Club History

A Brief History of Cotswold Hills Golf Club

Organised golf has been played on Cleeve Hill since 1891 when the elite Cheltenham Golf Club was formed. The first course was set out on the Common, with wonderful views from the highest point and overlooking Prestbury Park, home today to the world-famous National Hunt Gold Cup. With its natural terrain, the Common provided golf more reminiscent of a links course than the inland setting of Cheltenham. Since then there have been several successive courses, the latest one being the municipal Cleeve Hill Golf Course, home of the Cleeve Cloud Golf Club.

The Cheltenham Town Golf Club (as distinct from the Cheltenham Golf Club) was officially founded in 1902 and two years later changed its name to Cotswold Hills Golf Club. The two clubs, Cheltenham and Cotswold Hills, shared the same course on Cleeve for over thirty years. In addition, an Artisans’ club was formed in 1933 and its members, too, played on the Cleeve Hill course. The Cheltenham Golf Club closed in 1935 and many of its members joined Cotswold Hills.

Although Cotswold Hills stayed on Cleve Hill for around 75 years, it was never really comfortable with its site on the Common. Continual problems with both the sheep and the public, together with regular conflict with the Board of Conservators over the amount of rent paid to play golf on the Common, eventually convinced the Club that it was time to take control over its own affairs.

In the early 1970s a local farmer offered to sell the Club some of his farmland at Ullenwood, on the southern edge of Cheltenham. It had the potential for the creation of an 18-hole golf course and, with its limestone base, it would drain naturally and be playable for twelve months of the year. Following an extraordinarily brave decision by its members, and with the support of an enthusiastic army of volunteers, a new golf course was created on 157 acres of land, and a clubhouse built. The course, designed by Morris Little, a Club member and a scratch golfer, was opened in May 1976 and has developed into one of the most respected in the county.

Cotswold Hills has hosted many prestigious events, including the English Ladies’ Amateur Championship and the EnglandGolf County Boys’ Finals. It remains a members’ club, and is dedicated to its original aim of providing “Golf and Good Fellowship”.

 

 

Cheltenham Golf Club was formed, and the first course set out on lower slopes of Cleeve Common in 1891. In 1902 they were joined on the course by the Cheltenham Town Golf Club later to be renamed Cotswold Hills.

Rock House - Cheltenham Golf Club

The story of Cotswold Hills Golf Club is complex and fascinating. It is inextricably intertwined with the now defunct Cheltenham Golf Club. There are many links with the history of Cheltenham itself, with the development of golf in Gloucestershire, and with the changes in the whole character of golf and the people who play it.

The near-aristocracy, ex-Indian Army officers and clergymen would have featured strongly in the gathering of eighty-four men who met to form the elite Cheltenham Golf Club in March 1891. Initially the Cheltenham Club rented rooms at Rock House (the stone building on the left in the photo above) and in 1895 a new clubhouse was built adjoining Rock House, with an timber extension added in 1904.Sir James Tynte Agg-Gardner (MP for Cheltenham for forty-three years) was one of the founder members and served on its first committee. He presented a cup which Cotswold Hills men compete for today, and he eventually (from 1921-1928) became the first President of Cotswold Hills.

One of the Cheltenham Club’s members was Charles Turnbull (Turnbull Cup), who was Captain of the Club in 1894 and again in 1901. He lived next door to the Clubhouse on Cleeve Hill (the house is still there) and our men now compete for the cup he presented in 1892. The Lady Margaret Bowl is another cup from those days, which our ladies play for, and this was presented by Lady Margaret Scott when she was Ladies’ President of the Cheltenham Club in 1905. She won the first three Ladies’ British Amateur Championships (1893, 1894 & 1895).

Lady Margaret was daughter of the Earl of Eldon (Eldon Trophy), who lived nearby at Stowell Park. He had built a 9-hole course at Stowell Park for the use of Lady Margaret and her four brothers, all of whom became international amateur golfers. Lord Eldon was the first President of the Cheltenham Golf Club (1891 to 1926) and in 1882 he presented a cup which was won outright by Hylton Jessop in 1911. He then presented a further cup in 1912 and this is the one which Cotswold Hills men compete for today. The Cheltenham Gold Medal is another trophy which was presented by Lord Eldon. It is for a Medal competition (best gross score) off our back (blue) tees, and Hylton’s son, Charles, won this at Cleeve Hill at both the Spring and Autumn Meetings in 1935. He won it again the first time the cup was played for at Cotswold Hills in 1955.

There have been many changes to the course at Cleeve Hill over the years, but it has been written that the original course was “laid out by Tom Morris of St Andrews”, and recent evidence obtained from his great-great-grandson would appear to substantiate this claim. Many of the old tees and greens are still visible, particularly the original 1st hole, near Rock House. Probably the construction work was supervised by David Brown, the Professional at Malvern (and possibly part-time Professional at Cotswolds Hills as well). David Brown had won The Open on his home course of Musselburgh in 1886 and, incidentally, he was the man who taught Queen Victoria to play golf. Webster Evans (author of Encyclopaedia of Golf) commenting on the course, wrote, “The type of ground you play over on Cleeve Hill is the nearest thing I have ever seen to true links - which, of course, are never to be found anywhere except at the seaside... and, still reminding you of the sea, is the ever-present wind.”

The 1890s saw a rapid increase in the number of golf clubs. In the year before the Cheltenham club was founded there were only two golf clubs in Gloucestershire; a decade later there were fourteen; this number doubled again in the following ten years. Minchinhampton was the first club in Gloucestershire, founded in 1889, with Stinchcombe Hill following in October of that year. Around this time there was also a 9-hole course at Stow-on-the-Wold, named Cotswold.

Many professionals have played at Cleeve Hill over the years, the first exhibition match being in 1902 between Harry Vardon and James Braid (who won The Open five times in ten years). Another exhibition match took place in 1905 and featured ‘The Great Triumvirate’ – J. H. Taylor, James Braid and Harry Vardon – plus Sandy Herd who had won The Open in 1902. Abe Mitchell and George Duncan also played on Cleeve Hill in 1924. Abe Mitchell was Samuel Ryder’s private tutor and was the model for the figure on the lid of the Ryder Cup.

Cheltenham Town Golf Club founded in 1902 and re-named Cotswold Hills Golf Club in 1904. The club remained at Cleeve Hill until 1976.

Group on the Tee circa 1930

Cotswold Hills had humble beginnings with a wooden shed as a clubhouse, situated on the side of Cleeve Hill (near the Malvern View Hotel), but has survived two World Wars and the major upheaval and financial pressures of the move to Ullenwood in 1976.

Harold Webb was one of the founders of Cotswold Hills GC in 1902 and was grandfather of Rupert Webb who still travels down from Wilmslow in August each year to play in, and present prizes for, the Founders Trophy – a match between the Seniors and the Vets. Harold Webb was something of an entrepreneur and on one occasion, while travelling in America, he met up with Colonel William Cody (aka Buffalo Bill) and persuaded him to bring his Wild West Circus to Cheltenham in 1903. Harold Webb also arranged for the first public demonstration of electric lighting seen in Cheltenham.

In 1904 it was suggested that members of the Cheltenham Town GC were circulated to take their votes as to whether they wanted the Club named Cotswold Hills GC or Cleeve Hill GC. The secretary reported that thirty-three members voted for Cleeve Hill and only four for Cotswold Hills. In a highly undemocratic move it was decided that any change in name would entail summoning a General Meeting and the matter was taken no further. It was a somewhat fortuitous decision, considering the move to Leckhampton Hill over seventy years later.

In the same year, 1904, Harold Webb bought a piece of land near the Rising Sun Hotel, upon which Cotswold Hills built a clubhouse (known as Lower Clubhouse) which was opened in 1905 by George Dimmer, Mayor of Cheltenham. George Dimmer was great-grandfather to the present owners of Martins Jewellers in the Promenade, and he presented the Dimmer Cup to the Club which our Silver division ladies compete for – an 18-hole bogey competition (not a very popular format with our ladies these days!).

It is difficult to imagine how primitive the facilities were in that first decade of the century until we read in the minutes that the Secretary was instructed to “purchase some scoops and buckets for use in the earth closets” and that the steward “should get rid of the fowls so that the clubhouse grounds could be tidied up”.

Two of our Club members, brothers-in-law Lionel Barnett and Donald Bailey, were killed in the First World War. Both scratch golfers, they were two of the best players in the Club and were inseparable golfing companions. Donald was the eldest son of W. T. ‘Bill’ Bailey, who was Captain from 1911 to 1921. It was later written of ‘WT’ that during the First World War he had kept the Club going at his own expense.

Lionel Barnett survived the horrors of the Battle of the Somme, and following this he was recalled to England to train new soldiers. It was on one of these exercises that a grenade he was carrying blew up and he died a few days later on 6th February 1917. His widow presented a silver cup to the Club and requested that it was always played for on the Saturday nearest to the date of his death. Thus the Barnett Cup is traditionally the first Saturday medal of the season.

Many clubs failed to survive WW1, but both the Cheltenham Club and Cotswold Hills were among the lucky ones. Rock House, which was the Cheltenham Club’s clubhouse, still stands on the edge of the Common; after the Cheltenham Club closed it was used as a Youth Hostel for several years.

The 1930s started off very smoothly, but an eventful decade lay ahead. In 1938 the Club moved “up the hill” to the Wickfields clubhouse. Three of the five members elected to committee that year were destined to become Life Members of the Club – Leonard Morris, Rupert Webb (Harold’s son) and Sydney Steel (Steel Trophy). These men were the mainstay of the Club during those years. Leonard ‘AL’ Morris and his wife ‘Denys’ were Captain and Ladies’ Captain in the same year (1935) – a combination not repeated until our Centenary Year with Morris and Jan Little. Our ladies now play for the Morris Cup which was presented by ‘Denys’ Morris.

Sydney Steel was a forthright man of strong character, and with a passion for the Club. He was in the jewellery business and it was his company in Birmingham which supplied the Titanic with its silver cutlery. He was known as a champion of ladies causes, arguing that the women “paid their just dues to the upkeep of the Club and should have a voice in electing the people who spend their money”. Our ladies play for the Sydney Steel cup which, for many years, was given for the best net on Open Day.

Two young men joined the Club in the early 1930s: Jack Cole, who was described as one of the most promising young players at Cotswold Hills, and Don Davis another fine golfer who was noted for his excellent long iron play. Don served on committee for many years and played a major role in the move to Ullenwood. Both men were made President of the South Western Counties Golf Association (Jack in 1960 and Don in 1972) and together they presented the Club with the Cole Davis trophy which the men still play for today.

In 1936 Capt. W. S. Wise, playing off scratch, joined the Club and in 1938 broke the course record with a gross 66. Bill was a colourful character and arguably the best match player in the history of the Club. By 1947 he had a plus-2 handicap and played for England on two occasions, winning both matches. Both members and visitors now compete for the Wise Cups in our Open Mixed Foursomes competition, usually held in August.

In 1941 the Club arranged for an Exhibition Match on Cleeve Hill in aid of the Daily Sketch War Relief Fund, the participants being Henry Cotton, Alf Padgham and Bill Cox (all Ryder Cup players) plus Arthur Parker (then professional at Cotswold Hills).

In 1941 the Club arranged for an Exhibition Match on Cleeve Hill in aid of the Daily Sketch War Relief Fund, the participants being Henry Cotton, Alf Padgham and Bill Cox (all Ryder Cup players) plus Arthur Parker (then professional at Cotswold Hills).

The WW2 years were a difficult time for the Club with many of its members (and staff) away fighting. Obstacles had been put on the fairways, there was a shortage of toilet paper and the putting green was dug up in order to grow potatoes (which were offered to the steward at trade price). Visitors were restricted to only two drinks. The Ministry of Food had decreed that only members and their immediate friends could have meals at the Club, and the steward was held responsible for the observance of the Rationing Regulations. Ration books had been introduced at the start of 1941 and rationing continued long after the war ended, not finishing completely until 1954.

In 1965 Norman Allen came to the Club as Professional and soon found that “the standard of golf at Cotswold Hills was outstanding”. Within a week of his arrival he met John Bloxham, already a legend in the Club at just 18 years old. Norman Allen said that he believed John was the finest amateur he had ever seen. They played together in many Pro-Am tournaments and were three times Sunningdale Foursomes semi-finalists. Norman also recalls that at the start of 1966 a young girl name Beverley Huke joined the Club and her talent was obvious immediately. She was to become Cotswold Hills’ most successful female golfer, later turning Professional.

Eric Scott Cooper was a member of the Club for over sixty years. He was the son of Waldron, who was President in 1930; his mother, Emily, became the Club’s first lady Life Member in 1947. Eric was a very quiet and pleasant man, and as he grew older his love of golf administration increased and he became a legend for the work he did for the game as he served in a number of official positions. He was President of the GGU in 1960, President of the South Western Counties in 1966 and was a Life Member of both Cotswold Hills (1969) and the GGU (1990). He was President of Cotswold Hills on two occasions and Captain in 1964. He was over ninety years old when he died in the late 1990s and the trophy cabinet in the foyer today is dedicated to his memory.

150 acres of land at Ullenwood purchased from Norman Briggs, a local farmer. Course designed by member Morris Little and his building company built the clubhouse. The course opened for play in May 1976.

In 1972 Norman Briggs offered the Club as much land as would be required from his 400-acres of farmland at Ullenwood. A playing member at Cirencester GC, he had already obtained planning permission for an 18-hole golf course and a golf architect had reported favourably on the suitability of the land for a golf course. It was agreed that a championship course could be constructed on around 150 acres at a projected total cost of between £120,000 and £140,000.

Morris Little, a scratch golfer and a Club member, designed the course and helped to construct it with assistance from the greenstaff, who were maintaining the course at Cleeve Hill at the same time. 

Since moving to Ullenwood in 1976 the course has matured and is now a very fine test of golf and is considered to be one of the best courses in the County. The club has hosted the Men's County Championship on four occasions since moving to Ullenwood, the English Ladies’ Amateur Championship and in 2012 we were proud to host the EnglandGolf County Boy's finals.

Clubhouse with 10th tee and 18th green in the foreground

Clubhouse at Ullenwood with 10th tee and 18th green in the foreground

The move from Wickfields to Ullenwood in May 1976 took place under an extremely tight budget. Cotswold Hills has always had a tradition of members’ involvement in Club affairs and this was never more apparent than the ‘hands-on’ help from members during the construction of the clubhouse. In addition, after moving to Ullenwood the course was extensively planted, with members adopting and personally planting many of the deciduous trees. As a result, we now have a Ladies’ Copse (behind the 16th green), a Presidents’ Wall (behind the 17th green), a Seniors’ Copse (left of the 11th tees), Welsh Acre (right of the 4th tees), Scots Corner (right of the 15th tees) and many others. In the two years before we moved across to Ullenwood, Morris Little and John Brush planted thousands of tree transplants in the proposed sites of the copses, and although many were lost, the survivors can be seen today as the pine and larch around the course.

One of the significant changes since moving to Ullenwood was the introduction of a Chairman and General Manager in 1999, thereby freeing the Captain from the management of the Directors and allowing him to pursue the Golf and Good Fellowship motto of the Club. The appointment of a General Manager sought to improve the continuity of Club affairs following many years of part-time secretaries. While remaining as a members’ Club, Cotswold Hills has now developed into one of the most respected in the county and has hosted many prestigious events.