History of Hollinwell

“A history of Hollinwell and Notts.Golf Club”  by Nicholas Jones


FineGolf makes no apology for once again returning to promote Hollinwell, the finest inland running-golf course at present in GB&I, this time via Finegolf’s review of a new eBook.

Nicholas Jones, Captain of Hollinwell and Notts.GC

Nick Jones’s new history of Hollinwell is one of the most interesting golf club books that FineGolf has ever encountered. The reason for saying this is because of the depth of its historical research into this coal-mining area of North Nottinghamshire and the enormous number of fascinating and relevant photos depicting the area’s different ages.

It is, in short, a celebration of the aspects of the Club’s history with a focus on the most important issues that have helped Hollinwell return to being a leading inland course in recent years.

This lofty position has been achieved after an unfortunate chemical greenkeeping interregnum that happened to coincide with the retirement of Jim Arthur, the Club’s agronomist adviser,and ended with the arrival of his protégé Gordon Irvine, who has advised the Club since 2010.

Tom Williamson, the father of Midlands golf.

A substantial part of the book is a much needed essay on Tom Williamson, the father of Midlands golf, who was for 54 years Hollinwell’s professional and head greenkeeper.

Tom’s legacy is legendary and his influence on the character of the Club cannot be overestimated.

He redesigned this course for the longer Haskell ball, initially laid out by the brilliant Willie Park Jnr and was the course architect of some 60 other courses, the majority being across the Midlands. Tom’s C.V. should have included the holes seven to eleven at Royal Dornoch but late in his life in 1947 he declined the difficult journey to Dornoch, just 80 miles from John O’Groats.

As a club-maker, he had the foresight to introduce the numbering of clubs, superseding the use of the Mashie, the Niblick etc.

Players came from far afield to be coached and he nurtured many professionals, in his emphasis on playing with straight, unwavering accuracy, so typical of his whole character.

His playing record saw him captain England and qualify to play in The Open Championship continuously for fifty years (excepting during the two world wars). In 1897, his first entry, 88 players competed for a first prize of just £30. In 1947 this had risen to £150 for the 100 players (by 2019 first prize was £1.5million!). Six times Tom finished in the top ten. He won over 20 pro tournaments including a foursomes event with Harry Vardon as his partner.

But this humble, non-smoking, non-drinking, religious man’s greatest legacy was to give to the golfing world his jewel: Hollinwell, a Club which made him an honorary member in 1921, and where the principal interest is in playing golf.

The new book contains chapters on the influence of the railways and coal mining that lay alongside the course and even beneath it, creating subsidence and changes in the water table.

Famous members are of course noted, usually with honesty rather than pomp. A founder of the Club and its first captain, Bishop Baines, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oriel College, Oxford after returning from helping heal internal dissent within the Natal diocese during the Boer War and was awarded the Queens Medal for his role in the relief of Ladysmith. He is quoted: “How often we have failed to bear patiently and devotedly the ‘white man’s burden’, how lightly our vast responsibility to the more backward races has sat upon us, how we have lagged behind in the steep ascent of Duty”. Language has changed much over the past century.

Another chapter tells of how Harold Larwood, the superb English bowler during famous 1933 ‘bodyline’ series, had been dismissed by Tom as a caddie for bad behaviour.

Unlike most golf club books which skimp on the maintenance of their greatest asset, the longest part of this coffee table book is dedicated to the history of greenkeeping at Hollinwell and provides useful evidence of experimentation and some disasters as well as the influence of outside bodies like the Bingley Research Station, forerunner to the STRI. Walter Woods was here from 1971 to ‘74 and Phil Stain from 1984 to the present day, who won the award of ‘Conservation Greenkeeper of the year’ in 2019.

Jim Arthur was retained from 1977 and some of the classic quotes from his reports are included:
“Greenkeepers and farmers have few things in common save that the weather is never to their satisfaction”.

“The biggest lesson in greenkeeping is to achieve continuity, to avoid fresh blood recreating the disasters of yesteryear”.

By 1982 the annual meadow grass (Poa Annua) was restricted to comprising only 10-20% of the greens and were cut at 4.7mm (3/16th of an inch); they were voted by the PGA as the best greens on the European Tour.

It was in 2000 that Ian McLachlan started his campaign for heathland restoration across the Club’s 300 acres, focussing on the removal of the trees that had been given to the Club in 1937 from Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland and heather encouraged instead.

But it was not until 2010 when Jim Arthur’s heir advised a rigorous regime of aeration, humidity control, 80/20 sand/fendress top-dressing and fine grass over-seeding that Hollinwell started the completion of its transformation.

This confidence has been displayed in the outstanding leadership of the secretary, chair of greens and captains, with the Club choosing, rather than worrying about the competition from local courses cutting their greens low for speed, instead to focus on gaining recognition that would put the Club back into the upper echelon of the national golf market again.

This book is a part of that process and fills in the detail behind the article FineGolf published recently, titled “The story of Hollinwell”.

If you need further incentive to read this book, then an entertaining laugh can be enjoyed from reading the comments in the suggestions book by member Eric Lancelot Copleston Pentecost, reason alone to pick up this book.

The hardback version is available as a limited edition from Nick Jones at nicholas.jones@ntlworld.com , while two eBooks are free from http://hollinwellhistory.co.uk/ one being on Hollinwell and Notts. Golf Club, the other on Tom Williamson.

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