With outstanding golf courses in the area, it is perhaps not really surprising that golf is such a popular sport in Southend. Yet golf in Southend began in much humbler surroundings. Rochford Hundred Golf Club opened in 1896, but its history dates three years earlier with the Southend-on-Sea Golf Club which was formed in the summer of 1893. At this time, golf was just beginning to flourish in the South, but as a rule, it was looked on by most as “an old man’s game,”- something to be taken up when too old for games of a more athletic nature. How different from current times. In the spring of 1893, several men among whom were Messers. Warlow, Turner, W. Walker, R. B. Campbell, and Dr. Silva Jones, decided to form a club. A tentative start was made by laying out a course of six holes on the field at the back of the Rectory at Southchurch but this “course” was probably more pitch and putt as we know it rather than golf. A few months later, three fields were rented on the Southchurch Hall Farm the site where the Kursaal was – and the Southend-on-Sea Golf Club was inaugurated. In the beginning the course seemed very promising. It had been a very dry season and consequently the grass was very short. The turf seemed suitable for golf. The headquarters were at the Ship Hotel, where a room was provided as a club room. A good many golfers from London joined, probably attracted by the “on-Sea” and under the impression that it was a seaside course, the links were used by red coats at weekends. Anyone with pretensions to being a player in those days wore a red coat, and if you went round in under 100, you were considered entitled to wear it. However, with the winter came disillusion: the course became a veritable swamp. The first hole, about 180 yards, was “casual water” from tee to hole. It became known as “Warlow’s Bath the reason being that Mr Warlow, the Hon Secretary, while superintending the cutting of a trench to try and drain it, fell into it. Cattle grazed on the course, with the result that shots often had to be made out of hoof marks and often balls were lost. The course was one of nine holes and Mr Walker was reckoned the holder of the 18 hole record with 87. Most players took nearly as many strokes for nine holes. In 1896 the club fell on bad times. The London members had all resigned, finances were low, and the grass grew very long there were no facilities for getting it cut. When the Gas Company built a gasometer on the last green and the Corporation started to cut a drain right across the the course, it seemed goodbye to golf in Southend. At that time the guiding spirits were Messers. W. Walker, F. Davidson, W. M. Grimshaw, C. F. Woosman, D. S. Edwards and the Rev. E. E. Kimber. Search was made for suitable land around in the neighbourhood, but without success. At this point, a Mr Tabor made an offer of land around Rochford Hall Farm, plus the use of two rooms in the Hall. His offer was gratefully accepted and at a meeting in the Ship in November 1896, the club was wound up and Rochford Hundred Golf Club came into being. At the time the club started at Rochford, there were only 80 members at a subscription of one guinea and a few ladies at 10s 6d. Assets consisted of about £10 at the bank, one roller and one mowing machine. It was only through the generosity of Mr Tabor letting the land practically rent free that a start was possible. Only nine holes were laid out at first, all on the north side of the stream which was designed by Peter Paxton of Tooting Bec. Mr Walker was Captain, Mr Davidson Hon. Secretary and Walter Toogood was appointed professional and greenkeeper. The links were officially opened on Boxing Day 1896, and the first ball was driven by Mr James Tabor, who was presented with a silver cleek as a memento. In 1903, when a change in the manufacture of golf balls made it easier to hit the ball harder, some holes were changed to give the course, which had extended to 18 holes in 1898, more distance. To inaugurate this, a professional competition was arranged and the legendary Harry Vardon was amongst those who took part. From this point, until 1923, there were no great changes in the course at Rochford. In 1923 the course was reconstructed by the well-known architects Messers. Hawtree and Taylor, with the aid and advice of Mr James Braid. The club house at Rochford, was now the formerly Rochford Hall, which was the residence of Sir Thomas Boleyn. The father of Anne Boleyn, the second Queen of Henry VIII. In 1913 it was decided to lay out a second course at Rochford because of the popularity the game was enjoying. The making of the new course was in the hands of Messers. Kemsley and J. Steel. It was opened for play 1915 but the First World War prevented it being developed any further, and in January 1918, the Government, on account of the food shortage, ordered it to be ploughed up. The course at Thorpe Hall Golf Club was laid out in in 1906 by Mr K. Costly White, assisted by club professional Mr Bert Batley. The Hall, which was converted into the club house, dates from 1668. Since the Thorpe Hall course was first constructed many improvements have taken place and the last three holes were completely remodelled during 1936. In a 1939 Southend Guide, Thorpe Hall, is described as” the nearest seaside holiday course to London,” while other local course, Belfairs, with its infamous wood holes, is described as “one of the most beautiful courses in East Anglia.” In the same guide Rochford is described as ensuring a “wonderful diversity of tests for every class of golfer.”
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