FOR THE LOVE OF GOLF
A Brief History of Haltwhistle Golf Course
What will you do to play golf at your club?
Throw your clubs in the car and drive to the club ? – A simple solution!
Pacify the complaining wife, or husband, to excuse your absence ? – more difficult and can lead to unwanted obligations.
OR, would you devote your spare time and labour to build your own golf course ?
This feat is what a group of Haltwhistle men achieved and celebrate in this (2008) their club’s 41st year.
A group of working men, with varying skills, tired of travelling to play golf, came together to realise their ideal to form a golf club of their own. Within the hospitable environment of Haltwhistle’s Railway Hotel, each man contributed £5 to initiate enquiries and cover expenses to found the club and after unsuccessful approaches to owners of land around Haltwhistle, a site at Bank Top, between Gilsland and Greenhead, was negotiated in principle.
With the prospect of their ideals being realised, a formal group had to be established to represent the club. A meeting to form an official Haltwhisle Golf Club committee to authorise a lease on the land was called on the 14th April 1967 by Mr.H.S.Ruddick. The land was formally leased from the owner, Mr Lackey, who travelled from Aylesbury to consult with Mr. Ruddick who was clerk to Haltwhistle District Council. A lease of 21 years was initially negotiated, later to be extended to 28 years.
The lease having been secured, grants were given from the County Council, Department of Education and the Playingfields Association, with backing from the Haltwhistle Rural Council and Tyndale Council. It was thought that the formation of Haltwhistle Golf Club would greatly benefit the area's amenities and attract visitors, an aspect the local councils and tourist boards probably considered when they gave their grants. In the sixties there was an awareness of the lack of amenities around Haltwhistle and reviving the social and economic interests within the area, following years of depression from mine and quarry closures, became an issue to be addressed to avoid population drift to more prosperous areas.
The Club Tees Off
Joe Metcalf, a local green keeper and professional golfer offered his advice on the layout of a nine hole course. The intrepid men of Haltwhistle faced the problem of converting coarse highland grasses and boggy land into fairways and greens. Backbreaking work digging ditches to lay drains, landscaping the fairways and building bridges consumed the spare time and the incredible efforts of the club members eventually bore fruit.
The innovative method of Joe Metcalf, using local turf and grass to form and shape the greens, contributed to the high standard that the club enjoys in a climate which is not conducive to green maintenance. Particular attention was also paid to the layout of the course to avoid disturbing Roman earthworks associated with Hadrian's Wall. Indications of the Vallum, a complex of ridges and a ditch to the south of The Wall can be seen while playing the fairways, adding a further interest to playing on the course.
The exceptional efforts of the club’s members to establish their club was met with the generous financial aid from various grants and personal contributions from the North Eastern golfing giants of the 60s, Gordon Clark, David Moffat and Ian Davidson. They held a Target Golf competition on the Haltwhistle AFC field. On the 8th November a film show was held at the Railway Hotel of the Piccadilly match play tournament won by Arnold Palmer, in aid of the construction of the clubhouse.
Work began on the foundations for the clubhouse during the summer of 1967. A second-hand tractor was bought from a local agricultural firm which became the main tool in reforming the landscape for the club. With the determined efforts of club members like Maurice Smith, Alfie Trotman and other members too numerous to mention, a nine hole course was eventually laid out. This ‘labour of love’ was performed by the original club members in their spare time.
Most ventures have their misfortunes. In the winter of 1967/8 a violent storm demolished sections of the building which had been bought from RAF Spadeadam. The cost of replacing the sections presented a financial difficulty to the club but completion the building became paramount to their endeavours. Mr Barnes, secretary of the club, said that extra revenue would be gained from the sale of drinks sold in the bar and noted that some members may be reluctant to pay another year’s subscriptions of £5!
The resources and determination of the club members were again put to the test but they rose to the challenge with coffee mornings and ‘spot the ball’ competitions. Funds were found and the clubhouse was completed by the local firm Benson & Dixson Ltd. With the completion of the club house and a nine hole course expertly laid out, the Haltwhistle magistrate granted permission for a 10th hole to be placed strategically in the club house. In the Spring of 1969 the club could offer alcoholic refreshment to its guests and visitors and in September the club held its first open amateur golf tournament when golfers from all around the area competed for the Vaux Breweries Trophy. The Vaux Open, played on the newly laid out course, attracted Peter Deeble, the English amateur champion; in the years 1976 & 1980; to compete in the event. (The previous year, 1975 the English Amateur Championship was won by a Mr N. Faldo)
In 1982 a further three holes were laid out by Joe Metcalf who had become the club’s permanent green keeper. The opportunity then arose in 1995 to purchase the club's 71 acres of land from the estate of Mr Lackey, for £75,000. Haltwhistle Golf Club was now established with 150 members. However, their enthusiasm and commitment exceeded their financial assets and aid had again to be sought to purchase the land and further develop the club’s grounds. Fund-raising again became an issue for the club’s committee but the prospect of developing the course to 18 holes was not an opportunity to be missed. Appeals were successfully made to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club who responded with a very generous loan. Grants were given from the Sports Council and Tynedale District Council. With this combined financial help the land was purchased in 1996.
It took two years at a cost of £38,000 and the voluntary work of club members who worked summer evenings and weekends; guided by Joe Metcalf; to totally change the layout of the course to its present 18 hole, 5532 yard, par 69 course, measured and certified by the Northumberland Golf Union. The 18 hole course was officially opened on the 22nd March 1998.
Haltwhistle Golf Club has been created on land with wide panoramic views over the Tyne Valley, a rugged, undulating landscape with farms and cottages offering accommodation to the perambulate golfer. Visitors, groups and club societies are very welcome to play the course. It would be advisable for groups and societies to contact the club secretary, Mr Ken Dickenson (01434 320708) should food or the bar facilities be required.
The club is run very economically by its members and the course presents an interesting challenge to golfers. A challenging course, built by Haltwhistle men who met a different challenge; to establish a course of their own. A challenge won by their determination, perseverance and with the generosity of their spare time and labour. The Club are proud and grateful to all the members who have voluntarily contributed their time to the development and management of the club. The Club offers an invitation to visiting golfers to enjoy this exceptional achievement by the men of Haltwhistle.
Jim Barlow (copyright 2008)