Founded in 1880, Kingsdown Golf Club has outlived all but 12 English Clubs and it is the second oldest Golf Club in the West of England (behind Westward Ho!) and the oldest Club in Wiltshire. With only a dozen courses to play, keen golfers in the 1880’s had to travel the length of the land to find competition. Kingsdown attracted some of the best, not only as competitors but also as members. Golf historians go misty-eyed as they study the early Kingsdown Membership, finding the names of men who captained Clubs like the Royal & Ancient and Royal Liverpool who designed courses like Walton Heath and whose fame is enshrined in golf museums across the world.
Kingsdown – Long Before Golf
There is definite evidence that the Kingsdown Area was used as a burial ground at least until 2000-3000 B.C. Early maps refer not to Kingsdown but to Kings Down and this may support the fable that three Kings are buried on the course having been slain in battle. The legend of the three kings of Kingsdown has prevailed throughout the years and members have passed down the story that the “burial” stones along the ridge on the 16th fairway belonged to the three. The Golf Club has always respected this legend and the Club logo has been designed to incorporate the three crowns of these gentlemen.
The Romans certainly passed close to the down; a Roman Road has been traced less than a mile south of the course, parallel to the third fairway.
Queen Anne visits Kings Down
Anne became Queen in 1702 and in 1703 visited Bath and she and her husband were met at Kings Down by the dignitaries and people of Bath. Daniel Defoe writes, in his tour through England and Wales, that on the way out of Bath “Up a very steep hill is King’s Down where sometimes persons of quality who have coaches go up for air…and the hill up to the Downs is so steep that the late Queen Anne was extremely frightened in going up, her coachmen stopping to give the horses breath, and the coach, wanting a dragstaff, ran back in spite of all the coachman’s skill; the horses not being bought to strain, the harness or pull together for a good while, and the coach pulling the guards behind it and the utmost confusion, till some of the servants setting their heads and shoulders to the wheel stopt them by plain force.”
The Sheep Fair
On the third Wednesday in September every year, an annual Sheep Fair used to be held. Large numbers of sheep arrived from all over the Country and many arrived days and weeks ahead of the Fair. These had to be penned in hurdles, no doubt stored in the barn still situated by the 4th Green (which now serves as the Greenkeepers Shed).
“After a careful inspection of the Kingsdown Golf links, I have no hesitation in saying that… the turf is good, there are plenty of hazards, and each hole is interesting”
Extract from 1880 Report of John Allan, Professional, Westward Ho! Golf Club
The Golf Club’s Beginnings…
On 28th February 1880, six gentlemen (Major Northey, Lieutenant Colonel Fanshawe, Lieutenant Colonel Vaughton, Captain Wilkie and Messrs Welman and Young) met at the Swan Inn in Kingsdown. They took the preliminary steps towards the formation of Kingsdown Golf Club and subsequently sent the following letter to “The Field” newspaper for publication
“A Golf Club under the title Kingsdown Golf Club has been established at Kingsdown, distant five miles from Bath and a few minutes walk from Box station, GWR main line. The committee have marked out a round of eighteen holes under the personal supervision of Mr. John Allan, the Westward Ho professional, a copy of whose report is appended. The Club has already obtained a considerable amount of local support . The position of the ground, by reason of it’s proximity to Bath and Bristol, renders it easy of access from all parts of the country. The committee hope, therefore, by arranging the dates of the meetings so as to coincide with those of other clubs, to obtain the support of the golfing world in general…Further particulars concerning dates of meetings, prizes, rules, etc will be forwarded later on in the season. The committee feel sure that you will assist them in their endeavour to add another to the list of English golf clubs by bringing this circular before the notice of the members of your club. The subscription is fixed at £1 per year and members of recognised golf clubs will be elected without ballot.
“Professional Report – After careful inspection of the Kingsdown Golf Links, over which I have played several rounds, I have no hesitation in saying that the are by far the best inland links I have yet seen. The turf is good, there are plenty of hazards and each hole is interesting. As there is abundant space for 18 holes, the lines between which do not cross each other, these links are particularly well suited for medal play” (signed) John Allan, resident professional, Westward Ho”
There being only a dozen golf clubs in England at the time, keen golfers were wont to travel extensively to play competitions. Besides entering competitions up and down the country, it was normal in those days for players to join several clubs and Kingsdown had members from Ayr, Aldershot, London, Sevenoaks and Warrington. Members whose fame stretches down the ages are listed in the early Minute Books; prominent amongst them is Horace Hutchinson, who played off scratch and was Captain of the R&A in 1908. He wrote many articles about golf, thus contributing to the dramatic rise in the popularity of the game at the turn of the century. Other famous members in the 1880’s were W H Fowler who designed courses at Walton Heath and Saunton and several in America, and John Dun who was a founder member of Royal Liverpool Golf Club, their Captain in 1873-75 and first winner of their Gold Medal.
In the latter months on 1881, Kingsdown Golf Club decided to open up another course at The Warren, above Bath, and presently part of the Bath Golf Club course. The original site at Kingsdown was to remain but the move to Bath seemed to come about because of transport difficulties facing many members who resided in Bath at the time. The Club’s name was changed to the Bath and Kingsdown Golf Club at an Annual General Meeting on 30th March 1883 and this name was retained until 1890 when the Kingsdown Club re-established itself.
The Early Twentieth Century
The club continued to remain open over the first two years of the First Wold War and service members were not required to pay a subscription but in 1917 the course was closed with the exception of General Meetings which took place in both 1917 and 1918. The Club was re-opened in March 1919 and the Club rapidly returned to normal. In 1924, a new clubhouse, on the site of the current clubhouse, was officially opened (with the construction cost not exceeding £550!). In 1927, the Club appointed a Mr East to be the Club’s Professional on terms that today, might upset the PGA; “He may stay as long as he likes provided that there is no expense to the Club. He would not receive a salary.”
The Clubhouse was modernised extended in 1969 and again in 1979 to what you see now. In recent years, the Club has formed a Development Committee with a one simple directive; ensure that the Club serves it’s members and it’s guests well now and for many years to come.