Woking ramblings

“Ramblings of a Woking golfer”.


In club and amateur golf there are three separate professions that implement the decisions taken by members’ representative democracy. The greenkeepers and the club professionals are in the front line, with both reporting to the club manager, general manager or traditionally the hon. secretary.

Administration is the least sexy of the three and many secretaries I meet are so weighed down by regulation that to escape from the office to the course or even front-of-house to mingle with members, can be frequently difficult. Actually some now call themselves chief executives, or CEO, to reflect they are primarily running businesses rather than facilitating enjoyment for members.

Whether this is inevitable or to be welcomed, it is worth being reminded how one ultra successful secretary of the old school successfully balanced a reform of the workings of the club with personable leadership among the members.

A.W.(Tony) Riley

A.W. (Tony) Riley, now in his tenth decade, has just published a wonderful “Ramblings of a Woking golfer”. Secretary from 1979 until 1994 (following their centenary) and now an honorary member, his period of leadership saw the computerising of administration, putting finances on a surer footing and consolidating Woking as the home of amateur foursomes society’s golf, something that other clubs have tried to follow.

Today the club has a successful business model integrated with the member interests and as he says it has re-energised the active life of the Club.

There are few writings from the secretary’s angle that make for interesting reading by the average golfer. Even Michael Coffey’s ‘Golf Club Secretaries’ newsletter, though containing articles of interest to more than just secretaries and particularly his involvement with the late Nick Park’s ‘Real Golf ‘ initiative, did promise some vision, it is perhaps only feasible for a fully retired fellow to spill the beans and let us look inside of an historic and important club in all its glory.

My contact with Tony goes back to my involvement in running one of the Bath Club Cup teams since 1995, one of the many foursomes events held at Woking. I have also enjoyed competing in the Bernard Darwin event and now the senior BD, which has given me an appreciation for the Club and a respect for the imagination of John Low and Stuart Paton in creating the fine Woking greens. This is all in Tony’s bloodstream and he omits nothing.

I would like to think that Tony may well have added the following devastating quote about Jim Arthur to catch my particular eye. That fits with Tony’s humour and complete ignoring of the problems of Woking’s Poa annua dominant agronomy (and now even the use of rye grass on the fairways) which is typical of London’s present heathland club secretaries. Do they not have the time to accept their responsibility to encourage the re-establishment of fine perennial grasses?  The priority should be the return of their courses to traditional running-golf and to blend policy with wider society’s wish for conservation. Alas, this objective seems to have been crushed beneath a rush to ultra-fast, low cut, chemical maintained greens as the supposed route to gaining national recognition.

Tony writes: “A proud moment was Jim Arthur’s first visit, the renowned agronomist and famous for his strong opinions. After a tour of the course with close examination he proposed a number of improvements but remarked that our aprons were in fine condition. I am afraid he explained that this was the case because we had done nothing to them with feed and water so nature had been allowed to work as a reward for our inactivity”!

Tony documents the rejection of plans for a rebuild of the iconic wooden clubhouse, the discovery of historical golf books and manuscripts (now part of the Truett collection) and 50 dozen bottles of Chateau Bertin 1970 claret being sold at below cost price and how the prime objector to trees and undergrowth removal finally conceded he was mistaken. It is all explained with a lightness of touch which makes for an enjoyable essay of 66 A5 pages with a few professionally taken photos of some of the Woking holes.

Nevertheless, as would be expected, a lovely competitive edge springs up whenever the three W’s are mentioned and the breadth of his thinking is summarised in ‘The Future’ chapter which reads as though it is FineGolf’s very own objectives.

Copies can be obtained from Richard Pennell, the Woking secretary, for £10 + £1.80 P&P and all receipts will be retained by the club to assist with its lockdown recovery.

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