Bognor Regis Golf Club has a long and fascinating history which will only add to the sense of occasion when you play their beautiful course. When the club celebrated its Centenary year in 1992, longstanding member Mr Gordon Beale produced a fascinating book documenting the development of golf in Bognor Regis, and it is from this edition an abbreviated version is drawn below.
The club was first formed in the winter of 1892, in the centre of Bognor Regis approximately 1.5 miles from its current location. Around this time the popularity of Golf was rapidly increasing with new courses being laid out all over the south coast at places like Royal Eastbourne & Seaford (1887), and just along the coast at Littlehampton (1889). In the 1890s the construction of the course itself was a reasonably simple task. Given an area of grassland, a start was made at point ‘A’ near the clubhouse. Point ‘B’, probably some 200yds distant was selected , where a hole was dug in the turf and a flagstick placed in it. From there eight more holes were laid out, with the ninth hole again near the clubhouse. The simplified rules of the early years of golf provided that the first shot to the next hole should be played not less than two nor more than four club lengths from the hole just completed! On 23rd March 1892, the first competition ‘Medal’ was presented to Mr D Edgell with a gross score totalling 98 for two rounds. The ‘Medal’ won by Mr Edgell would have been similar to that pictured here which was won by Gladys Walton also in 1892, which was presented to the club by her Grandson David Walton, a current member today.
In 1906 the club relocated closer to its current location on land between Bognor & Felpham. Mr Ernest Gray, professional at Littlehampton Golf Club was called in to offer his opinion on the new course setup. Mr Gray was no mean golfer either, finishing 5th at the Open Championship that year, won by James Braid, a connection which was to be made again some 20 years later……..The opening ceremony took place on 13th June 1906. A feature of the ‘Hook Lane’ course was the River Rife, which claimed many a ball and created a side industry for the caddies, who retrieved them and carefully washed, dried and re-painted the balls for re-sale in the clubhouse.
By the 1920s the fact that Bognor remained a 9 hole course was becoming an issue in attracting and retaining members and visitors. The club committee worked hard to find suitable grounds to relocate to, with potential sites numbering twelve they studied including one at Middleton-on-Sea. The Downview Road site was ultimately chosen, the course being laid out by James Braid and constructed by expert F.G. Hawtree. The new course opened for play on 1st July 1922, but the club decided not to market their new asset until the year after to allow it to mature and bed-in. On 30th June 1923 the ceremonial opening opening took place, with over 300 people present to watch the first ball driven by Sir William Bird, MP for Chichester. The main event that day was an exhibition match between James Braid of Walton Heath and Alec Herd of Moor Park. Braid won the match by 6&5 with a Gross 72. Much enjoyment followed in the next few years, until the onset of WWII and a difficult period in the club's History. Just 12 holes were open for play to reduce labor costs and generate some income, much of the membership, greenstaff and employees having enlisted to military service. The ladies locker room was given over to the Local Defence Volunteers (Home Guard) to guard against enemy parachutists. A Bofors anti-aircraft gun occupied the area between the 1st & 18th fairways (now the practice area), and piles were erected on the fairways to prevent the landing of German aircraft and troop carrying gliders. The local rules of the club made a number of accommodations during this time, notably:
“In competitions, during gunfire, or while bombs are falling players may take cover without penalty for causing undue delay, though a player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb or shell, or by machine-gun fire, may play another ball from the same position with a one stroke penalty
The end of the war bought happier times, and the fifties saw the birth of the mighty spreading chestnut tree which adorns the Club emblem today. At that time Ian and Tony Pettie, as small boys planted two conkers which they had gathered locally in Slindon. One plant disappeared under the mower, but the other grew to provide the magnificent tree visible from the clubhouse today. The sixties brought Pro-Celebrity tournament action to the club, with notable professionals including Henry Cotton, Neil Coles and Eric Brown, paired with notable amateurs including Sean Connery, David Coleman and Bruce Forsyth. The club held its first major professional tournament in May 1972 when it staged the John Player Trophy, a qualifying competition for Europe’s then richest tournament, the £51,000 John Player Classic. The event attracted a strong international field, among them Peter Oosterhuis, Christie O’Connor, Brian Barnes, Max Faulkener and Spain’s Manuel Ballesteros. Ross Whitehead, Professional at Moor Park collected the £1500 1st prize.
As new technology was applied to traditional golf equipment a number of course changes were made in the 70s and 80s to maintain the challenge. Several thousand trees have been planted over the last 50 years to add to the scenic beauty of the course, and comprehensive land drainage was added in the 80s & 90s. The course has also changed the running order of the holes over the years from the initial layout by Braid in the 1920’s. His order using the holes as we play it today was 17, 16, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18. One other playing order was experimented with (1, 2, 3, 4, 17, 16, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18), but largely the current order has prevailed since 1957.
It is a testament to the original James Braid design and F.G. Hawtree construction that the course when described by the famous Golf journalist Bernard Darwin on a visit in 1938, has many similarities to how we still play the course today. Who would have thought the members in the 1930s with their hickory shafts and wooden heads debated playing over the willow trees on the 6th or playing safe down the right? Will you be as brave as Darwin suggests on the 8th tee or take a cowardly line to the right as he describes it? Each of the descriptions for the holes is available in the Course section of our website together with a map and photo.
We hope you have enjoyed this insight into the History of our Golf Club. Playing a round, visiting for the day or joining as a new member will give you the opportunity to share this history first hand, and maybe get your name up on the Honours board, next to those tournament winners of the past.
Arthur Patey receiving the Bognor Challenge Cup from Sir William Bird MP in 1926.
Paul Oliver receiving the same Trophy from Mrs P Irish in 2009.