Stories from the past -The first golf course in Dorset.
In February 1891 the Bridport News announced that as there were few attractions to visitors, other than the natural charms of the landscape, a golf course had been opened in West Bay. The West Bay Golf Club became the first golf club in Dorset! The addition of ‘Bridport’ to the name came later.
Golf was already the national game of Scotland and was becoming more popular in England. The course was two miles in length and ran over the first two fields on the West Cliff. The design of the course was inspired by the Royal North Devon Golf Club at Westward Ho! that was set up in 1864. A Mr F Savage, from the West Bay Hotel, laid out the course and acted as groundsman.
The Bridport News reporter obviously didn’t know very much about the game as he went into great detail explaining how the game of golf was played. However he caused outrage when he suggested that golf wasn’t appropriate for women!
“Tennis is a pretty game, but it is attractive chiefly because ladies can take part in it, and so grace the lawns with their presence ; golf, however, cannot be placed in the category of ladies’ games. To commence with, the course to be traversed is generally from two to three miles, with walls, bogs, and other obstacles. Greater the obstacles the more skill required, and better the game, so that we fear the ladies will have to content themselves as lookers-on, and, let us hope, admire the plainer but sturdier portion of the human species.”
The following week an apology was printed:
“ We hasten to apologise to our fair readers for unwittingly throwing them into a state of consternation regarding the male exclusiveness in the game of golf. The old game, with the hard rough courses or links, were rather out of order for delicate forms of the fair sex, but we understand from the esteemed hon. secretary of the new club at West Bay (Mr. C. G. Nantes), that arrangements have been made for ladies participating in the game. They cannot be expected to use the same heavy clubs or strike so hard as the men, but they will have every facility for enjoying the same.”
We have also read accounts that many golfers when reaching the 4th hole of a game would pause for a swim at Eype before resuming! A clubhouse opened in March 1894 at the end of the Esplanade, its former use had been a former cricket club pavilion.
By 1902, under the Captains ruling, members had to wear red jackets due to casualties among sheep grazing on the course, but how the sheep were helped by this was difficult to imagine.
As well as the sheep the hazards included quarry pits, cliffs, furze, a bog and dry stone walls and the nine holes were named accordingly… Furze, Wall, Flat, Quarry, Cottage, Spring, Swamp, Gully and Home.
It was reported that ‘A better course could not have been selected for the club, as it really a stiff ground with a magnificent stretch of the sea below.’ A number of natural springs caused issues with the course and in 1911 it was moved over to East Cliff, where a better course was laid out.
Since then the Golf Club has gone from strength to strength. Its magnificent course like the original course provides scenic views not only over the sea by inland too, and some of the 18 holes even feature dry stone walls.