Shirley Park Golf Club - Tales from the 19th
PUBLISHED: 12:06 02 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:06 02 May 2014
Celebrating its centenary this year, Shirley Park Golf Club has been praised for having 'some of the best greens in Surrey'. Here, columnist John Whitbread, of the Surrey Golf Partnership, brings us their story
If a sense of good timing really is everything, Shirley Park Golf Club should not have reached its first birthday, let alone be celebrating its centenary as a thriving sporting concern, having opened just two weeks before the start of World War One.
Designed by Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler (who also designed Walton Heath) and developed by George Collins, the course was laid out over 130 acres of rolling Surrey woodland just a mile from Croydon.
Despite the dark clouds gathering over Europe, there was colour and laughter when the flamboyant Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Vansittart-Bowater, performed the official opening ceremony on Saturday July 18, 1914.
The ceremony was followed by a match between two Open champions, with the legendary JH Taylor defeating Sandy Herd by four shots.
But just a few days later came the start of the war.
Would-be Shirley Park members, along with millions of other young men from all over Europe, whose toughest challenge should have been splashing out of greenside bunkers, were fighting and dying in far more alien bunkers on the battlefields of Ypres and The Somme.
Meanwhile, the course itself was handed over to the Ministry of Defence with much of the land used for vegetable growing and the clubhouse as a Red Cross Centre.
The effects of the carnage lasted long beyond the four-and-a-half years of actual battle as can be seen from the splendid honours board in the Shirley Park clubhouse where the first winners are inscribed for 1923. Indeed, it was a full decade before the next course was to be opened in Surrey at Wentworth in 1924.
The following years saw the club growing slowly but steadily only for the future to be again threatened with disaster.
First, in early 1939, the owners (Shirley Park Estates) proposed closing the course and building a housing estate. It was then that the power of the press came into play in the form of club member John Gordon, who also happened to be editor of the Daily Express. He led a major campaign that ended with the plans being defeated.
Later that year, however, the Second World War brought another seven-year halt with the course covered in barricades and newly dug ditches and craters to prevent German gliders from landing on the fairways. A more lasting consequence was the permanent loss of three holes, which led to an enforced re-design. Fighting spirit A proud club spirit ensured that Shirley Park again bounced back stronger than before, but they still had to survive another body blow in June 1975, when a fire gutted much of the clubhouse, especially the men’s locker rooms.
It was then that the much respected Sid Parker, club professional from 1944-82, organised a successful donation of equipment from surrounding clubs, so that members could continue to play.
In 2004, with just 10 years remaining on their lease, the club, anxious to avoid another cliffhanger, managed to buy a 150-year lease for £1.1 million and then embarked on a major refurbishment.
Today, Shirley Park is in remarkably rude health with a thriving membership enjoying more than 50 events each year, and with a number of special celebrations planned for their centenary including a much-anticipated Pro-Am that will be staged on Friday July 18.
Among the latest innovations at the club is a website where visitors can make a 360-degree virtual tour of the club and an ultra-modern indoor teaching centre where current club professional Mick Taylor and his assistants use the latest television teaching aids and state-of-the-art club customising.
Shirley Park has rightly been praised for having some of the best greens in Surrey and though the tight boundaries have left little room for lengthening holes in the current fashion, the 6,180-yard par 71 layout is still a true test.
Says proud general manager Steve Murphy: “Some newcomers take a first look at the course and think it will be easy. Ask them when they have finished their round and they have to admit it is so much tougher than it looks.”
Shirley Park Golf Club, 194 Addiscombe Road, Croydon CR0 7LB. Tel: 0208 6541143. Web: shirleyparkgolfclub.co.uk
The Surrey Golf Partnership comprises 111 clubs, which are also affiliated to the Surrey Golf Union and the Surrey Ladies Golf Union: surreygolfpartnership.com