From its extraordinary origins as a 'gift' from the Gordon family, Stanmore Golf Club has been both a place to play golf seriously and also a retreat to enjoy the company of friends and acquaintances. Pleasure and competition, companionship and rivalry, striving against other and the private contest with the course itself, there are some themes that run through the history of our club.
Frederick Gordon was born in 1835 in Ross-on-Wye, the eldest son of a decorator but quickly realising that decorating would not make him rich, he qualified as a solicitor.
He then moved into the hotel business, and began building the largest chain of hotels in the world, mostly in the UK including five major hotels in London. He became one of the world's greatest hoteliers with a personal wealth estimated at £2 million, an enormous sum at the end of the 19th century.
In 1882, Gordon bought Bently Priory, a fine 18th century house, turning part of it into a luxury country hotel. His property purchases included large areas of Stanmore and he promptly built a railway line to link his estates from Stanmore through Belmont to Harrow & Wealdstone. A station house still stands at the junction of Gordon Avenue and Old Church Lane.
With ease of access to and from London now assured, he laid out a golf course over Stanmore Park, initially the course was for the private use of his hotel guests and friends.
Gordon had an elite circle of friend including lawyers, city brokers and MPs, and it was in 1893, together with his close friend Thomas Blackwell (of the Crosse & Blackwell dynasty) that they turned it into a private club with lawns, tennis courts and erected 'The Pavilion' which forms the basis of the present Club House. At the time, 'Madame' magazine was impressed:
"The pavilion is a commodious one; it is also very conveniently arranged. There is a large club room for luncheons, teas etc, a comfortable smoking and reading room, a ladies sitting room, well-furnished with roomy armchairs and ample dressing accommodation for both sexes".
On Saturday 18th June 1893, a large party had assembled along with several curious journalists. Here noted one of their number, "To the stranger who finds himself for the first time on the Stanmore 'links', it must be difficult to realise that he is within some half-hour's distance of the great Metropolis. All around him is a well-wooded and diversified country, with Harrow Hill standing out prominently in the background. The 'links' consist of about 130 acres of grassland...alternated with 'bunkers' and other 'obstacles of various sorts' and 'slope upwards towards Belmont, and return through a pretty piece of woodland scenery, affording all kinds of snares and difficulties for the experienced would-be golfter. The charm of the grounds is further increased by some woodland walks and coppices, with abundance of wild flowers scattered here and there, which lend additional beauty to the spot".
The founders were clearly proud of their course and not afraid to get the best in the land to try it out. With this in mind they organised an Open Tournament of 36 holes in a day for a total prize money of £50 – a year's wages for a workman. It was timed to take place the week before the Open at Sandwich, the first time the Open had been held on an English course. Almost all the top players came – 36 in all, including the holder of the Open Championship, as well as J.H. Taylor and the young James Braid. 'It was said to be the largest professional tournament that had so far taken place south of the Tweed' wrote Bernard Darwin, the prince of golf writers in his book on Braid.
Braid – a club maker at the Army & Navy Stores started well with a 76 to equal the course record just set by Herd but fell away somewhat with 82 in the second round to take fifth place. But his first round had brought the Scotsman into the public eye for the first time. The fight for first prize ended in a struggle between the Club Pro, Cuthbert, and the great J.H. Taylor (who went on to win the Open at Sandwich the following week by five strokes) who had 'a somewhat short putt' on the last green – and he missed. Stanmore's own man had beaten the assembled greats of golf on their way to the Open. Stanmore had been launched in style.
James Braid returned to the scene when 'The Triumvirate' of Taylor, Braid and Vardon tied for first place on 143 with Vardon setting a new record score of 69.
In the early days there were 27 holes, a full length "men's course" started at the foot of a rise and ran up to Belmont, and a shorter "ladies' course" where the present 9th, 10th and 11th holes are situated as this undated early map shows. The water hazard on the original third hole still lies between the current 15th and 16th holes.
The ladies' section at Stanmore had flourished from the beginning and this is in evidence in the turn of the century photograph in the set below. The ladies made up around a third of the membership and were out in force on those Tuesdays before the First World War.
After the Great War, Alister MacKenzie was employed to reconstruct the course. MacKenzie was one of the first most prominent golf course designers who, in the late 1920's relocated to the United States where he carried out some of his most notable work including Augusta National Golf Club. His approach was "to imitate the beauties of nature (and presumably the hazards) so closely as to make his work indistinguisable from nature itself" formed the basis of turning Stanmore Golf Club into the charming oasis that you see today.
Some old trees survive, mostly oaks and now there is ash, silver birch, lime, and beech, The massive elms have gone but the hawthorn blossoms and bluebells remain. There are birds in profusion – woodpeckers, owls, kestrels, thrush, tits, warblers, finches and many others. In the early days the squirrels were red, now they are grey. On a clear day the views are still fine, the sense of space and escape from cars, buildings and crowds, from all that incessant traffic of people and goods, is as strong today as it must have been on the first day.
Over the years part of the land has been sold and developed leaving the existing 18 holes surrounding Belmont, the hill in the centre of the course, which provides such stunning views to this day.
Membership of Stanmore Golf Club is available now with no joining fee.
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Stanmore Golf Club
29 Gordon Avenue
0208 954 2599