St George’s Hill in Weybridge celebrates 100 years of trend setting golf
- Credit: Kevin Murray
Celebrating its centenary, St George’s Hill in Weybridge broke the mould of British golf, as the centrepiece of a now famous estate. Surrey Golf Partnership’s John Whitbread visits
IT’S impossible, if you’re a golfer, to stand on the terrace of the imposing St George’s Hill clubhouse and not want to rush to your car and get your clubs out of the boot for a quick round. The picture book panorama of two opening fairways and two closing holes splicing through dense Weybridge woodland is breathtaking.
It is a sylvan vista that has inspired and challenged for the past 100 years and one of which centenary celebrating St George’s Hill are rightfully proud. And those first impressions are just the appetiser for what is to come in the three loops of nine that weave their way fluently through massive stands of pine, oak, beech and silver birch.
It was here, through the vision of two extraordinary men, that St George’s Hill broke the mould of British golf. In 1913, it became the centrepiece of an innovative estate with golf, tennis, fishing and riding.
Byfleet entrepreneur and developer Wt3G Tarrant had seen the blueprint for his plans at an American country club and managed to do a deal for the land with the estate of the wealthy Egerton family. Tarrant had already developed an estate of houses at Hockering, near Woking, but he had absolutely no idea about golf. In fact, he asked the 20 original home owners if they would design a hole each! Thankfully he was persuaded by a friend, Charles Ambrose, to bring in Harry Colt, secretary at Sunningdale, as his course architect.
It turned out to be a key appointment as Colt, who went on to achieve international fame by designing Wentworth East and West, Swinley Forest, Sunningdale New and Pine Valley II in America, had the vision to plot a magical route through what was then an almost impenetrable forest.
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There was no heavy machinery in those days and the thousands of trees had to be felled and removed by hundreds of men, horses and carts, with the help of some dynamite, before the tees, fairways and greens could be sculpted. On October 2, 1913, the course was officially opened with a special tournament for top professionals, including soon to be Ryder Cup stars Abe Mitchell and George Duncan. The club’s first president was Prince Alexander of Teck, brother of Queen Mary (wife of King George V), while the Royal connection was continued when the Prince of Wales became captain in 1934.
Then World War One stopped play at St George’s Hill, when the clubhouse was turned into a convalescent home for more than 3,000 servicemen and women. It did not take too long to get back in full swing, however, and, in 1929, 18 new holes were added. The growing strength of the membership was underlined two years later, when, led by Sir Philip Pilditch, the MP for Spelthorne, they took over the club.
The arrival of World War Two meant the New Course lasted just 10 years in its original form, before it was requisitioned by the War Office for military training and the siting of anti-aircraft barrage balloon. On September 4, 1940, Luftwaffe bombers left a trail of craters across the course in a line that ended tragically at the canteen of the nearby Vickers Spitfire and Wellington factory, killing 83 and injuring many more.
After the war, only nine holes of the New were restored to play, leaving three loops of nine – Red. Blue and Green – that are still played in varying combinations today. The post-war years were testing for St George’s Hill with membership having dropped from 700 to 300. But it began to flourish again in the 50s and 60s and today there are almost 800, including 145 ladies and 44 juniors.
Bernard Darwin, of The Times, once said: “the prettiest courses are also the best and certainly one of the prettiest and the best is St George’s Hill.” Who are we to argue?
The Surrey Golf Partnership comprises 111 clubs, which are also affiliated to the Surrey Golf Union and the Surrey Ladies Golf Union. For more information, visit surreygolfpartnership.com