The Full Story
During the summer of 1892, a Mr John Lloyd sent a letter to various gentlemen which read: "I have been requested to inform you and ask your attendance at a meeting to be held at the County Club St. Albans on Saturday 23rd July 1892 to elect a committee to carry out the formation of a Golf Club for Mid Herts". It is not known how many people the letter was sent to but as a result of that meeting the resolution was passed, based upon "the permission of the Lords of the Manor having been agreed by Mr Robins".
The Lords of the Manor were the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the area of the common owned extended beyond the current 4th fairway, over the Slype past the Tin Pot to the north and on the east side of the Kimpton Road from the Cross Keys as far south as the area opposite St. Peter's church. The southern boundary was the path which now leads into the field where holes 7, 8 and 9 are currently played. Due to the grazing of sheep, horses, cattle and geese owned by the residents living around the common, there were very few trees and the ground had a covering of fine grasses with heather, gorse and juniper bushes.
As a result of the first meeting, a committee of 10 gentlemen was formed including 3 clerics, which may give a clue to the influence the founders had with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in furthering the increasingly popular pastime of golf. A 2nd meeting was held a month later when Viscount Hampden was elected President for 1893, and it was resolved that a letter should be sent to all persons in the neighbourhood likely to join the Club, inviting them to pay a subscription to the treasurer so that "work connected to the Link should be proceeded without delay". It appears that no permission was sought, or even needed, from the local authorities to use the Common for golf.
Towards the end of 1892 the professional from West Herts Club, Charles Thom, had "laid out the Links", a local tradesman Mr George Wren had "made the greens" (presumably by merely cutting the prevalent sheeps fescue grass a little lower) and Horace Rawlins from the Isle of Wight had been employed as groundsman/professional at the princely salary of 17 shillings a week - about 85p.
Less than 7 months from the first meeting, the 9 hole course was ready for play and the Official Opening Day and 1st Annual General Meeting was held on 20th February 1893. It was hosted (with lunch) by Mr George Robins at his home at Delaporte farm, an imposing house which was later demolished and replaced by the modern home to the right of the current 9th fairway. The first accounts were presented which showed the cost of "making the Links" at 8 1 shilling; implements and tools had been purchased for £8 12 shillings 3 pence, with stationery amounting to £1 13 shillings 3 pence, leaving a balance from the subscriptions of just over £55. Anticipated expenses for the coming year were estimated at £45, so the finances seemed healthy. The proposed rules of the Club were approved and enquiries were to be made into renting a cottage adjacent to the common, which could be used as a clubhouse.
By the 1st January 1894 the Club had attracted 89 gentlemen and 11 ladies - the first two ladies had joined the previous April. Membership of Mid Herts for the first 25 years or so was quite exclusive being limited to those of noble or 'high county birth', together with many clergy. An early list shows addresses considerable distances from Wheathampstead with many in London. In some cases the journey time must have been longer than a round of golf. Motor cars were still a rarity as it was only in 1896 that the speed limit was raised from 4mph to 12mph. Most members travelled by horse and carriage or by train. Wheathampstead was linked by rail to Luton, Royston and Kings Cross from the station situated near to the current roundabout at the north of the village. The Club contracted the licensee of the 'Railway Hotel' to convey golfers by "horse and fly carriage" between the station and the course.
The First Clubhouse
At least two cottages adjacent to the common had been used as "clubrooms" before the first proper clubhouse was built in 1897, on land donated by the widow of Mr Robbins, where our building now stands. The cost of £107 was met by debenture loans from the members. A caretaker/caterer was employed at an annual salary of £20 to include her staff, so food and drink were now available but other facilities were very limited, at least by today's standards.
Despite endeavours by the Club to achieve a harmonious relationship with local members, including "an evening treat with spirits" and donations "in recognition of their kindness in preserving the greens", there were many who objected to golf being played, especially on Sundays. One commoner would regularly sit in a deckchair in the middle of the greens to disrupt play and drove sheep across the course to "maintain his rights as a copyholder". On one occasion he "deliberately dug up the greens in front of the players" and was taken to court by the Club for his misdemeanours. Ironically, one of his sons later learnt to play at Mid Herts and became an outstanding plus-handicap golfer, winning over 200 prizes and achieving 16 hole-in-ones. On the other hand, local children found a new source of income by carrying clubs for the affluent members being paid between 3 and 4 pence (2p) for 9 holes. If they carried all day, they may also have been given lunch of bread and cheese, to be eaten behind the clubhouse!
Horace Rawlins, the original groundsman/professional, had left Mid Herts for America where he won the inaugural U.S. Open Championship in 1895 and was runner-up the following year. He was replaced by Tom Yeoman and the members sponsored him in matches against such famous names as Harry Vardon, JH Taylor and Jack White. He held the course record in 1899 at 37 strokes for the 9 holes.
So the first 8 years and the century came to a close. Everything appeared to be fine, but further problems lay ahead…….
At the A.G.M. held on 24th February 1900, the secretary reported that the income was insufficient to carry on the Club. The subscription had been 1 guinea (£1.05p) with a 2 guinea entrance fee. It was proposed that the subscription be doubled but Club rules forbade any change in the current year. The Secretary repeated the same message at the 1901 A.G.M., also adding it was not possible to pay off the debentures incurred by building the clubhouse. Membership at this time was limited to 150 gentlemen and 50 ladies.
The president, Lord Hampden, authorised the committee to raise additional revenue and they ruled that members should pay an extra £1 per annum as "green money", in addition to their subscriptions, and this appears to have solved the immediate financial crisis. The Club paid £10 per annum to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as rent for the course and amongst items published in "other expenses" were Sainsbury’s Special Whiskey at the equivalent of £4.80p and ice surprisingly at only £1 less for the year.
Other interesting costs were for manure and worm killer, coal and coke, and horse boots to fit over the hooves when mowing the greens. The clubhouse was re-roofed and enlarged to include a smoking room and a covered veranda to the front, funded again by debenture loans. Consideration was given to enlarging the course to a full 18 holes, but because of the insecurity of only a short term lease on the land, the project did not proceed.
The First World War
The First World War had a devastating effect on the Club. The secretary was instructed to ask for subscriptions from members serving in the forces but "not to press for payment for the present". Honorary membership was offered to officers in H.M. Forces stationed in the area (but no mention of 'other ranks'). Maintenance of the course was limited to "mowing the course twice over, hiring man and horse when it was possible to obtain them", as most of the few staff had enlisted.
At the first A.G.M. held after the war there was considerable discussion over the future of the Club and the inevitable lack of income. It was resolved to prepare the neglected course for play and take the financial risk. Advertisements offering membership were placed in the local and London newspapers, and all members were asked do their utmost to recruit players. Subscriptions were increased again but despite all these efforts the problems continued until the end of 1920 when the members were asked if the Club should carry on. Thanks to the generosity of the Earl of Cavan, Colonel Ackland, Sir Otto Beit and other affluent members, the sum of £330 was donated which enabled Mid Herts to continue.
Encouraged by this turn of events, plans were made to extend the course to a full 18 holes and the famous James Braid was asked for his advice on the design. The project took 2 years and the new course was officially opened in 1923. A feature of many courses which Braid designed all over the country were humps and hollows around the greens, and many of these are still evident on our course today.
During James Braid's consultancy, it was decided to obtain the advice of an expert "as to the manning of the greens and fairways". The specialist from Suttons Seeds reported "you have all the grasses we try to grow but often cannot. The prevalent grass is sheeps fescue and this flourishes where soils are a little acid - avoid lime as this encourages cockfoot and ryegrass". This fine grass can still be seen on the course, for example between the 12th tee and green. Unfortunately his advice was ignored some 50 years later when the course was treated with lime, leading not only to an increase in coarse growth but also the loss of heather and gorse, which had long been a feature of the common. Efforts to re-establish their growth over recent years are now evident.
An Artisan Section was formed in 1921 whose members had to be bona fide workers over the age of 16 years, residing within the parish of Wheathampstead. In return for a nominal subscription and with certain restrictions to starting times, the Artisans would do regular upkeep and maintenance work on the course. At the peak of their membership, the section had 16 single handicap players from a total of 25 workmen. The section continued until 1985 when they amalgamated into normal club membership and several are still active players today.
The Purchase of the Course
The income of the Club exceeded £1000 for the first time in 1927, with course expenses amounting to £580. Although financially sound, the Committee were expressing concern about the insecurity of the short-term lease of the Common, which could be terminated by 3 months’ notice. After representation to the owners (the Ecclesiastical Commissioners) a Deed of Dedication was executed in 1928 granting the exclusive right for Mid Herts Golf Club to play the game of golf on the Common. In 1935 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners went even further by offering to sell the Manorial Rights of Gustard Wood Common to the Club for the sum of £500 - an offer which was accepted with alacrity! The Club thus became the owners of the land, although the public still had the right to "fresh air and exercise" but not to play any ball games or drive wheeled vehicles on the Common.
The purchase of the land had caused a legal problem in that Mid Herts was a 'members club', i.e. merely an association of individuals who could not be the owners of land or property. The clubhouse had been built on land rented from the owners of Delaport but when they kindly donated the site to the Club, Barclays Bank were asked to be the Trustees of the Club for this deed. At the A.G.M. held in 1936, it was agreed that a limited company be formed to hold the whole of the property and land of the Club. Mid Herts Golf Club Limited was duly incorporated on 15th February 1936, the first subscribers and directors being the Captain, Treasurer, Secretary and two others. Since that time the shareholders and directors of the limited company have been bound by the Memorandums and Articles of Association, in that they hold their shares as Trustees for the benefit of the Club and its members.
The 1930's had seen major changes to Mid Herts, both on the course and in its organisation. Electricity was installed in the clubhouse for lighting only - warmth was provided by coal-fired stoves. The first sand bunkers were introduced and a tractor purchased to replace a succession of horses. According to the Minute Book at one time, it was resolved to "get rid of the horse as it was becoming impossible to catch" (its fate was not minuted!)
The then owner of Herons Farm was given permission to metal the surface of the track leading from the entrance to the farm - in hindsight a regrettable decision as the previous access had been via Rose Lane from the Lower Luton Road. The Minute Books also records that caddies had been stopped from gambling in their shed and dogs were no longer to be allowed inside the clubhouse. Green fees were 2 shillings and 6 pence (about 13p) for a weekday and double this for weekends and public holidays. There was however a cloud on the horizon - the impending 2nd World war.
The Second World War
In September 1939 the committee discussed "the future of the Club in view of the commencement of hostilities". It was decided to carry on as best as possible, although after subscriptions were received in January 1940 it was estimated there would be a shortfall of £100 in the year ahead. All soldiers billeted on or around the common were given free use of the course and other servicemen offered reduced green fees. A detachment of anti-aircraft guns were situated between the clubhouse and Herons Farm with a searchlight near our current 4th tee, the club premises being used as headquarters.
Many members resigned in the early years of the war, most expressing hopes of re-joining when peace returned. Subscription receipts fell year by year to a low of £312 in 1944 but rose again to £498 in 1946, about half of the 1939 figure. Although Mid Herts did not see a lot of enemy action, other clubs in the south of England suffered considerably and there were reports of players being attacked by German aircraft. St. Mullions Golf Club wrote some alternative 'Rules of Golf' for the conditions being experienced and these were unofficially adopted nationwide, proving that golf will continue under almost any circumstances. These revised rules included:-
In competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
The position of known delayed-action bombs should be marked by red and white flags placed at a reasonable, but not guaranteed, safe distance from the bomb.
A ball moved by enemy action may be replaced as near as possible to where it laid without penalty.
A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb, shell, or machine gun fire, may play another ball from the same place under penalty of one stroke. (This seems a little severe!!)
The care of the course during the war years was carried out by the sole greenkeeper, Bill Ansell, under the supervision of Frank Sladen who served as Secretary, Treasurer and President at various times between 1929 and 1969. The professional had died in 1940 but his widow and mother continued to look after the clubhouse and shop until after the war.
The first peacetime A.G.M. was held on 26th May 1946 when it was decided to start competitions again in July, despite the condition of the course. Although the fairways were still reasonably distinct, the rough was completely overgrown and the greens very poor. The finances were in an even worse state - the closing balance at the end of 1946 was £77 and it was estimated the funds would be overdrawn by £50 at the end of 1947.
It was largely due to the ICI Company at Welwyn Garden City that Mid Herts survived the post-war period. The divisional chairman, Peter Allen, directed his colleague Alan Gawler to "do everything possible to ensure that Mid Herts was properly restored". This included the 'loan' of the works motor mower and arrangements to 'obtain' loads of fertiliser for the starved greens. They also persuaded many of their staff to join the Club.
By 1950 there were so many visitors at weekends and Bank Holidays that the opportunity was taken to increase the green fees. Finances improved considerably and the Ladies Section was revitalised. New course equipment was purchased and the clubhouse repaired and redecorated - it was still the very basic wooden building looking much like an old-fashioned cricket pavilion.
The Club had always relied heavily on catering and bar assistance from the 'Old Plough' public house, adjacent to the entrance. From the early 1950's, under licensee Dicky Halsey, it was to become virtually an alternative clubhouse on weekdays when the club bar was not staffed and continued to be an option for members until its closure in 1980.
The ICI Company had been largely responsible for salvaging Mid Herts from the neglect caused by the 2nd World War and the Club entered the 1960's in buoyant mood.
The first A.G.M. of 1960 saw the number of Full Memberships increased from 160 to 180 gentlemen with an annual subscription of 11 guineas (£11.55p) but the Ladies concluded they should limit their number to 80 members. Six years later a new classification of Associate Membership was introduced. This allowed over 60 of the Five Day members to progress to being able to play all day Saturday and after 1pm on Sundays, but they still had no voting rights. The main purpose had been to reduce the number of weekend green-fee players (the ICI company had held regular Saturday "society" meetings) and as a result, visitors were no longer allowed at weekends unless playing with a member.
A major reconstruction of the clubhouse was necessitated by the need to offer accommodation for a new Head Greenkeeper, when the long-serving Bill Peters decided he could no longer combine this responsibility with his duties as Professional (and part-time barkeeper!) The local council had refused permission to build a staff cottage behind the clubhouse, so it was decided to create a flat above an extended ground floor. Finance for the development came from the membership in the form of loans of £50 units, which were repaid at a rate of 3 per year by ballot, with an incentive bonus added to the sum repaid.
Acquisition of "the Field" to 2000
The ever increasing amount of traffic using the Wheathampstead to Kimpton road and The Slype, together with customers of the Tin Pot and Cross Keys strolling over the common, or having picnics with their children playing on the greens and in the bunkers was now becoming a serious problem, especially when ice-cream vans set up by the fairways. A solution was found in 1965 when Delaport Home Farm and its land were put up for sale. Initially the committee considered purchasing the whole property and building two courses but the price of £100,000 (over £2 million in present terms) plus construction costs were beyond the Club's means. The more modest purchase of 21 acres of land enabled three new holes and a practice area to be laid out to the south of the course - the area now known as "the field". Fifteen tees, greens and fairways on the common were redesigned to eliminate the problem areas to the north and east boundaries, the new layout coming into play in August 1968. Apart from various modifications and alterations over the years since, this is fundamentally the same course as is played today. The Captain of the year Martin Silber, devised the system of different tees and starting times for 2 ball and 4 ball matches, which has basically applied ever since.
Further enlargements to the clubhouse were needed by the early 1970's to cope with vastly increased use by the members and visitors. Up to this point the bar had only been open at weekends or for special mid-week events. This new development would include another staff flat on the first floor, enlargements to the gentlemen and ladies changing rooms, improved lounge and dining areas, a new professional's shop, secretary's office and kitchen. It was a major undertaking and the rebuilding was completed in 1974, allowing the newly formed Social sub-Committee to arrange various events in the improved facilities.
There were many unforeseen problems during the construction, leading to additional costs. Unfortunately this coincided with a rapid increase in national inflation and large rises in interest rates. Another financial crisis for the Club was overcome by a 50% increase in subscriptions in 1974 with a further 25% a year later.
During the last years of the 20th century, Mid Herts celebrated its Centenary and introduced an elected Management Committee to oversee financial planning and regulate staff, the clubhouse and the course, on a longer term basis than the previous Captain's committees had done. After considerable discussion and debate by the membership, work commenced on the major project of a vastly enlarged clubhouse that was opened in time to commemorate the new Millennium.