Pyecombe Golf Club
The Club's formation and its early years
Pyecombe Golf Club was formally opened on Saturday 6th October 1894. No formal ceremony took place but to mark the occasion the professionals of Forest Row and Seaford golf clubs, Messrs. Rowe and Ross respectively, were engaged to play the first match on the men’s course. The Sussex Daily News’ report of the match recorded that the number of strokes taken by Rowe to complete the course was 86 and by Ross 88.
"James Braid has been advising the club at Pyecombe as to alterations on their course. Braid thinks highly of the course, which is beautifully situated on the Downs. There are a good many long holes, five of them requiring two full shots, and one about 550 yards."
The Club during the World Wars
The mainstay of the Club during most of the inter-war years (1919 – 39) was “Wally” Wooler, a local man from Pyecombe village and one of the sons of Walter Wooler the Pyecombe shepherd, whose photograph is shown here.
Wally acted as Club Professional, Steward and Greenkeeper - in fact he constituted the entire green staff. The fairways were maintained by grazing sheep and the greens cut with a hand mower. In those days there was no bar in the clubhouse and Wally would take the stock home each evening and return it to the club the next morning. The Club had neither running water nor main drainage and an additional responsibility of Wally (as Steward) was to carry or arrange for the carrying of daily water to the clubhouse.
During the 1920s the annual subscription to the Club was one guinea (£1.05 in today’s currency).
After the Wars
In July 1948, golf architects provided the newly formed golf club Finance Committee with a cost estimate for reinstating the golf course. The estimate came to a total of £4550 and to this had to be added costs of refurbishing the Clubhouse, providing fencing, a tractor and other equipment, bringing the total to £8650. The War Department offered at that time to pay compensation of £6933. The Club and its members thus had what was then a substantial deficit to finance. At that time the going subscription for men was 8 guineas (£8.40p).
In 1954 an extension was added to the clubhouse.
In 1957/58 a young lady from Pyecombe village started work at the Club as a cleaner. Her name: Mrs Lydia Selsby. Lydia became a faithful servant of the club for over 40 years, retiring in 2002.
In 1969 at the time of the 75th anniversary of the Club, Mr K. R. Barnard was Club Captain and he is still a very active member. He has served as captain 3 times and as President of the club.
In 1982 the golf course was extended by about 500 yards with the opening of three new holes located on the north side of the South Down Way. The hole that was the final 18th hole that led down to the clubhouse still remains today however, and is used for practice and short game tuition.
The Club weathered the Great Gale of 1987 without sustaining too much damage. However, the severe rainfall in November 1990 caused damage to the course. Continuous rain fell over two nights and was estimated to measure at least 65mm at Pyecombe causing a mudslide. The mud washed off the surrounding fields and slid across a bridle path adjacent to the 10th green “The Cockpit” – a green like an upturned basin, and filled the green with mud slurry. The outcome of this natural disaster was that a new two-tiered green was constructed nearby and the old green was turned into a water feature. (See below.)
New 10th Green with Water Feature
The Clayton windmills, Jack and Jill, are two landmarks on the South Downs that are closely associated with the Club and visible from many parts of the course. The black mill with white rotational cap is Jack, a tower mill built in 1866 and worked until 1907. The white mill is Jill, a post mill in which the entire body of the mill rotates to enable the sails to face the wind. Jill was originally erected in 1821 in Dyke Road, Brighton and was moved to her present location in 1852. Jill is a working mill restored and maintained by the Jack & Jill Preservation Society. She suffered considerable damage in the 1987 storm but has since been repaired. The late Henry Longhurst, golfer, writer and BBC commentator, who was a member and past President of the Club (from 1975 to 1978) used to live in the house between the mills.
1989 was a notable year for the Club because it seized the opportunity to buy the land (147 acres) from the National Freight Corporation and so became a true members club. At that time there were 640 members of various categories and debentures were raised through the membership to enable the land purchase to go ahead.
100 years on and recent history
Pyecombe Golf Club’s centenary year was in 1994 and to mark this occasion a Centenary History book was published.
Download PDF of Centenary Booklet or View Online
During the years 1995-97 two major improvements were made to the Club. A new computer-controlled pop-up sprinkler watering system for the greens was installed and the water supply piping to the greens was replaced, leading to a significant improvement of the course. Secondly, a major reconstruction of the clubhouse was undertaken and opened for use. The latter involved demolition of the men's changing rooms and the construction of a new two-storey building housing both the men’s and ladies' changing rooms. The ladies' old changing room was converted to give a larger Club dining room and an additional meeting room.
In November 1998 the Club broke with tradition and introduced a new management structure comprising a Captain’s Committee, a Management Committee and a Members Audit Committee. The three committees have the following objectives: the Management Committee is responsible for running the club on business lines under the leadership of a Chairman; The Captain’s Committee is responsible for all golfing, membership matters and social activities, and the Members’ Audit Committee is responsible for conducting an annual review of all aspects of management of the club with intermittent inspections as required for auditing purposes.
In 1999 a new roof was installed over the older part of the clubhouse to replace a corrugated iron roof initially intended to have a ten year life span when installed after the 2nd world war. Further alterations were made to the old stewards bungalow when converted into the Managing Secretary's Office, disabled toilet and storage access.
Some members gathered outside the clubhouse at the Captains' Drive-in November 1999
Since the turn of the new millennium, the Club has consolidated its position as a leading downland golf course with improvements both on the course and in the clubhouse. The poorly draining 18th green was rebuilt in 2003 and significant other drainage improvements made to the 9th, 15th and 17th greens. In 2004, Donald Steele, a respected golf course architect, was invited to audit the course and to recommend improvements to the lay out and course features. His recommendations for re-designed bunkers at the 5th and the 8th holes and new tees at the 6th, 8th and 10th thereby extending the course to nearly 6300 yards have since been implemented. The acquisition of modern machinery, a new head greenkeeper, initiatives and changes to the course maintenance programme, have all been effective in upgrading both the putting surfaces and the overall course condition.
In 2011, Ewen Murray the Sky Sports Commentator visited the club reviewing the progress made in course development and offering his opinion on further opportunities to develop the course layout. He concluded, observing how much he had enjoyed his lengthy visit, commenting ‘I enjoyed my amble around your lovely old Downland course that unquestionably has an enviable charm’ He also reported that the club had a clean bill of health remarking how impressed by the enthusiasm and the love of the club demonstrated by staff and members. In the clubhouse, renewals and refurbishments to the layout and facilities of the internal areas have been regularly carried out in the same period. In 2009/10 major project works were undertaken covering the rebuilding of the professional shop and the replacement of the clubs energy system. The rebuilding work has provided an extended shop and a new balcony with seating accessible from the lounge. A new walkway to the new first tee area has also been added. The energy project to replace the clubs previous inefficient boiler system by a new ground source heat pump energy system involving the drilling of several bore holes in the adjoining car park field, was also successfully carried out. The project provides both payback benefits insurance against future energy cost increases and a reduced carbon footprint and should sustain the business aspects surrounding the club in the years to come.
The Club was in good spirits approaching Christmas 2013, having been informed that Pyecombe won the Golf Yearbook Southern Counties Golf Club of the Year 2013, where judges commented... The Club was then delighted to be awarded a Certificate of Excellence and Trophy for reaching the final of the Sports Turf Research Institutes Environmental Golf Club of the year award 2014. The judges commented:
In 2016, Pyecombe were proud to receive the STRI National Environmental Award. Further information can be found here.
A Biography of the Pyecombe Golf Club President 1975-1978
Henry Longhurst and Pyecombe
The famous golf commentator, journalist and author joined Pyecombe in March 1954 at the age of 45. He remained a member for the rest of his life and became President of the club for three years until he died in 1978.
The Longhurst Putter
His most tangible legacy to the Club is his putter, housed on an oak bracket above the bar and played for every year in a cross-country golf event. The event, devised by Longhurst with John Slater, captain in 1978, & Ron Saunders, then vice-captain, is played in teams of four over nine holes, but playing from the first tee to the second green, and so on. John Slater remembers,“Henry left a note to say that the captain of the year could change the format if it proved unpopular, but it’s stayed pretty much the same ever since”.
Born in Bedfordshire into a middle class family in 1909, Longhurst went to prep school in Eastbourne and then to Charterhouse and Cambridge. Most of his friends followed a similar path, at a time between the wars when men of this class addressed caddies, greenkeepers and even golf pro’s by their surname only. In his thirties, Longhurst was briefly Conservative MP for Acton until swept away by the Labour landslide of 1945. He viewed the House of Commons as very similar to life at school. “To a gregarious person like myself life in the House of Commons in those days was heaven”. And yet, John Slater says, “there was no side on him”, and Chris White, the Pro, remembers “a delightful man: I greatly enjoyed Henry’s company and especially loved his ‘old school’ humour.”
By the time he moved with his family to Sussex, Longhurst was well established in his career, writing a weekly column for the Sunday Times and commentating on golf since the very birth of televised golf in the late 1930s. He acknowledged his enormous luck at happening upon a career in journalism, “a job that not only combined work with pleasure but also paid as though I were a grown-up” (My Life and Soft Times, 1971). “I never went to a regular place of work,” he wrote. “Furthermore I have never in my life, never, worked during the afternoon”.
He and his wife, Claudine, bought the Clayton windmills, Jack and Jill, and moved there in July 1953. At the time the cottage and windmills had no running water or electricity : “The place was unplayable”, wrote Longhurst in his autobiography. Ten years later they demolished the cottage and built a modern house between the mills. The bedrooms were downstairs and the living area upstairs, to take full advantage of the views over the trees.
Henry got tired of people asking why there were only sails on one of the two windmills (as was the case before Jill was restored). He would reply that there wasn’t enough wind up there for the two. Others would ask, “Isn’t it windy, living up there?” and he would retort, “That’s why they put the b... things up there!”
Jack Windmill later featured on the BBC as the site of its Christmas golf broadcasts by Henry Longhurst and Peter Alliss.
Longhurst’s style as a writer was characterised by admirable brevity, which he partly attributed to a shortage of paper after the war. As a commentator he was renowned for his idiosyncratic turn of phrase and his silences. When he first commentated for CBS in America he caused quite a stir – partly because he would always stay silent while a player was taking his shot, and partly because, when one player topped the ball, he exclaimed, “Oh, that’s a terrible shot!” which had apparently never been said before on American television.
Alastair Cooke, in a 2003 Letter from America, enthused, “Human nature was his true topic, its fusses and follies. Whatever was bold, charming, idiotic or eccentric about people”.
One of the episodes that will stick in the mind of many golf fans is the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews. Doug Sanders was on the final green with a 3ft putt to win the Open. Sanders settled over the putt, then noticed something on the line and stooped to brush it away without moving his feet. Frank Keating, in his book Sporting Century, describes what happened next: “With the soles of his shoes still rooted to the exact same position, he now resettled over the ball – and as he did so, the BBC TV’s doyen commentator Henry Longhurst gave a gasp and a murmured ‘Oh, no’ – and those in the know in the multi-million audience watching live round the world realised what Henry meant. He had not reset his stance. He should have stood up, walked away, relaxed again, and then resettled.” Sanders missed the putt; Henry murmured, “There but for the grace of God ...” and Jack Niklaus won the play-off.
Members still remember the portly Longhurst driving down from Jack & Jill in his convertible, pale-blue Ford Mustang to enjoy a drink on a Friday evening or Sunday lunchtime in the clubhouse.
Ken Barnard, now President of Pyecombe and twice Captain in the past, knew Longhurst well, not least because of that Ford Mustang. Ken ran four car repair shops in mid-Sussex, and Henry frequently used to need dents repaired in his car. “When it was ready, he used to insist that I deliver it personally to Jack Windmill, always at 11 o’clock in the morning. There he’d be, in his octagonal office in Jack, with its enormous desk. On either side of the desk were boxes of champagne. He’d open a bottle from the nearby fridge, and for an hour or more would entertain me with funny stories. They weren’t always primarily about golf - more about his life, really. It wasn’t until a few months had gone by that I realised he was trying out the stories on me to see if they were entertaining: shortly afterwards they would appear in his column in the Sunday Times.”
Henry in the Clubhouse
Lydia Selsby who worked at Pyecombe clubhouse for 47 years, many of those years behind the bar, recalls that Henry’s tipple was gin at lunchtime and whisky in the evenings. "He was in here every night, and often on Sunday lunchtimes too. He was very witty, very entertaining. He used to alternate on Sundays between here and the New Inn at Hurst[pierpoint]. He always sat in the seat nearest the bar, often with Ernie Dunne and John Slater. When he was ill, towards the end, Claudine used to drop him here and fetch him when he was ready. He loved societies: you wouldn't think, but he could tell from up there [at the windmills] when there was a society here, and he'd come down and present the prizes. The societies loved it because it was the great Henry Longhurst, and he didn't mind because they kept plying him with drinks!"
Terry Reilly remembers “an affable fellow”, who would often be in the clubhouse when Terry popped in after work, and who would entrust his Sunday Times typescript to him to post in Hassocks main post office on the way home, to meet the paper’s deadline.
John Secrett (Captain 1988-9): “He used to pop down and have a gin & tonic, and someone would drive him home. He was also President of the Sussex Royal British Legion Golfers’ Society, and his wife took that over when he died. His wife and daughter, Sue, were also members at Pyecombe, and Sue was a good golfer.”
It was Ken Barnard who was entrusted with the task of inviting Henry to be President of Pyecombe Golf Club in 1975. To his surprise, Henry’s reaction was very emotional: “He said to me, ‘In all my years of golf, I’ve never been invited to be President of a golf club before’. He took his duties very seriously. He would deliver a speech at the dinner-dance, and was always there to present prizes.”
Chris White recalls, “Henry loved to recount that on the day he was made President, the 65-year-old flagpole snapped in half! Henry always maintained this was in protest at his illustrious appointment”.
Out on the course
Henry Longhurst was an excellent golfer, playing off scratch or better for twenty years, captaining the Cambridge University golf team as an undergraduate and winning the German Amateur Championship in 1936.
Dick Smithard, now 80, remembers him practising: “Henry used to bring a bucket of balls to the women’s tee of what is now the 13th hole. He used to take something like a 4-wood and hit them, and they’d all end up on the green – I think he’d walk over from his house. But he gave up when he got the twitch on the putting green”. Dick Attwood remembers seeing Longhurst play at Brighton & Hove Golf Club, where Dick caddied at the age of 8.
Longhurst was furious when the R&A outlawed the type of ‘croquet’ putter he used, which involved placing your feet either side of the intended line of the putt. Soon after that he gave up the game entirely, on D-Day 1968, because he could not overcome the ‘yips’ and had ceased to enjoy playing. He stashed his clubs in the loft, informing Chris White: “No golfer finds true peace until he places his clubs in the attic for the very last time!”
And yet he was persuaded to bring his clubs out of the loft for one last time, for a mixed event in 1976: the Queen Elizabeth Trophy. “The format was a lady and two men,” recalls Ken Barnard. “It was Henry, myself as Club Captain, and Audrey Gibbons, the Lady Captain of that year. Henry brought a caddie, a young lad, and played well. He really enjoyed it. Easy to play with, very good company. I think that was his last game of golf.”
In his time, Longhurst tried out many other sports, even gliding off the South Downs – but he couldn’t stand looking down, so gave that up after two attempts.
Pro Chris White remembers Henry telling him about the time he did the Cresta Run in a bobsleigh. “He described the loud rumbling noise as they shot down the run at high speed. This noise got louder and louder, and then suddenly there was complete silence ...and then they hit the tree!”
Ken Barnard remembers that Henry was very enthusiastic about football, and used to watch it on television with the sound down because he found the commentary irritating: “If it’s a goal, I can see it’s a goal!” Ken once played golf with an old friend of Henry’s from Cambridge days, Franklyn Buckley, who had since become a director of Crystal Palace FC. Ken and Franklin arranged a day out for Henry, watching the match at Selhurst Park in the Directors’ Box. Ken Barnard and Ken Wenham, another Pyecombe member, picked Henry up at the mills, but he asked them to do so at about 10am, even though the match didn’t start until 3:00: “Henry wanted to stop off at various pubs along the way and check if the landlords he had known were still there”. So they made a day of it, he enjoyed the game, had a good meal and was dropped off again at his house at about 11 at night.
His last year
John Slater was Captain in the year Longhurst died: “He knew he was dying – cancer, I think it was. He used to sit in the corner of the clubhouse swigging whisky or pink gin.”
Brian Dury, captain of the veterans at Pyecombe, recalls Longhurst telling the following story in the bar: “A few years ago I was diagnosed as having cancer of the colon. It seemed to me that I should not put my family and friends through the unedifying experience of my final illness so I determined to end it quickly myself.
“ I took with me [to the study at the top of Jack, the black windmill] a bottle of aspirin, a carafe of water and a bottle of Glenfiddich. I intended to gaze at my favourite view in all the world, in one direction the rolling downs of Sussex and in the other, the High Weald; then a drink of my favourite Scotch Malt whisky. And then ... !
I settled down in my old armchair and soaked up the view. It was a beautiful summer’s evening and everything looked magnificent. Then a glass (generous) of Glenfiddich, and if anything the view improved - I couldn’t tear my eyes away, other than to pour myself just one more glass of Malt. And do you know, the future started to look a little more promising. Another glass of whisky and the aspirin disappeared down the loo, and life went on.”
The day after Henry’s death, John Slater was asked to come up to the windmills by Claudine, his widow. “She produced a letter for me, saying that Henry had asked that I read it to members on the first Sunday after his demise.”
Brian Dury takes up the story: “On that day and as the last of the regular four-balls arrived from the course, John rang his ‘Captain’s Bell’ and in the ensuing silence read the letter to us all. It expressed Henry’s delight and pride in being our President. He was lavish in his praise of the course, the clubhouse and, most of all, the welcoming and friendly atmosphere he had always enjoyed in the clubhouse bar. He ended his letter with three requests as follows:
1) If we had to fly a flag for him would we ensure that it was flown at the TOP of the mast for seven days.
2) On no account was any golfing or social event at the Club to be cancelled solely because of his death.
3) Finally would all members present please join him in a farewell drink, a suitable sum of money having being left behind the bar for this purpose?
And so it had, many years before and dutifully increased every year to take account of inflation! When every one had been served, a solemn toast was drunk to our own Henry and there were few dry eyes in the house”.
"I also admired the three Henrys: Henry Cotton, Henry Longhurst and Henry Cooper. Cooper was a great boxer, Longhurst was just a mess – like Compo in Last of the Summer Wine without the woolly hat. Collars at all angles, ties that had seen better days, trousers which had never been to the cleaners. A complete contrast to Cotton, who was always immaculate, and charged £5 per lesson."
"They say "practice makes perfect". Of course, it doesn't. For the vast majority of golfers it merely consolidates imperfection."'
An obituary by John Vinicombe
SOME years ago when Henry Longhurst thought he was incurably ill, he decided on a tried and tested recipe for shuffling off this mortal coil.
He went to some pains to get a bottle of very special whisky and laid in a store of the right pills. Then, putting his affairs in order, he got stuck into the Scotch ... so much so that he was wafted into a blissful state of unconsciousness that he quite forgot to open the little bottle by his right hand. When Henry awoke he had the mother and father of a hangover and, all things considered, felt decidedly better.
He even wrote about the episode in one of his imperishable pieces for the Sunday Times. Those who had little inkling of what kind of man Henry was, were shaken rigid. Henry conveyed, as he always did, the humour of the situation while the distillers received a handsome free plug.
When death came to Henry Carpenter Longhurst on Friday, aged 69, he was composed and perfectly ready. After all, he had been to the brink before, and once told me that by ignoring safety belts in one of his supercharged cars, his life had been saved. Had Henry been pinioned in his seat, there is no doubt that he have been burned to death.
There was no tying Henry down, or shutting him up, or suggesting that something might be better left unsaid. He was a man apart in his chosen profession. And long before he became a celebrity as an author on televised golf, his reputation as an author, essayist, journalist, and traveller was unimpeachable.
Over a dozen books stemmed from Longhurst’s driest of dry pens, the range varying from travel to golf and excruciatingly funny observations on the contemporary scene. It is doubtful whether there is a writer of the last 20 years or so who gave quite so much pleasure via a newspaper column as Longhurst. For nearly 30 years his piece appeared in the Sunday Times without fail until 1974 when his health started to break down again. Then, he said, “The surgeon operated from an unplayable lie.”
The genius of Longhurst was that he could, and did, write on any subject under the sun. The column was not always entirely about golf, but there is no doubt whatsoever that he did a great deal to popularise the game in the post-war years.
More recently his role as a television commentator was such that no serious rival existed. As an after-dinner speaker, Longhurst, in his pomp, was sought avidly on both sides of the Atlantic. The column used to appear on the back page framed by a black rule. It was something special, and Henry filed his couple of thousand words or so from all corners of the globe.
His public adored him; the Americans made a terrible fuss of him, and the professionals showed marked respect. Gary Player, for instance, would always address him as “Mr Longhurst.” And he meant it.
It was in 1931 that Henry walked victorious from the 12th green at Royal St George’s after his last match as captain of Cambridge. The halcyon days were over, and that night Henry wept at what appeared so bleak a future. His problem was familiar. Born to travel first class he lacked the price of the ticket.
But Henry was lucky and drifted into journalism, and declared later there was only one way of seeing the world - at the expense of Lord Beaverbrook. He did seven years writing about golf for the Evening Standard after selling space, and also contributed in the early and threadbare days to The Tatler.
From prep school at Eastbourne, Henry went to Charterhouse and then, as a scholarship entry, to read economics at Clare College. He was known as the "Mighty Atom" in university golf, and also found time to study. But not before he and some of his pals had each conned their parents into stumping up £100 apiece for a golf trip to America.
It was all grist to the writer's mill, and it was a chance remark that led to him writing about golf for the Sunday Times. Henry invariably had the knack of being in the right place at the right time.
When World War Two arrived, he began as a learner gunner in the Royal Artillery, "running about Blackpool sands in little knickers waving a great bamboo pole." Just before the war he had won the German championship and was one of the best amateurs around at the time. When the war ended, Henry was Tory MP for Acton, but lasted only two years in Parliament.
Then it was time to examine the emerging post-war world, and the pieces that became books were all about exciting things. The Cresta Run, he blandly informed readers, was an infallible cure for a hangover. Gliding off Firle Beacon wasn't to be recommended for the faint-hearted, nor deep-sea diving in the murk of the Persian Gulf.
Readers of Longhurst were never bored and he saw no harm in indulging in a little flag-wagging from time to time. Every golf club welcomed him, and since going to live at Clayton Windmills all those years ago he became very attached to Pyecombe, which is virtually outside the back door, and Brighton and Hove Golf Club.
He loved the atmosphere of the locker room and the bar and the good-natured chaff on the course. It is many years since Henry last played, for he could not abide a drop in standard that came with approaching years. He often stated, metaphorically, that he was a wearer of the Old School Tie. But, in fact, he never wore it. Reason? He hadn't got one.
He loved his home a-top of the Downs and took a deep interest in country matters. He will be greatly missed at his favourite pub in Hurstpierpoint by all the locals just as much as those who will not see him again on TV, or read those occasional pieces that used to come out from Clayton even during his last illness.
His epitaph, I think, must come from his first, and best, book: It Was Good While It Lasted. But, as Henry said in the last line... "Why, yes. But then, life will always be good.”