Sutton Coldfield Golf Club
In common with many clubs founded in England in the late Victorian period, Sutton Coldfield Golf Club boasted a clergyman, the Reverend WCR Bedford as one of its founders. A drawing of him hangs prominently in the entrnace lobby of the Club to this day.
The Club was founded in 1889 and at first played as a nine hole course laid out at the Town Gate of Sutton Park. The Park, comprising 2,400 acres, was originally part of the Great Chase of Cannock, but by the sixteenth century the encroachment of farmland had separated it from the Chase. This separation allowed it to be gifted to the citizens of the Town by Henry VIII through the agency of a local notable, Bishop Vesey – one of Henry’s Lord Chancellors.
The proximity of the Town Gate site to a centre of population meant that it was never likely to suffice for long. It must be noted however, that a game was played on as near the original course as possible as part of the Centenary celebrations in 1989.
In 1890, the Club moved to its current site near the Streetly Gate of the Park. 18 holes were laid out by 1893 and a Clubhouse was built a few years later on a freehold site outside the boundaries of the Park opposite the first tee.
In 1892, a disagreement between the ladies and the gentlemen of the Club resulted in the ladies forming a separate club - Sutton Coldfield Ladies Golf Club. They purchased a building to serve as their clubhouse and this was erected on the same site as the main clubhouse. The unusual corrugated iron structure now houses the Professional Shop and the greenkeepers office and restroom.
The First World War was, as for most other golf clubs, a crucial time for Sutton Coldfield Golf Club. The carnage of that war, carrying away so many young men, meant that the critical point of survival was approached very closely in, and after, those years.
Between 1913 and 1918, the number of club members fell from 255 to about 125 and it was in that context that the Committee of the day demonstrated a degree of courage, surely envied by its successors. They approached Dr Alister MacKenzie of Leeds to revise the course to enhance its popularity. Dr MacKenzie has subsequently become one of the most celebrated golf architects in the world, but at the end of the war, he was only just beginning to emerge in the profession.
MacKenzie first visited the Club in 1919 and, showing no few qualities as a salesman at least, observed "The land on which the present course is situated is almost the best heathland I know for golf. If the suggested alterations are done, there is no reason why it should not compare favourably with the best inland course in Britain, and be vastly superior to many seaside ones".
MacKenzie’s plans were adopted after several modifications, but the project did not proceed quickly due to a serious grass fire in 1921. The fire burnt deeply into the peat in places and this contributed to a crippling financial debt only being avoided through the generous efforts of the members. Incidentally, the total refurbishment of a bunker in 2015 uncovered a layer of ash that had lain undisturbed since that fire 94 years before.
MacKenzie’s revised course opened finally in September 1934 and while many tees have been extended and supplemented by others and some bunkers have been changed, much of his work has survived.
The Club has hosted many prestigious events during its existence. However, the Centenary in 1989 gave the Club the opportunity to celebrate its existence, and celebrate it did, in style!
Among the many events held was a Pro-Am that attracted Vijay Singh, Sam Torrance, Laura Davies, Manuel Pinero, Jose Rivero and Jose-Maria Canizares amongst others.
The roman road, Icknield Street crosses the course on its way to join Watling Street at what is now called the village of Wall. The past and the present envelop this course both on a bright spring morning and on a drowsy summer’s evening.
Away from all the hustle and bustle, the course is a fair, but frequently stern test, presented in idyllic surroundings which continues to attract golfers to become members of the Club.