Faith, Hope and Fairways
The History of Haverfordwest Golf Club
Getting the Show on the Road
The huge explosion in the popularity of golf in the second half of the twentieth century would have amazed the pioneers of the game in Haverfordwest. Indeed, some of those estimable gentlemen may not have been best pleased that eighty years or so after their early efforts golf would be open to everybody, with the local Club able to boast over six hundred members drawn from every social sphere and all driving up in their motor cars two or three times a week to play on an 18-hole course. It would have set them furiously to think!
The fact is that golf got off to a slow, faltering start in Haverfordwest. The man in the street at that time - the early 1900's - was not interested in the game. Cricket and rugby football, yes. Soccer, most certainly. But golf? That was a game for professional people and members of the so-called upper classes. It was a period of acute social divisions which, incidentally, persisted until they were finally swept away by the second world war. The working man did not regard golf as being of any importance to him. He and his ilk, if they thought about it at all, regarded golf as a silly game in which grown men, allegedly intelligent, hit a small ball round a field with the object of eventually getting it into a hole only slightly larger than the ball. It was not for them! They had no way of knowing that the "game of gowff”' had been played for over three hundred years and, devised in Scotland, such was its fascination that the Scots were completely devoted to it and at least three had been imprisoned in the late 1600's for the playing of the gowff of the links of Leith every Sabbath at the time of the sermonises".
Time has proved that golf is probably the most addictive and enduring of all games. Why this should be is something of a mystery because it is a maddening activity which makes strong men weep, drives the God-fearing to blasphemy and causes the inoffensive to hurl clubs into bushes or even break them across their knees. But give it up? Not likely! It is probably all due to the challenge it presents, for a round of golf is acknowledged to be a difficult operation fraught with perils beyond the comprehension of the non-player. As Winston Churchill put it, "the object of golf is to get a small ball into a marginally larger hole with implements singularly ill-devised for the purpose". It is the euphoria of mastering that little ball and those awkward clubs, if only just once in a while, which gives golfers their impetus and eternal optimism!
No doubt it was public indifference which gave golf such an inauspicious start in Haverfordwest. Fortunately, there were a few local gentlemen with knowledge of the game, who were not to be easily put off. At their social meetings, probably at the county club, they had often talked about golf, which some of them had played while in other parts of the country, and eventually three of their number decided to call a public meeting with a view to forming a Haverfordwest Golf Club. They were Mr. William Howell Walters of Haroldston Hall, Broad Haven (later Sir William), Mr. Arthur W. Cottesmore, Haverfordwest) and Mr. H. E. Hitchman, a local bank manager who had come to Haverfordwest in 1902.
The meeting was held at the Salutation Hotel (later the County Hotel) on Saturday afternoon, June 18, 1904, and it was there they decided unanimously, on the motion of Mr. Morris Owen, a well-known Pembrokeshire personality, seconded by Mr. R. P. L. Penn, squire of Camrose, that a club be formed, to be known as "The Haverfordwest Golf Club." Only one official was elected at this stage - Mr. Hitchman as honorary secretary.
The subscription was fixed at one guinea (£1.05p) per annum. This was moved by Mr. William Howell Walters and seconded by Mr. Hitchman, who also informed the meeting that there would probably be about 25 members to start the club. It was also stated that use of the course could start for an expenditure of about £100, although it was pointed out that a great deal of work in cleaning the ground of gorse etc. needed to be done. The links at St. Davids, apparently, had been started at a cost of £87 but, of course, the nature of the ground there was entirely different from that at Haverfordwest.
This inaugural meeting was chaired by Mr. A. W. Massy, and others who showed much interest in the proposal included such prominent persons as Messrs. J. C. Yorke of Langton, Dwrbach, Fishguard; Ernest Allen; Victor J. Higgon of Sealyham Mansion (later of Treffgarne Hall); Fred W. Lewis, whose father William Lewis owned the "Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph”, (later the "Western Telegraph”); A. J. Wright (bank manager); W. J. Jones (lawyer); Thomas Baker, B. F. Chalk, W. D. Phillips (chemist); Hugh Thomas (estate agent, later Sir Hugh); W. G. Eaton-Evans (lawyer), Louis Samson, Scotchwell House; A. H.Howard (bank manager).
Discussions were held with the Portfield Recreation Committee who were sympathetic to the idea of a golf course on their land at the Racecourse and agreed to grant the new Club the use and control of the area upon the termination of the existing tenant's agreement. There was some dispute about the rent but it was resolved amicably. The Golf Club, over-optimistically perhaps, was under the impression that the land could be used free of cost but the worthy Portfield Recreation Committee members soon made the position clear the Golf Club would have to pay the same as the previous tenant, £6 per annum. Some of the keen tyro golfers then suggested a reduction of £3 in view of the great benefits which the Club would bring to Haverfordwest by way of visitors, etc., but in the end the £6 was cheerfully accepted by all.
Another problem was the control of the ground. It was apparent that someone, preferably a person residing near, would have to superintend the course, keep strays from trespassing, etc. The Portfield Recreation Committee and the Cricket Club (already using part of the Racecourse) employed a woman to keep the ground in order but the Golf Club felt she could not be expected to do the extra work of looking after the links which extended over most of the Racecourse. The problem was met in the typical British manner by deferring it for the time being - and eventually, of course, the Club appointed a groundsman.
Initially, the Golf Club had a Working Committee of seven - Messrs. A. J. Wright, Hugh Thomas, W. Howell Walters, Morris Owen, Fred W. Lewis, A. W. Massy and W. G. Eaton-Evans, with the secretary (Mr. Hitchman). They agreed readily to certain things, such as allowing sheep to graze the course, but other matters concerning the development of the course were more difficult. After anxious discussion, it was eventually decided to seek the advice of a professional and, in due course, the gentleman arrived, walked the course and made numerous suggestions for preparing the ground, laying the greens, etc. By this time, about thirty people had promised to become members and it was decided to urge them to pay their subscriptions so that work on the course could proceed.
Despite the early enthusiasm and impressive backing, Golf Club activities seem to have come to a full stop by the end of the summer, 1904. This led to an article in the "Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph” at the end of September (could it have been written by Mr. Fred W. Lewis, a member of the Club's Working Committee?) It read:
"It is now several months since it was decided to form a Golf Club in Haverfordwest, and many are inquiring what progress has been made. It was stated at a subsequent meeting that a sum close to £100 would be required to put the ground in order for play. Other estimates, however, made by people quite competent to judge, say that play may be commenced after an expenditure of half of that sum. At present, however, little seems to have been done beyond commencing the formation of a Club, and things appear at the moment to have lapsed into a quiescent condition. It would be as well if the promoters of the idea at once realised the fact that the required sum will not gravitate into their hands. It will require a good deal of energy and persistence and, even then, there may possibly be a deficit. We believe, however, that the money may be raised and when the knowledge of golf has been disseminated sufficiently locally we also think the game will become popular. It is a form of recreation that appeals to people of all ages, rank and physical condition. It entails no violent exertion and can be played by people well past middle life with enjoyment and absolute immunity from the risk that is nearly always inseparable from other forms of outdoor sports. Further, it is inexpensive and may be played either alone or with a partner. There are other features of the game no less attractive than those already enumerated and to which we may refer in a future article."
Whatever the power of the press in those far off days, this criticism-cum-panegyric did little to cure the malaise which seemed to be affecting the newly-formed Golf Club. There were valid reasons for delay which the newspaper appeared to have overlooked. The Club had to wait for the existing tenancy to expire at the end of September and, undoubtedly, there was also a shortage of cash.
Another reason was the unexpected departure later in 1904 of the ebullient honorary secretary, Mr. Hitchman, who to everyone's surprise was transferred by his bank from the position of manager at Haverfordwest to that of assistant manager at the Teilo Street branch in Cardiff. He was very keen on the golf project and his absence was felt. About a year later, local friends were sorry to read that he had had to meet his creditors at the Official Receiver's Office in Cardiff. He blamed his failure on having borrowed money at ten per cent interest to meet his personal expenses, which included the cost of his wedding! He also complained that his transfer from Haverfordwest had meant a reduction in salary from £250 to £175 per annum, which could be taken as an indication of the prosperity of Haverfordwest at the time.
In any case, nothing happened on the golf scene for two months. On November 30, 1904, a meeting of members was held when Mr. Massy again presided and one of the main items on the agenda was the appointment of a new secretary. Fortunately, Mr. William Howell Walters agreed to undertake the duties - and things began to move again!
Some concern was felt at this stage that certain members were holding back their subscriptions while other potential members were slow in coming forward. There was enough money in hand for only three months work. To try and remedy this situation a treasurer was appointed. Mr. Arthur Wright accepted the duties, promising to ginger-up the recalcitrants. It was hoped that when the Club was thoroughly started the members would come forward and pay up.
In the meantime, the Portfield Recreation Committee continued to be favourably disposed towards the Club. In December, the Committee agreed to allow the golfers the use of the grandstand for the storing of their clubs, etc., and, perhaps more important, decided to reduce the rental to £3.10s per annum and "seeing that the Golf Club was a public institution, which members of the public had been invited to join, the first year's rent be returned." This was an unexpected bonus, the Committee having previously refused such a concession. The Committee emphasised, however, that it did not have the power to grant the Club the exclusive use of the Racecourse, a position which the golfers thoroughly understood and accepted.
Despite this valuable help, the problems continued. Progress on the course was slow and the position was not helped by people who persistently exercised their horses on the Racecourse, churning up the ground after it had been rolled, a steam roller having been hired for the purpose. One offender was brought to court but the case was dismissed. On Saturday, June 17, 1905, the Club's first annual meeting was held at the Salutation Hotel and it must have been extremely disappointing that only four members turned up - Mr. A. W. Massy, Mr. William Howell Walters, Mr. A. J. Wright and Mr. Hugh J. P. Thomas. However, they bravely proceeded with the agenda. The officials were all re-elected Mr. Massy as chairman, Mr. Howell Walters secretary and Mr. Wright treasurer. It was agreed to appoint Mr. Massy as the Club's first captain and to invite Sir Owen Henry Philipps Scourfield, Bart., of Williamston, to be the first President and Mr. L. Samson to be Vice-President.
In accepting the Presidency, Sir Owen Scourfield confessed that he had never played golf in his life. “I would hardly know a golf club if I saw one" he said with typical good humour. "But I understand a golf ball is small and round and will bounce. I also understand that golf is good and healthy so I will support the Club in all its endeavours.”. He continued in the office of president until his death in 1921.
Mr. Louis Samson also accepted the Vice-Presidency as also later on did Dr. Henry Owen, while Mr. Massy continued as captain and chairman and Mr. Howell Walters was joined as joint secretary by Mr. F. A Scott, a local banker and a great golf enthusiast who did tremendous work for the Golf Club, especially in respect of the provision and building of the first clubhouse, of which details will be given later. After the arrival of Mr. Scott, Mr. Howell Walters became a sort of ‘front man’, a man of great standing and local influence who could do (and did) so much to promote the Golf Club’s public image, while Mr. Scott performed the day-to-day chores of secretaryship. In this he was greatly assisted by his wife, also a golf enthusiast. Mr. Howell Walters often joked that being secretary of the Golf Club was the best job he ever had – because somebody else did all the work!