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The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club

REF NR: 1809

A Short History of The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club
Published by the club, circa 1922 - with some small changes for ease of reading. This account is of the early days of the club and formed the main part of a pamphlet which set out its history.

The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club can be said to have originated at a luncheon party held at the Royal Spithead Hotel in the spring of 1882, when to the assembled company that popular sportsman, Captain Jack Eaton R.N. suddenly proposed: “What was the Duver meant for?”


        The Royal Spithead Hotel

The party hazarded various suggestions, but Jack Easton would accept none of them crying out himself “It was made on purpose for golf". So across the harbour the party went and had explained to them the intricacies of a game which was at that time unknown in England, save to a few enthusiasts who played at Blackheath, Wimbledon and Westward Ho!


Jack Eaton’s enthusiasm quickly spread to his hearers, and almost before the tour of the Duver was over, they had promised one and all to become members of the new club, which it was decided to call the Isle of Wight Golf Club.


A man of action, this commander of the eastern division of the Isle of Wight Coastguards very soon obtained a lease of the ground from the Brading Harbour Company, and it was not long after the date of the luncheon party that men were set to work under the supervision of experts “with strong Gaelic dialects“ to root up and cut down the gorse bushes, level the ground and transport freshly cut turf from the downs to the projected greens.


Naturally, the interest of the islanders was evoked in this new and wonderful game, and the preparations being made for the playing of it. Speculation as to the nature of the game ran high, some thinking it would be a sort of new kind of croquet, others that it would reveal itself as a form of dignified hockey with a touch of polo on foot. Both conceptions were about as far from the truth as that of an engineer of a steam yacht at that time in the harbour who “knowed it was worked somehow by steam, ‘cos he heard ‘em a talking’ about the best drive, and where the bunkers were to be.”


The list of members slowly but steadily increased, and no inconsiderable gathering of people was present at the opening ceremony. The honour of driving the first ball fell to a Mrs Hambrough, wife of the club’s first captain, Dudley A. Hambrough, and she acquitted herself well in what must have been something of a trying ordeal. In strict truthfulness it must be recorded that at the first match the interest of many spectators was directed not so much at the players as at one of the caddies , who was a very pretty barmaid from the Royal Spithead Hotel.


A corrected diagram of the Links by K Wade

The fame of the club quickly spread, and soon experienced players and beginners from every corner of the country were seen on the course. Without exception they expressed themselves as delighted with the wonderful game it afforded, not forgetting to add many laudatory remarks regarding the nearby Royal Spithead Hotel, which at the time one of the finest provincial hotels in the Kingdom.


It is not surprising that the sight of so many beginners endeavouring to master the intricacies of the royal and ancient game was alternatively a source of amusement and profound despair to the course's professional Beveridge, who spent the greater part of his nights repairing broken clubs in readiness for morrow’s practice. For they were not lacking in enthusiasm these beginners, and competition in those early days was higher perhaps than it had been in the later days of the club.


Not content with improving their game only, the enthusiastic members set about improving their clubs, and many weird and wonderful weapons appeared in their bags from time to time. But these experimental clubs did not produce the anticipated results, and it was not long before they were all discarded in favour of the regulation pattern.


Balls too, were subjected to various experiments of which not the least interesting was that devise by Colonel Moreton. He conceived the idea of scooping out a cavity in the centre of the ball and partially filling this with mercury. The experimental turned out in a somewhat unexpected fashion, for although the mercury made no noticeable difference to the ball when driving , when the ball was putted it quickly lost its speed and pursued an erratic course somewhat resembling the track of one who had dined not wisely but too well.


It is related that one night out at The Royal Spithead Hotel the suggestion of playing billiards with golf balls was raised, and a match arranged between a local well-known local player and a member using one of the mercury balls. Play was short, however, for the local player after “witnessing the erratic path of his advisories ball, gave up the game, and left the room saying he was not well”


These were but interludes in the development of the club, which each month added to its membership and on September 18th 1883 a letter was received from the Secretary of State intimating he had “had the honour to submit to the Queen you (the Secretary’s) request that the Isle of Wight Golf Club may be permitted to assume the title of ‘Royal ‘and that Her Majesty has been graciously please to accede to your request and to command that the Club be styled the ‘Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club’.”


Repoduced by kind permission of Bembridge Heritage Society

With the bestowal of this royal patronage, the reputation of the club was still further enhanced and so many more members enrolled, that a special private room at the hotel had to be reserved for their special use. It may be remarked that this patronage has been extended by the royal family until the present day. The late King Edward was patron of the club until his death and our present King has been patron since his ascension in 1910. H.R.H. Prince Henry of Battenburg was captain for the years 1894-1895, and his two sons, Prince Leopold and Prince Maurice, are both Hon. Members at the present time.


The Invaluable services of the first Hon. Secretary Captain Jack Eaton R.N. were recognised by the purchase of the Eaton Challenge Shield, which was first won by the well-known golfer, Alex Crawford. This together with Eaton Memorial Golden Putter remains one of the most treasured of the club’s trophies.


The yearly crowdings at the two hotels resulted in the roof of the Royal Spithead Hotel being raised and another storey added, and this accommodation was further supplemented by a new private room which was built at a later date for the club members.


The year 1884 saw the retirement of the first Hon. Secretary who was succeeded by Gaspard le Merchant. Captain Eaton then became captain of the club. But he did not long retain the position, for upon relinquishing his command of the coastguards, he became secretary of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club at Ryde. Four years later he passed away after a long drawn out illness, mourned by innumerable friends and acquaintances and especially by the members of the two clubs with which he had been associated.


Gaspard le Merchant, after rendering invaluable service to the club for many years, resigned his position as secretary when he went to reside permanently in the Channel Islands; and was succeeded by Davenport Knight, who remained in office for the next ten years. He was followed in 1904 by the Hon. R.A. North who acted in the same capacity until his lamentable death in 1907. Since that time the position of Hon. Secretary has been most adequately filled by M. Tabuteau.


The Club House and 9th Green


The pride which is taken in the Club is well attested by the fact that ever since its inception the secretarial and treasureship duties have been carried out by members acting entirely in an honorary capacity, albeit these duties have often been heavy and onerous and demanding great sacrifice of considerable time which might have been devoted to leisure or play.


It is significant that many distinguished people who have come over for a day’s golf on the Duver, have been so enthralled with the course and its wonderful surroundings, that they have returned again and again whenever opportunity has presented itself. The Right Hon. Earl of Balfour, for instance, when he was fulfilling the dangerous post of Irish Secretary, frequently came down from London for a few rounds, although even here far removed from the maelstrom of politics he was always guarded by two detectives. His colleague the late Right Hon. Edward Simpson , was another frequent visitor, as also were at the time, H.R.H. Prince Edward of Saxe Weimar, and the Royal Governor, Prince Henry of Battenburg.


Not the least of the charms which attach to the Duver Course, is that of the putting greens are always excellent condition. This doubles due to the fact that the whole of the Duver is permeated with brackish water, so even in the hottest summer day moisture is always rising through the sand to nourish the turf. After considerable experimenting, the most suitable variety of turf for each locality had been discovered, and now only continual care and attention are needed to keep the greens in the best condition.


Now that the golf has become a game almost as national in its appeal as cricket, football and tennis and every town has two links, often replete with luxurious clubhouse, the Royal Isle of Wight Club no less than several other parent clubs of the Royal and Ancient Game is feeling the competitive breeze. This is not to be wondered at when it is recalled that at the present time the island itself possesses no less than eleven rival clubs.


There is satisfaction in the thought, however that the Duver because of its even surface and limited extent, will always hold some appeal for the older generation of players who are content to leave the hard, heavy eighteen hole courses with their steep hills, long drives and awe-inspiring bunkers to their youngers.


The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club was one of the first to come into being; it is not inconceivable that “Fore” will still be called across the Duver sand hills when not a few of the later clubs have lived their life and been forgotten.


[Publishers desire to acknowledge their indebtedness to Capt. E du Boulay, author of “Bembridge Past and Present”  from which the foregoing facts have been taken.]


New Image - today


Since its inception in 1882, various alterations, lengthening and remodelling of holes have taken place to the links to bring them up to date, and in line with modern requirements. These have been carried out under the various officers of the club, and in fact, practically all the work and arrangements has been done by amateurs, which speaks very well, as well as for those concerned, for the natural facilities of this nearly perfect piece of golfing country.


Many improvements have been carried out from time to time, the most prominent and important efforts in 1884,1888,1907,1912, 1913-15, 1920 and 1926 under the respective captains and secretaries and many of the worst crossings, and danger zones, have been eliminated and rotation of play altered.


The plan shows how well and naturally the holes are laid out, giving a good length (2891 yards) width, and variety of holes, on such a relatively small area of ground. In fact it is doubtful if there is to be found anywhere, nine more attractive and varied holes in such a small compass; and yet despite its size, it will be found in playing (with a bogey of 37) to be a most enjoyable and difficult test of golf.


The natural hazards are sand dunes and hillocks, gorse, sea boundaries, and a public road, which round diagonally across the links, coming into prominence at 4 holes 1, 5, 6 and 9, and in a minor ways at the 8th, off a poorly played shot.


The three long holes, 1st, 8th and 9th are good three shot ones, in anything but calm, dry weather! The 3rd and 4th and 6th are superlative “fours” and would be hard to beat by comparison anywhere. The 2nd, 5th and 7th are very good and varied one shot holes, and of different length and difficulty and the 7th being a particularly clever punchbowl shot. Altogether the course is one of the most interesting nine hole in existence, and is full of character and individuality throughout, with the possible exception of the 5th, which is perhaps rather insipid and weak, but necessary, to keep up the proper sequence of play. This hole however together with the 6th are the only two remaining holes of the original course, as laid in 1892. That is to say they have been in constant play with little alterations for 47 years. 


Considerable sums of money have been spent in new works and improvements and special attention has been paid recently to the greens, tees, and fairways. Further improvements additions and alterations will be put in hand, as and when necessity demands.


The club is splendidly and centrally situated, and is dry and most suitable for all year round play. Close to bathing, boating, sailing and yachting of all descriptions, it makes an ideal summer holiday ground.


The links and clubhouse are situated on The Duver, St Helens, Isle of Wight, 4 minutes by ferry boat to Bembridge Station, Southern Railway, 10 minutes to St Helen’s Station via the Mill Pond Walk and Harbour Yards; 20 minutes by a good “bus service to Ryde and Sea View from St Helen’s Village.


Braid and Vardon visited in early days, and in commenting upon the features, said “It is a beautiful course, but very difficult and from some of the tees, it is like driving down a gas pipe on some of the fairways."


The course was visited in 1929 by Duncan and Mitchell, who gave it as their opinion, that it was one of the most interesting course in the South of England, and as good a test of golf there was to be found anywhere.


The neighbourhood caters well for families. There are several good hotels, boarding houses, private houses, and apartments of the best class. As a yachting centre, the harbour does not need a second mention, being second to none of its type. 

This is the end of the leaflet as deployed as a sales and marketing pamphlet in the 1920s.


The Last Years of the Club

Princess Beatrice, who was Governor of the Isle of Wight for many years was a president of the club until her death in 1940. At its height, the club boasted 11 Internationals. In the 1930s, the course had a SSS of 72. Sunday play was allowed after 10am. In the 1930s, David Niven, the writer and actor was seen as a keen player but did not take kindly to the stuffed shirts and old boys and was always causing hijinks among them. 


World War II had a devastating effect on the club, from which it never really recovered. From 1947 to the mid-1950s there was a membership of 100 rising to 160 in the 1950s.


The club finally closed in the 1960s. It was decided by remaining members that the links should be presented to the National Trust for preservation.

The Royal Isle of Wight Ladies Golf Course - St Helens