This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the period when the town had two golf courses.
He writes: Hastings once boasted two golf courses within its borough boundaries, one at Hastings and one at St.Leonards.
Details of the Hastings club, or more properly the Hastings Downs Golf Club were described in their official handbook, roughly A5 size with 28 pages and a stiff card cover and published for the Club by The Golf Clubs Publishing Service in Nottingham.
The publication also included some local advertising as well as photographs of the golf course and descriptions of the route between the holes and potential hazards. The author was a G.A.Philpot, a surname not uncommon in the Hastings area so we could assume a local connection.
The Hastings Golf Club on the East Hill was formed at a public meeting in the town hall on March 8 1893 and in March 1895 it opened it’s clubhouse at the junction of Barley Lane and Rocklands Lane later moving into Fishponds Farmhouse in Barley Lane during the summer of 1924 where it was based until 1958.
The club had leased Fishponds from the Milward estate, plus much of the surrounding farmland to create a quality 18-hole course which was the third or fourth reincarnation of the original layout which by now had been completely superseded.
It was described in the handbook as “The lay-out is rich in variety, and some of the holes make even the tiger scratch his lordly head. In addition, the rearrangement of the holes has provided a bit of extra length to some of them, so that now the full course measures over 6,000 yards”
One of the leading protagonists for the forming of the golf club was Caricaturist and Punch Cartoonist Harry Furniss, 1854 – 1925, famous for his portrayal of 19th century politicians. He was also a well-known book illustrator and an early pioneer of cinematography.
Furniss lived at High Wickham in Hastings Old Town from 1904 until his death in 1925 and also had a studio at East Cliff House.
The club had an attractive list of competition trophies which, appropriately, included the Harry Furniss Cup.
Other important cups included the Griffith Cup; President’s Cup; North Bowl: Castle Bowl; Mastin Trophy; Victory Cup; Town Cup; Derek Cup; Coghurst Cup; Walker Challenge Cup, Du Cros Cup; Armistice Cup; Bradnam Challenge Cups; Captain’s Prize, and Secretaries’ Cup as well as Monthly bogey and medal events were played and there were several team matches against neighbouring Clubs.
The handbook tells us that open meetings were also included in the fixture list, and proved a great attraction to visitors and that the ladies also had seven cups to be played for.
By the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings the Golf Club had gone
All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk
Details of the publication.
The 5th Green.
Philpot says “The 5th (450 yards) is quite a classical dog-legged hole, not dissimilar in some respects to the 1st at Hoylake. There is the same out-of-bounds corner to be avoided on the right, making a slice fatal. The nearer we can hug the corner the better will be our chance of carrying a big pond, which lies in greedy wait short of the green. Only a long hitter, however, dare go for the carry; lesser mortals must play to the right and hope for the best with the pitch. Incidentally, as we play this hole, the sea comes splendidly into view”.
The 8th Green.
We are told “the 8th (135 yards) is a really charming little hole on the edge of the cliff. The plateau green is set among the wind-swept gorse bushes and is uncommonly well guarded by bunkers. If the wind is against, be not deceived. Do not underclub, or you will finish ‘miles’ short of the pin”.
On the 10th Tee.
The book describes it as “The 10th (384 yards) proceeds gaily along the edge of the cliffs, we drive from an elevated teeing-ground which provides us with the most entrancing view of the sea far below us on our left. The fairway, as at the 9th and the 11th , falls away from right to left, making It absolutely essential for us to hit the tee-shot well away to the right. Assuming all goes well, we shall be left with a difficult second to a rather narrow, shelf-like green, built up on its left-hand side. The approach, like the drive, must be held up firmly into the right of the green”.
The 17th Hole.
According to the handbook “The 17th (435) yards) is again likely to provide a dozen forms of disaster to the persistent hooker, for there is severe trouble all the way on the left. Fortunately, the teeing-ground is raised, so that we are presented with a perfect view of what to avoid and what not to avoid. The fairway slopes gently down to a very fine green, which under normal circumstances should be reached comfortably in ‘two and a pitch-and-run.’”
The Big Hazard by the 18th.
Philpot concludes “Last but not least comes the short 18th (146 yards). Generally, a short hole to finish with is not looked upon with favour, but here is a most notable exception. If I suggest that here is one of the finest holes of its kind in the country I am not exaggerating, One has to carry a sheer chasm of about 130 yards and stop one’s ball promptly on the green immediately beyond. One also has to avoid a couple of craftily-placed bunkers on the left and right of the pin. For the poor wretch that fails to negotiate the chasm one can only offer words of pity. And even words may fail to soothe the savage breast! Be that as it may, the 18th at Hastings Downs is a golfing gem-and that’s that!”
The 18th Hole and Club House.
The 17th Century former Fishponds Farmhouse in Barley Lane, the club’s base until 1958.
This private hotel featured as one of the handbook’s advertisements became a pub in the late 1940’s and was then renamed the ‘Robert de Mortain’, after the half-brother of William the Conqueror. The use of the swastika frieze at the bottom of the advert, even with its ancient symbolism of auspiciousness is intriguing bearing in mind the unfortunate connotations with the war that had so recently ended.
The map shows the layout of the Hastings Down Golf Course in the late 1940’s.