The Burley Golf Club


Club History

THE HISTORY

There have been settlements in this region since Roman times, however it was not until the year 1079 that William the Conqueror named this land the New Forest, and established Forest Laws, draconian at the time, and still in existence today, presided over in modern form by the New Forest Verderers. On this hostile forestry, with soil too poor for cultivation, he made his hunting grounds, and set the scene for the landscape we see today.

The late 1800’s  the Victorian era witnessed the first explosion of golf, carried around the country principally by the military and the clergy, and also by gentry who visited established courses such as St Andrews in Scotland and Westward Ho ! in the West Country. Southern Hampshire and the South of England in general seemed to be greeted by new courses, New Forest (1880), Bramshaw  (1888) and Barton on Sea (1897) the interest was insatiable, helped by the spreading of the railways and easier travel. Shortly into the reign of Edward VII, a group of local businessman in the village of Burley met to discuss the formation of a golf club of their own. 1905 was to be a very special year, James Braid won The Open Championship for the second time, the first dimple golf ball was patented in Great Britain by William Taylor, the Vardon Grip was explained in his book “The Complete Golfer” and Burley Golf Club was established. This group of businessmen held the founders meeting in the vicarage on 2nd June 1905, Lord Manners was elected President   Sir George Meyrick was Vice President and the Treasurer was Mr Cook, the manager at the Dorset Bank in Ringwood.  A parcel of land was selected, it was known by the villagers as Pigsty Hill, and located just outside the village between Cott Bottom and Broadoak.

The course was laid out on the advice of Mr Curtis the professional at Bournemouth, he also recommended Percy Reeves as club professional, an appointment duly made, A fine choice it turned out to be, for he served the club for 45 years until his retirement in 1951, a truly remarkable record. With the help of James Barnes, a local carter, and two casual assistants, he built the course and it was completed by the 1st January 1906. The first shot was played by the newly appointed Captain, Admiral Prothero, a quaint contradiction in rank. Curtis came to the opening, and played the course, scoring 40 for the nine holes, which was duly accepted as bogey for the layout. The course as laid out, was much shorter than today, the 3rd and 4th holes were both par 3’s.  Admiral Prothero was to keep the role as Captain until 1919, some 13 years. In 1921 another long serving Captain was elected, Captain Henshaw served from 1921  until 1933. These were two extraordinarily long spells in the role of Club Captain..

The first clubhouse was a room rented by the club in a house owned and lived in by the previously mentioned James Barnes, and a formal lease was drawn to the effect.  It remained thus until a shed was purchased and located in the garden of an adjacent cottage, owned by the Hallett family. A small gate gave access to the course, it was a fine arrangement as Mrs Hallett also organised refreshments. The twenties were exciting times for the club, with a new clubhouse purchased and sited near the course, and the first motorised equipment, when a Ford Motor Car was used to replace the ponies pulling greens equipment.

The 2nd tee at that time was beside the first green and the tee shot was over the road. The fact that the course crossed the road did not cause any problems in those early days, there was little traffic and most of it local anyway, more horse and cart than motorised.

However in 1934 a passing car was struck by an errant golf ball, causing damage amounting to the princely sum of £1.12s 6d. As a consequence changes were considered, however it was not until 1954 that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes were re-sited, when a proposal to extend the course to 18 holes was debated. The eminent golf course architectural firm of C K Cotton was asked to assess the project, and after surveying the course and the land available they estimated that it would cost £1,000 per hole, and the matter was duly left in abeyance.

In 1939, when World War 11 broke out, the club was requisitioned by the army, along with many other clubs in the land, the majority were turned to food cultivation or grazing, the Dig For Britain campaign was launched in earnest. However the land was too poor for that so the Burley clubhouse was used a billet, and the army paid a rental for its use, the men were housed in tents in the woodland alongside the 9th hole. At the end of the war the land and the facilities were eventually handed back, and golf clubs and other organisations were paid reparation by the War Department. The sum negotiated by the club, who had refused an earlier offer of a working party of Italian prisoners of war, was finally agreed at £40.00.

So after surviving two World Wars, The Burley Golf Club was setting out on the next chapter, a time of change when the membership was extended to beyond the village boundaries, and social changes were happening more rapidly than at any other time.. 





THE RUGGED BEAUTY OF THE FOREST

Hampshire is blessed with genuine forest golf courses, Burley is typical, and as a lover of links golf, and that very natural topography, it did not take long to realise that many of those features are present in these beautiful courses. Sandy ground, coarse vegetation, humps and hollows, and wonderful turf to play from, also reminiscent of the sand belt that runs through Surrey.

The recovery period after the Second War was lengthy, not unusual for many clubs around the land.. Looking into the reference books it is fascinating to read that the cost of full membership in 1955 was four guineas, in todays currency just £4.20, and the cost of a green fee was five shillings, or 25p today. 

In the 1970’s, new holes were designed for the 3rd and 4th, and working parties of members were organised to clear the old dump and the back breaking task of clearing all the old stones and gorse, with the result that the new holes became par 5’s. The last change to the course came in July 1987, when the men’s tees positions were changed, with the 9th becoming the 18th and vice versa. Since that date the course has remained substantially the same, and a fine one it is.

The Club Centenary was celebrated in fine style in 2005, a milestone for the club, and duly recognised by the English Golf Union and the R&A. The plaque and the letter of congratulations are proudly on display in the clubhouse along with other noted photographs and documents. Timely reminders of the colourful and rich past.

On a glorious July day, with the sun shining and the gorse and broom a feast of yellow, it was the perfect time to enjoy the very different delights of Burley. A club with a rich history that stretches back to the early days of the last century and a course that has changed little in the past hundred years, it is a truly natural venue, one that blends into the forest landscape and provides a very different test of golf. It certainly necessitates some extra facets in the golfers armoury, the ability to play high irons to hold the greens, a good chip and run game, patience when the bounce is not a regular as on parkland, and an obedient putter. Without doubt it will be a different experience for the majority of golfers, for the New Forest ponies wander round the course, and it is not unusual to see cattle, pigs or the occasional deer. These add to the experience rather than detract from it, and in late springtime and early summer, the abundance of foals is a fascination.

In an old club handbook dating back to the 1950’s there is a very apt statement, it reads, Recommended to the golfing world as a delightful holiday cum golf course far from the madding crowd.

From the moment you arrive at the unusual pointed, single story clubhouse set back in the trees you cannot fail to notice the peace and tranquillity that pervades the course, the cluster of standing ponies, oblivious to the comings and goings of the golfers. It is, perhaps, the calm before the storm. One very important piece of advice, make time to sample the putting green, before setting out for your game, it will prove beneficial, for the greens are fast but true, and judging pace and line will serve you well if you wish to score. As you stand on the first tee, the gorse bushes threaten anything but a well struck drive, plenty of room left, but a tricky second shot if you stray there. The second hole is just across the road, a short par three defended by a pond and a deep unyielding bunker, with an upturned saucer shaped green that is the very devil to hold. Next is the par five, a dogleg left down the valley to a green that slopes away, after a well placed drive the problem is always to hold the green, and chipping back will test the short game. Pars on any of the first three holes will be welcome.

Next a drive up the valley, and a chance to restore some pride to your card, that is if you can negotiate the toughest green on the course. Several tiers and a steep slope, the only easy putt is from below the hole. Then you climb up the slope and are met by my favourite hole, and I think the toughest, a long par four over the crest of the rise, down the valley and over a ditch in front of a green set into the face of the hill, it is a real charmer. There is nothing more satisfying then getting a four on this hole. The sixth plays back to a green near the road, which is then crossed to face the signature hole the par 4 7th.  A challenging tee shot with little room for error, when position is more important than length from the tee, then a ninety degree turn to a green nestling in the hollow, protected by trees, a truly lovely hole. The eighth is a short par four, that is played as a par three the second time round from a forward tee, where the bunkers come more into play. The finishing hole is a very good par four, from an alley back in the trees to an angled fairway, which will leave a mid iron approach to the green. Once again a tricky green to hold, and fully justifying its status as stroke index 1.

The second nine, is played from different tees, and they certainly change the manner in which the holes are played. Some tees are moved forward or back to change the length of the hole, but a simple offset tee position totally changes the angle of the drive on the first and third holes, an effect that is also repeated on the 5th and 6th, and the eighth changes totally to a par three. Eighteen holes that are a test for any golfer, holes that reward good shots, but stray offline and the gorse and heather will inflict severe punishment. My personal benchmark is to achieve pars on the 5th and the 7th, and to do so twice will be reward indeed, a rare pleasure to seal the round.

It is easy to become familiar with courses played often, so we took along friends of long standing for them to experience this forest gem, and give their observations on the course. Our companions, who hail from Hawkstone Park in Shropshire were charmed by the course, a very different experience to the parkland of their home venue. The day was far from over as we walked from the 18th green, for after the golf came a refreshing drink at the bar, during which time I found someone with whom I could reminisce about past evening Monty League matches that always seemed to be played in sunshine.

Amongst the other pictures that adorn the walls of the clubhouse, there are ones showing the course and members over the last decades. There could not be a more appropriate place for the set of four postcards that date back to the formation of the club. A reminder of the days past, when the pioneers of the game created and left for us the courses that we enjoy so much today.

The questions from visiting golfers; many on holiday visits, often include enquiries about other activities in the locality, apart from the village, which is itself a very popular attraction. A piece could be written just about all the delights of the New Forest. There are so many, Beaulieu, Bucklers Hard, Calshot, Hurst Castle, each a treasure in its own way. One of my personal treats is to drive the short distance into the forest from Burley to the Station Restaurant for a fabulous cream tea, hot scones with cream and strawberry jam. Followed by a run to Brokenhurst then along the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive and stop at the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, and the viewing station. Our last visit yielded a real bonus for our friends, there was a large herd of deer, three different types, fallow, roe and red deer, a herd which also included not one but two albinos, a rare sight indeed. Good binoculars will enhance the visit greatly.

Societies are able to play at the club on Tuesday and Friday, and on Sunday by special appointment. Many of the visiting groups are regulars, who come to enjoy the different challenges that Burley always offers. A fine course and first class catering makes for contented guests.

The heart of any club is the membership, who are well catered for with competitions and special events. The Pro Am Tournament is held annually, usually in June. The highlight in the calendar is The Festival of Golf  which is held the second week in July every year. The format is now well established, and the competitions which are open to members and to visitors alike. During the week there are four major events, the Mixed Open, the Seniors Open, the Ladies Open, and the Mens Open, which in future years will be a team event. All the events are well supported and the entrants are often regulars who come each year to savour the course in prime condition. Each November the club traditionally welcomes the Hampshire County side for a match, and the Ladies hold a coffee morning in aid of their designated charity, which this year is Julia’s House. An event that is regularly over-subscribed.

Visitors are always welcome at Burley, and if you are looking for something a little different to test your golfing skills, this will be the perfect venue. They have a fine website at www.burleygolfclub.co.uk, or you can contact club Secretary Jane Harfield, who will be pleased to provide the necessary information for your visit. More significantly for golfers who are looking to join a club or transfer for some reason, there is much to attract to this New Forest gem. In addition to membership of the club, there are reciprocal arrangements in place with eleven clubs, stretching across the south from Dorset through to East Sussex and north into the Cotswolds.

The list reads in alphabetical order: Andover; Ashley Wood; Basingstoke; Bridport & West Bay; Came Down; Chippenham; Corhampton; Lyme Regis; Maidenhead; Romsey and Shanklin & Sandown on the Isle of Wight. Members are allowed to play this superb range of courses by arrangement without any fees, a marvellous bonus. Join one club, and play at twelve.

With a 200 yard practice area close at hand, and a first class putting green, there is much to enjoy at the club, which offers the complete package. Juniors and ladies in particular can look forward to a welcome, and receive every encouragement to obtain handicaps and also improve the game in general. The new junior organiser is keenly setting about the task of making plans to make the club interesting for new and developing players. The club offers excellent value for money, a really friendly welcome, and plenty of activity, both in club events and also with friendly matches and regional competitions as well as a full social calendar..

I will, naturally, be returning soon to savour it all again, as I have doing for the last forty years

Michael Rees





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