn of the century. Prior to that they had collected around the Clubhouse and awaited their chance. The charge for caddies was set at 8d per 18 hole round. An extra 2d was charged for club cleaning. To earn a few extra pence the youngsters of the village would wait at the likely spots to return lost balls from the undergrowth.

Some form of regulation had to be found and in 1895 the committee were told that the caddies were running wild and in a more disorganised state than any time since the club was formed! A caddy master was appointed for the busiest day, Saturday and all caddies were to register with the club for a 1/0d deposit for which they received an approved badge. Rules were laid down for their proper management and control. By 1900 the job of caddying was given solely to boys and the caddy master would ring a bell for children of the local school to come to the Clubhouse when required. In later years Mr. Geoff Kitchen was appointed Caddy Master at £1 per week to supervise the formation of two classes of caddies and to instruct them properly

A member of the Club learnt his game in this way and can remember in the 1920’s when Caddy Master Mr. Cufley rang the Clubhouse bell and selected pupils from the Fairfield Endowed School were allowed to leave the classroom to caddy for players, at a cost of 1/3d. The youngsters were given a shelter but the committee of the day turned down the £4/2/0d cost of heating the building despite the young caddies often getting wet on the course.

Paid Secretary

The greens committee were kept busy improving the course and acquiring equipment for its upkeep. The general committee maintained a healthy financial position. In 1898 the volunteer officials decided that a paid general secretary and treasurer was required and advertised the position at £50 per year. One was appointed but mysteriously he was abandoned and further interviews held, at a new salary of £75.

By the turn of the century the Club had received several favourable reports by visiting top golfers and its open competitions attracted large entries.

The Duke’s Cup was still run as an annual competition. After a five year period the winners played off to keep the trophy and the Duke of Devonshire provided a new cup made of 88oz of silver worth £25 inscribed, “Buxton and High Peak Golf Club, His Grace the Duke of Devonshire K.G”