Sandy Lodge golf club

Sandy Lodge Golf Club

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Sandy Lodge Golf Club had what most people today would call a romantic beginning. In 1908, Mr. James Francis Markes got tired of playing his weekend golf on a muddy North London course at Neasden. He was determined to try to find some more suitable ground on which to build a course that would be dry and pleasant to play during the wet months of the English winter. Above all, Mr. Markes wanted to find a really sandy soil on which he could lay out a course that would look and play as much like a seaside links as possible.

This Mr. Markes was no ordinary man. Although a businessman in London at the time, he was a mining engineer by profession, having prospected for gold in both New Zealand and Australia in the late 1800s. In view of this mining experience, it was not surprising that Mr. Markes, then aged 45, set out on his quest for new golfing land by consulting a geological map. It showed extensive deposits of sand in the ground just 25 miles from the centre of London, between Northwood and Rickmansworth, close to the Metropolitan Railway--an ideal location.

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Mr. Markes spent many weekends prospecting in the Northwood and Rickmansworth area, and one day, on 8th August 1908 to be precise, while walking over the land here which was then Sandy Lodge Farm, he noticed a rabbit burrow underneath a hedge in which pure white sand was exposed. Further investigation showed the extensive deposits of sand, which lay beneath what, would become the course and which were, in prehistoric times, thought to be part of a coastal beach or seabed.

In fact, many fossilised seashells and sea urchins were uncovered during construction of the course, further evidence backing this theory. Having found the sand, Mr. Markes and a number of his fellow members of the old Neasden Club formed a company that obtained a 21-year lease of 145 acres of land from Lord Ebury, who lived in the Moor Park Mansion nearby and owned large tracts of the surrounding countryside. Some of this land around the mansion eventually became the Moor Park Golf Club and estate, but it did not come into being until many years later, in 1923.

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To help him lay out this new course, Mr. Markes called in his close friend Harry Vardon, the great old professional who won the Open Championship six times. Together they pegged out the first holes on 5th November 1909.

It is amazing to think that, when the course was made, there were no such things as mechanical excavators or other earthmoving machinery, and all the construction work had to he done manually. Horse and cart and wheelbarrow transported all materials. Mr. Markes estimated that from two large sandpits alone, one near the 11th tee and the other behind the 14th green (the remains of which may still be seen), some 8,000 cubic yards of sand and ballast were taken, which represented between 18.000 and 20,000 cartloads! He did, of course, have a large workforce, and though they were probably not very highly paid, they managed nonetheless to persevere and within 8 months managed to complete the entire course.

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Carters, the turf seed merchants who are still in business today, sowed all greens, fairways and tees with special fine grass seed supplied. Gradually, a pure sward was produced, composed mainly of agrostis and fescue, with none of the hateful poa annual or annual meadow grass. While the course was being constructed, Mr. Markes arranged with the Metropolitan & Great Central Railway to make a station on the line between Northwood and Rickmansworth, since most of the club's members were residents of London. Located within 100 yards of the proposed clubhouse, it was a small wooden affair, a mere platform constructed of timbers with a wooden bridge over the track, and they called it Sandy Lodge Halt.

The official opening of the course took place on l6th July 1910. An exhibition match was played between Harry Vardon and James Braid, another famous old professional of the time. The London papers gave the occasion much publicity, as can be seen in some of the old cuttings. Headlines like "Seaside Links near London", "Sand for Golf" and "New Great Links at Sandy Lodge" appeared over the stories. The two great professionals, in classic competitive fashion, halved their match, providing the crowds a memorable day of outstanding golf at the new inland links.

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During the Club's infancy, most of the members lived in London and, motorcars being scarce in those days, almost all of them travelled to the Club by train. When the 9.40 arrived at Sandy Lodge Halt on Sunday morning, the members would rush to the 1st tee. In their haste to put a ball in the starting tin, some are even said to have jumped out of the carriages on the wrong side and scrambled across the track to the opposite platform. It was just as well for them that the line was not electrified in those days. After being enlarged in the 192Os, the station was renamed Moor Park & Sandy Lodge. The station was eventually replaced by the current modern structure, and many members became understandably angry and annoyed when "Sandy Lodge" was dropped from the name.
By 1928 the course really did look like a seaside links, with its fast greens (Mr. Markes gave them very little fertilizer), bent covered sari mounds, deep bunkers and large expanses of sand. So strong was the resemblance to a seaside links that it was quite possible, while playing on a hot summer's day, with the marum grass waving and the heat waves shimmering, to imagine that one would suddenly walk up and over a hill and come across the sea.

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The course kept its seaside appearance up to the outbreak of the Second World War but then, owing to lack of labour and general upkeep, the sand gradually grew over and the condition of the greens and fairways deteriorated. To make matters worse, the club had to submit to flocks of sheep grazing on the course as an alternative to being ploughed up. These animals had, of course, no respect for the greens and tees, onto which they liberally relieved themselves, nor the banks of the bunkers, into which they loved to huddle and sleep. However, the club and course were kept open throughout the war, and the clubhouse became the headquarters of a local Home Guard platoon that used to patronise the bar after Church Parade on Sundays. Even in wartime, Mr. Markes managed to keep a considerable stock of whisky in the cellar, which he always said was good property. The Luftwaffe dropped a few small bombs on the course during the war, but they only succeeded in destroying a hut near the 13th green and, incidentally, thereby depriving a wandering vagrant of his already meagre sleeping quarters.

When the course was restored after the war, increased labour and maintenance costs necessitated a considerable reduction in the areas of sand that could be exposed. Some bunkers were left grassed over and others were reduced in size while a number of former sand mounds were eliminated. So the course did lose some of its seaside appearance, and this trend has continued slowly over the years with the growth of trees and other vegetation. But the course has not really suffered from the change in its appearance and it is still the fine and pleasant test of golf that it has always been. The layout of the holes remains virtually the same as when the course was designed by Mr. Markes and Harry Vardon.

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