Chapter 5 - The Modern Era

The popularity and expansion of golf was a very slow affair until the advent of television coverage in the late 1950s.

The leading golfers of the day began to acquire personality status. The likes of Dal Rees, Max Faulkner, Brian Huggett, Peter Alliss and Neil Coles became the leading figures on the British circuit and more and more was being heard of overseas stars like Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and a young American named Jack Nicklaus -but more of his links to Coxmoor later.

Dunlop tournament

A poster for the Dunlop tournament of 1961,
with a 6,000 prize fund

Nottinghamshires reputation as a home of fine golf courses was not lost on the tournament organisers at the R&A and in 1961, the county was chosen to host the prestigious Dunlop tournament, which carried the not inconsiderable prize fund of £6,000.

The qualifying rounds brought such names as five times Open champion Peter Thompson and legendary South African Bobby Locke to Coxmoor before the final two rounds were played over the Hollinwell course.

As public awareness of the delights of the game was raised, so demand for membership at Coxmoor and other golf clubs grew apace.

The somewhat primitive club house which had served Coxmoor members so well for more than 40 years, with its open fireplace and antiquated toilets, had to be replaced.

But, like every major change, it was viewed with a degree of regret.

Thoughts of the old clubhouse take Year 2000 captain Alan Crafts back to his beginnings in the game and he recalls the building with fondness.

"This gem of golf country is, suppose, almost a part of me since my father took me up to play when we were both beginners.

"I was about 12 at the time and we walked out from that old clubhouse to the 13th hole (now the ninth), so no one would see our efforts.

"In spite of my total inexperience I had a good eye and managed to hit one or two decent shots.

"I remember finding an old Crowflight ball with square shaped dimples.

"The golf bug had bitten and I played as often as possible, until 11pm during the latter part of World War Two when we had double summer time.

I often played with Ken Shaws brother Geoff and a young greenkeeper named Eric Barlow, and of course, with Alec Shepperson. Sometimes we played 45 roles in the day. In those days everyone carried their own bags and rounds took about two and half hours. Around the time Bill became professional trolleys were introduced and the incredible effect was to put rounds up to three hours-plus!

Teacher and pupil together

Teacher and pupil together: Bill White shows Alan Crafts the way in 1961
- note the early trolleys and bags!

Mr Len White gave us our first golf lessons and when he died, Bill White took over as professional.

What a revelation it was to see him hit the ball very long and straight, with a characteristic low take-off boring through the air and on a rising flight. What an inspiration!

I remember the old clubhouse gents room had a wonderful smell of old leather and canvas - no synthetic material in those days. There was a double row of lockers all round, of course, with a central seat-cum-clothes stand like todays mens locker room. Old hickory clubs and leather and canvas bags would be propped under the bay window. Odd pairs of shoes and knitted sweaters and jackets hung on pegs.

The general room had a bar in the corner and a double row of lockers round the walls.

This was fine until you wanted to put your clubs away. If members were eating, you suddenly became a little unpopular.

The gents bar, which was at the back of the general room, was a sparse, simply furnished room with linoleum on the floor.

To go in there was forbidden to juniors, but when the door opened, one could see a lot of happy faces through a blue haze of smoke.

There was always much laughter.

I also remember old Len and Sally White, Bill s mum and dad, when they were steward and stewardess.

Geoff and I would buy a plain tea, bread, margarine and jam and a pot of tea for one shilling and threepence (about eight pence in today's currency).

"Being growing lads, we sometimes asked for more and Mrs White never refused, bless her.

"The secretary at that time was Gilbert Harris, who was landlord of the Denman's Head Hotel on Sutton Market Place.

"He was a very large, portly man who always wore a dark brown pinstripe suit with a watch chain across a very tight waistcoat.

"He was a rather fierce looking man, but very conscientious. I have seen him chase across the course, sweating profusely, to apprehend some unfortunate member for committing some misdemeanour or other. But underneath it all, he was a very kind man."

However, no-one was in any doubt, despite the familiarity of their surroundings, that the time for change was long overdue.

Not only did the somewhat modest clubhouse not present the right image to the increasing number of visitors coming to play one of the finest courses in the county, there were more immediate and pressing problems to address.

On the old clubhouse patio

Swinging on the old clubhouse patio.Note
the old reservoir building which is still standing

Stories of Bill White's bed rocking in the wind because the building was so rickety and the discovery that the clubhouse was not actually rooted to the ground as the foundations had rotted away, convinced everyone that something had to be done.

In fact, the subject of a new clubhouse had been the subject of discussion, and financial consideration since 1945.

Captain Arthur Vardy had made it his mission for his year of office to start a building fund and by the end of his term, he had handed over £300 with the request that fund-raising continue in subsequent years.

By the time the next annual general meeting had rolled round, the clubhouse kitty had swelled to more than £1,000 and o it went over the following years until, in 1955, when club captain Edgar Coates that at £5,300, the fund was accumulating too slowly.

Edge of the old putting green

Swinging on the edge of the old putting green
showing Bill White's professional shop.
Note the large ash tree which still stands there today

He decided to launch a football sweep to speed things along. That got the committee galvanised into coming up with more money-spinning ideas and the following year. 20 members were offered life membership for the payment of £100. A weekly lottery, called the Coxmoor Golf Club supporters Fund, was also launched by Sob Ellis.

The coffers were now beginning to build, but it was the generosity of golf fanatic Sir Stewart Goodwin, a Sheffield steel magnate who had made his home in Nottinghamshire - in Farnsfield to be pre-,:Ise - and had become well known as a generous benefactor to worthy causes in the area, which provided the final impetus.

He became interested in the affairs of Coxmoor and gave the club several thousand pounds.

Thanks to that timely sponsorship, building was able to start on August 27, 1960, and fittingly, Sir Stewart was invited to Coxmoor to cut the first sod.

However, what should have been a fairly simple affair was not quite so straightforward as it might sound - because Bill White felt it his duty to point out a slight miscalculation to the committee ... they had chosen the wrong site for the clubhouse!

It had been decided to put up the new building at the back of the 12th green - but to Bill's mind this was the wrong place entirely ... and, with some trepidation, he approached the committee to put them straight.

'I thought I would get the sack for going against the committee's opinion, but I said it should be built where it now stands.

`The original site had no electricity, no water, no car park.'

Fortunately, they heeded Bill's words of advice and by 1961, Coxmoor had a new, modern facility costing upwards of £20,000. It was built by Vic Hallam and, with certain alterations and improvements, remains to this day.

There was quite a turn-out of dignitaries at the opening ceremony including Len Stimpson, chairman of what was then Sutton Urban District Council and the long-serving clerk Walter Laughton.

The weather was so bad they had to hold the outdoor event under a marquee - but that did not stop a special inaugural golf match to mark the occasion.

Legendary Welsh golfer Dai Rees was the guest professional and he was given the honour of hitting the first shot. He was followed onto the tee by Alec Shepperson.

Dai was partnered by home professional Bill White, Alec by his Walker Cup colleague Alan Bussell.

Bill remembers, fondly, that the event was organised by the 1958 captain and former Nottingham Forest chairman Geoffrey Macpherson who, throughout his life, was an enthusiastic supporter of Coxmoor.

In 1959 he arranged for the FA Cup to be brought to the club in the weeks after Forest's 2-1 Wembley win over Luton Town. The trophy was accompanied by one of the heroes of the day, goalscorer Roy Dwight, his leg still in plaster after he broke it in the final.

"Geoffrey was one of the most outstanding captains the club ever had," says Bill White.

There has been much talk in recent years of funding a new clubhouse for the 21st Century but, at the time of writing, the only major change to the facilities at Coxmoor has been the addition of a purpose-built professional's shop for David Ridley and his staff which has created an attractive and functional facility worthy of the club's standing.

Out on the course, improvements continue all the time under the dedicated watch of head greenkeeper Kevin Atherton and his staff.

Today, Coxmoor regularly appears in golf magazine lists among the top 100 inland courses in the UK.

Over recent years, it has been honoured by a number of prestigious competitions including the venue for regional qualifying the Open Golf Championship, and also the British seniors competition which attracted amateurs from around the world.

It is all a far cry from that October night in 1913 when Rev Shelmerdine and friends sat down in the town to discuss the possibility of opening a nine hole golf course somewhere in Sutton.

Start of contruction 

Sir Stewart Goodwin cuts the first sod to mark the start of construction on the new clubhouse in 1960. Among others pictured are Ivan Bennett, Kate Walton, Hilda Lowe, Dorothy Alberry, Geoffrey Macpherson, Mrs Olive Hancock, George Warner, clubhouse architect; Ken Shaw, Lady Goodwin, with the flowers, Alan Packer, Alec Shepperson, Councillor Len Stimpson, chairman of Sutton Urban District Council, Bill Arbon, Walter Laughton, clerk to the council, and George Barke.

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