The origin of Sandwell Park Golf Club was born out of a meeting that took place in January 1895 between a number of prominent gentlemen, resident in West Bromwich, who decided there was a requirement for “golf” in the area and formed the West Bromwich Golf Club.
On 11th May of the same year a 9 hole course, laid out in the grounds of Mr.Joshua Fellows’ residence at Churchfields, West Bromwich was opened, with a club room being utilised at a house in Church Vale. Membership was at first limited to 35 gentlemen and 15 ladies, but both limits were subsequently raised as circumstances permitted.
The course itself according to one early member, West Bromwich Town Clerk, Mr.Alfred Wickham, “was of the common or garden variety and the golf played of the same species judging by the absence of tales of heroic deeds.” Some members recognised early on that easy access to the course was a problem and would limit its ongoing success.
In October 1896 plans were considered for the laying out of a 9 hole course on the Sandwell Park Estate, described in a local paper of April 1905 as, “More like a wilderness than anything else, the park was at that time almost the last place that might be expected to rank as a first class golf course. Naturally the committee showed some diffidence in deciding that the choice was a good one. In 1897 at the annual meeting, when the then present secretary, Mr.Harold Walker was elected Captain it was resolved to enter into negotiations for the acquisition of Sandwell Park.
At a Special general meeting in June a committee consisting of Messrs. A. A. Betham, H. L. Browne and H. Walker were appointed to carry out the arrangements for removal to the new links. The first ball was struck at Sandwell Park on Christmas Day 1897. A handbook for 1903 states, “In June 1897 £120-12 shillings was subscribed by Members of the club for the purpose of laying out the first nine holes at Sandwell Park and the amount was to be redeemed by future entrance fees, as the committee might arrange. A meeting of the subscribers to this fund was recently held, and the following gentlemen have intimated their wish that the amounts subscribed by them should be treated as donations and not as loans.”
On the 12th November 1898 an exhibition match was arranged over the nine hole course between the great Harry Vardon and J.H.Taylor which resulted in a win by 3 and 2 to Taylor. The real purpose of their visit was to survey the ground upon which a further 9 holes planned by Mr.H.Walker was to be opened up and he was congratulated by them on his work. As if to celebrate the success of the new course, its surroundings and now easy access, being only a short train and tram ride from Birmingham Snow Hill station, in March 1899, the name was changed to Sandwell Park Golf Club. In October 1901 Harry Vardon returned for another exhibition match, which drew very large crowds, played this time over 36 holes against James Braid, the then Open Champion. Vardon was the winner by 3 and 2 and created a professional record of 72 in the second round. When asked their opinion of the course “both expressed themselves as very pleased with it and each of them told the local professional that these were the best inland links they had ever played on.”
The first clubhouse was converted from an old ‘cowshed‘ but by November 1903 this was replaced with a new building, described at that time as “palatial” and funded again by donations from members. Also, the Earl of Dartmouth, an honorary member, was elected President of the club, a position he was to hold until 1937. Over the next few years the course was lengthened and the order of play for some of the holes rearranged but with the advent of the new rubber cored ball it had become easier to play. After much, at times acrimonious, discussion amongst the membership, plans were drawn up by Mr. H. S. Colt for a dramatic change to the course; these were accepted in 1911. Work was carried out while allowing play on temporary holes and competitions were re-commenced in September 1912. Subsequently, many compliments were made about the condition of the greens and quality of the new course which forms the basis of that played today. The first world war interrupted play and progress, but in the 1920’s further developments in all directions were made and the club once again went on to regain its position as one of the leading Midland golf clubs.
A unique moment in the club’s history and also that of the Country occurred in 1929, when on 6th June it was reported the “committee had sanctioned a local rule permitting the use of steel-shafted clubs in all competitions”. It was regarded as a case of “intelligent anticipation”, because Sandwell Park Golf Club was the very first of 14 rebel clubs to allow the use, before the R & A changed its attitude and legalised steel shafts on 26th November 1929.
After more interruptions due to the second world war, in 1946, negotiations were entered into with the Earl of Dartmouth, resulting in the purchase of the freehold of the land, funded mainly by the issue of £30,000 of “free of interest debenture stock”. This not only gave stability but provided a further platform from which to improve the facilities of the club despite having to make forced changes to the course due to the erection of electricity pylons and the loss of the Arch entrance that now sits on the island at junction one of the M5, which was built in the late 1960s.
Early in 1993 a small area of land was sold to the Council enabling the club to invest in the building of a new clubhouse, completed and opened by the then West Bromwich MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, Miss Betty Boothroyd on 1st Sept. of that year.
The location of the course with its sandy subsoil ground and springy turf, undulating tree lined fairways that do not cross, no long walks from greens to tees, natural hazards and the strategic placing of some of the bunkers, all make Sandwell Park today a challenging place for golfers of all abilities. The foresight of those original West Bromwich Gentlemen has provided a place, in the past, visited by Royalty, leading professionals as well as top amateurs participating in high quality events. This, coupled with the clubhouse facilities available throughout the day make it enjoyable for those wishing to tread the same fairways, taking in a similar experience to all who may have gone before, whether testing their ability against the course or other friendly golfing rivals.
Steel Shafts, The Apollo Golf Shaft, Accles and Pollock and Walter Hackett.
Sandwell Park Golf Club was one of the first clubs…. if not ‘The First’… to allow steel shafted golf clubs to be used in the club competitions. SPGC sanctioned a Local Rule ‘permitting the use of steel-shafted clubs in all Club Competitions’ in June 1929. Golf Illustrated published in June 1929 issue an advert by Accles and Pollock, makers of the ‘British-Made Apollo shaft’, exported in large quantities to the USA, which congratulated Sandwell Park Golf Club, ‘whose committee had passed a local rule allowing the use of steel shafts in Club Competitions’. It should be mentioned that the Managing Director of Accles and Pollock was Mr Walter Hackett, a most prominent member of the club, who one would imagine, may have had some input into the decision.
There was a growing lobby urging the R and A into allowing steel shafts and Golf Illustrated in November 1929 published another note listing no less than 14 ‘rebel clubs’ who had taken the law into their own hands as far as domestic affairs were concerned, Just a few days later on the 26th November 1929 the ‘Rules of Golf Committee’ of the R and A legalised the use of steel shafts for golf.
The rest is history…