Royal Mid-Surrey gains historical importance

Added on July 31st, 2017 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, Greenkeeping, New courses reviewed

Royal Mid-Surrey learns of its close proximity to the earliest golf in England. The importance of Richmond (the home of the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club) in the early history of golf was described in vivid detail last Saturday.


On the occasion of the Club inviting members of the British Golf Collectors Society (BGCS) to play hickory golf with their membership to help celebrate the 125 years since the founding of the Club (initially titled The Middlesex & Surrey Golf Club), Professor Neil Millar gave a fascinating speech.


He told the assembled company about recently uncovered evidence suggesting that the earliest golf in England (as opposed to Scotland) took place at Richmond Palace, rather than Greenwich Palace near Blackheath, as had previously been assumed.

prince henry

Prince Henry

Golf appears to have been introduced to England from Scotland around the time that James VI of Scotland was enthroned as James I of England (1603). Documents from the era record golf being played by the King’s son Prince Henry. However, reassessment of these historical records provides evidence that the earliest documented instance of golf being played in England was at Richmond, the current location of modern-day golf clubs such as Royal Mid-Surrey.

‘Through the Green’ front cover Sept 2016

Royal Blackheath was undoubtedly the first golf club to be formed in England, documented in 1766, but their claim that a recognisable club had been ‘instituted in 1608’ Neil feels is hard to justify. His in-depth research into early golf in England was published in the September 2016 issue of Through the Green, the quarterly magazine of the BGCS.

The sociable RMSG Club today has a fine new clubhouse after the old one burnt down some fifteen years ago, but luckily copies of what was really a museum were safely retained off-site and so the Club has been able to recreate its excellent historical artefacts for hanging on the new clubhouse walls.

The outstanding chef and his team generate food and beverage sales of some £850k pa.

RMSGC flooded. Click to enlarge

The Club possesses two golf courses across the flat ground of the Old Deer Park that is about every two years flooded from the Thames. The inner Pam Barton course, named after a famous member who was a leading lady golfer in the years leading up to the second World War, is 5544 yards in length and has original ‘push-up’ greens with 100% annual meadow grass (Poa annua).

The outer course greens were all excavated quite recently in a £1.7m build to modern USGA standard specifications and re-laid using creeping bent grass. As at the Leicestershire and Kedlestone Park clubs this was a wrong decision, as the weed grass Poa annua invaded quite quickly (the appropriate greenkeeping regime to tend creeping bent grass is similar to the chemical regime for Poa annua) and the RMSGC has now decided to adopt Poa annua grass on both courses.

The greens will be shaved for speed and with a semi-rough fringe,  often of Ryegrass, formed right up to the sides and back of their greens, the course has a ‘parkland-target-golf’ feel in line with what is the present fashion at many courses around London, including some of the heathlands.

JH Taylor, a member of the triumvirate with James Braid and Harry Vardon who dominated golf before the First World War, was the pro here and he was involved in changing the design of the outer course, now named after him, at the beginning of the last century. He created a number of what became famous humps and hollows to give the flat land greater variation. It is likely that these designs will in future support a lush make-up and if so may lose some of their golfing interest.

FineGolf thanks RMSGC for its fine hospitality, congratulates it on being associated with such historical importance but nevertheless sadly the club with this pedigree has slipped out of FineGolf’s 200 finest running-golf courses.

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