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Chapter 1. Early Days on ‘The Common’

Many times I have been asked - “When did you start to play golf”. The answer is – some eighty odd years ago, and it had nothing at all to do with a golf course.  My first recollection of the game is of three holes, which my brothers and I contrived in the lane passing our house on the edge of Malvern Common. The holes were scraped out of the soil at the side of the road and, as you can imagine, bore little resemblance to the regulation size. They were usually about 6 inches wide with the sides sloped in to gather the ball - well you needed some help when the fairways and greens were the surface of a road, which would nowadays be described as 'unadopted'! We cut down a golf club to roughly half size – no grip of course. It would probably be a collector’s item today. We had great fun trying to beat par on this makeshift course (it was bogey in those days).

Malvern Common

It was a year or two before we were allowed on ‘The Common’ – the course over which the Worcestershire Golf Club and the Malvern Working Men’s Club then played their golf. Perhaps the most famous member of the Golf Club in those early days was Sir Edward Elgar but, as the Centenary History of the Worcestershire Golf Club puts it, he was better known for his musical scores and does not feature prominently in the club’s golfing records.

The tees and greens were out of bounds to us, but again we improvised our own course, utilising the watering system hydrant covers adjacent to two of the greens and a disused tee for one green. These served our purpose for quite a long time, although inevitably we had little ‘gos’ on the proper greens when we thought that Bert Phipps the greenkeeper was not about, but he had eyes in the back of his head and we were often chased off. He was very proud of his greens, which were of excellent quality, despite the course being on common land, and were certainly too good for the use of little boys. As we grew older and were judged to be more responsible, we were allowed to play a few holes and it was then that I fell in love with the game, as did many of my friends. The families living around the edge of the common produced around thirty professional golfers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the first was Fred Whiting, who was to succeed Harry Vardon’s brother Tom as pro at Royal St George’s, beginning a long association of Whitings with the club. One of eight brothers, seven of whom took up the golf profession, he started club-making in 1890 under the Malvern professional – David Brown, the 1886 Open Champion. ((Another Open Champion, Jim Barnes (1925), was Fred’s assistant when he was pro at West Cornwall)). The Lewis family also had seven professional sons, the best known being Martin who spent most of his career as pro at the famous midland club, Little Aston.