BGC - The Beginning

In 1964 Moore and Cartwright, a local building company, unveiled plans to construct an eighteen-hole golf course and clubhouse on land known as Northfield Farm to the west of the then A19. The architect would be Henry Cotton and Moore and Cartwright would name the completed project Wolviston Golf Club, a title that would fully complement their adjacent housing complex, Wolviston Court Estate. Plans for the development were duly submitted to Billingham Urban District Council, the then local authority, and these were approved in September 1964. This approval stimulated a great deal of interest and even resulted in a number of applications for membership to the forthcoming golf club. Unfortunately, the golfing devotees were to be disappointed for Moore and Cartwright failed to implement its plans and in March 1966 planning permission was withdrawn and the project was unable to proceed. However, after the withdrawal of its plans Moore and Cartwright disclosed that they would be willing to negotiate the sale of the land to an alternative developer.

Bill Allen realised that a boundary commission report recommending the dissolution of urban authorities with the creation of a county borough of Teesside in 1968, could seriously jeopardise any similar concept. He also realised that if the land was used for any other purpose the once in a lifetime opportunity of creating a golf course in Billingham would be lost and local golfers would be forced to commute to neighbouring out of town clubs in pursuit of their beloved sport. These fears were validated when the authority examined the possibility of using part of the land for a town cemetery and rumours were circulating that Ministry officials were surveying the area as a possible base for the planned North Tees Hospital. With the clear understanding of these realities in mind Bill arranged for fellow enthusiasts to meet in his home to discuss the possibility of revitalising the development of a golf course in Billingham. Two meetings took place; the first was attended by W. Allen, M. Peacock, E. Shergold, J.E. Miles, T. Sibbit, A. Race, G. Joyce and J. McGrother and the second, a week later, was attended by W. Allen, M. Peacock, E. Shergold, J.E. Miles, T. Sibbit, A. Race, J. McGrother, R. Humphreys and D. Mathews, a practicing solicitor and keen member of Cleveland Golf Club. This group of enthusiasts formed themselves into a working committee and appointed a chairman, a secretary and a treasurer with the general aims of promoting the cause, recruiting membership and addressing the overriding problem of funding the project, estimated at £100,000.

The following actions ensued, meetings were held throughout the town and although they attracted some support it was small in number and financially unproductive, begging letters were sent to all and sundry but again financially unrewarding, entreaties were forwarded to the Department for Education and Science, the Minister of Sport, the Duke of Edinburgh Fund and local industry All of these were followed up and all recipients responded with best wishes but minus any financial contribution. The committee's approach to Moore and Cartwright produced an offer to purchase a wedge of land within the bounds of Sandy Lane and the A19 at a price of £15,000.

After several months it became obvious that the campaign was meeting with very limited success and in the meantime other interested parties were seriously contemplating alternative uses for the land that had been earmarked for the golf course.

A new approach was desperately needed, and the working committee decided to turn to the local council for help. Bill Allen the chairman of the working party was also a prominent member of the Billingham Urban District Council and the group, with their chairman lobbying from within, invited the council to assist with the funding of the golf course development. The initial idea of the group was to ask the council for financial help but their application for a loan of £100,000 was, as expected, totally rebuffed. The Billingham Urban District Council members did however want to add to the town's amenities whilst it was still within their control to do so for the advent of Greater Teesside was looming large on the horizon and their power would soon be devolved within the new organisation.

With this in mind the group and its supporters within the council continued to lobby for help in the creation of a golf course in Billingham. Finally their persistence was rewarded and the District Council formally adopted and confirmed Minute No 104 of the Finance and General Purpose Committee 'to purchase land, develop a golf course, including the clubhouse, and grant a lease to a club to be formed'. This was one of the defining moments in the creation of Billingham Golf Club.

The clerk duly reported that he had obtained the District Valuer's report and had concluded negotiations with Moore and Cartwright Limited for the purchase of 136 acres of land plus farm buildings at a cost of £27,200. He further reported that he had had correspondence with Mr J.J.F. Pennink of C.F. Cotton and Company, Golf Course Architects, who would be submitting a detailed scheme of the course layout. A later report by the clerk detailed the work that had been organised and the terms of the lease for the letting and the running of the golf course. Rather than extrapolate the detail therein it seemed more appropriate to include a copy of this report in full so as to appreciate the contribution that Fred M Dawson made to the formation of the club and its financial commitments and also the co-operation received from the Billingham Urban District Council. In his supportive address to the council Fred M. Dawson helped sway the waverers when he stated that, "a town is as strong as its organisations and a golf club would be a great asset".

When the report was adopted the council announced that a public meeting would take place to outline the ensuing plan and elect a golf club committee. This announcement enthused public interest and May 9th 1967 saw 625 people assembled at the Bede Hall Campus School to hear the Chairman of the Council, Jim Rachel, accompanied by Fred Dawson the Town Clerk, outline the details of the scheme and respond to the various points raised. Towards the end of the meeting a golf club committee was elected despite reservations expressed by the way as to the ability of the newly formed club to meet its financial requirements. Councillor Bill Allen was elected as chairman and Mr Peacock was elected secretary.

Although it had taken 11 months to organise this meeting the time had not been wasted for in the interim period local government officials had been busily engaged behind the scenes negotiating the purchase of Northfield Farm in concert with organising and evaluating contractor's tenders for the development of the course and the building of a clubhouse. In March 1967 the council resolved to accept the tender of £29,195 4s 8d from the contractors Verge and Embankment Beautification Limited for the layout and development of the proposed golf course.

In the wake of the public meeting the newly elected committee undertook the burdensome responsibility of drawing up a constitution for the golf club whilst continuing to promote membership in order to raise funds to cover ongoing expenses. Several set backs were still to be encountered one of which was when the B.U.D.C. received the disturbing news that the Ministry of Local Government had refused the council's application for a loan to build the clubhouse and the council would have to fund the scheme from capital receipts. Then, without prior warning, another alarming problem emerged when the B.U.D.C. were informed that County Planning Permission for the clubhouse was being withheld because the route for the A19 bypass, that had been decided upon as early as 1967, was considered to be unacceptably adjacent to the proposed site of the new building. This news caused shock and bitter disappointment among the supportive B.U.D.C. Councillors, Allen, Dyson, Tatchell and Turnbull and they planned shock tactics to reverse this crippling decision. Fortunately, the new town Clerk, John Willis, suggested that a low-key diplomatic approach by himself to the County Chief Executive was more likely to succeed. This proved to be wise counsel and diplomacy prevailed when with only fourteen days to go before the final meeting of the B.U.D.C. permission to continue was granted.
The Golf Club committee held regular meetings in the Station Hotel and in May 1967 the decision was made to form the following sub committees:-

House: Robertson, Lancaster, Nice and Small
Competitions: Shergold, Taylor, Miles and Mcgrother
Greens: Race, Simpson, Wakelin and Sibbit.

The Chairman and the secretary would form part of all sub committees.

Work on the course scheduled for April 1967 commenced late June 1967 but the new Golf Club committee were still finding difficulty in persuading potential members to give their support, financial and otherwise, when it was desperately needed. A membership enrolment session was organised at the Station Hotel and this was so well attended that impending members had to queue whilst waiting to enrol in the new club. When they had paid their entrance fee and been accepted as members they were given a receipt signed by Eric Shergold, the club treasurer.

By the end of 1967, augmented by an already functioning 50 strong ladies section, 204 members had paid £10 plus £5 entrance fee to obtain membership of a golf club that had neither a course nor a clubhouse.

The constitution of the club had now been drawn up with the assistance and guidance of a practising solicitor, Mr Don Mathews, who was later rewarded with a five-year Honorary Membership. The completion of the constitution allowed the club to become fully registered on November 24th 1967 and incorporated on December 12th 1967. Extracts from the Articles of Association show that all the committee were registered as subscribers desirous of being formed into a company in pursuance of this Memorandum of Association with the First Officers named as W. Allen President, T.S. Sibbitt Vice President, J.E. Miles Captain, J.L. Robertson Vice Captain, E. Shergold Treasurer, M. Peacock Secretary and the remainder of the committee listed as directors. This document was dated 24th November 1967 and signed by Donald Mathews (solicitor).

Neighbouring authorities that would make up the controlling majority of the Greater Teesside Council made it known that their first objective would be to revoke and annul the Billingham project or alternatively convert to a municipal venture. It therefore became essential that when the B.U.D.C. lease was prepared it must be without legal or planning loopholes. The long awaited agreement was finally produced and it showed a sympathetic understanding of the new club's situation. The terms were £5,000 per annum over sixty years, paid in arrears without revisions, plus easement over the first two years to further assist the fledgling club. A recommendation that "an option to renew in favour of the club committee upon terms to be greed at the time" was approved.

The venue of the final meeting of the Billingham Urban District Council on March 27th 1968 was changed to the main hall of the Technical College in order to accommodate the ground swell of interest by Billingham folk wanting to witness the final edicts of their local council. Towards the close of the meeting at approximately 9 o'clock the all important documents with reference to Billingham Golf Club were formally signed by Chairman D. Turnbull and Clerk J. Willis for the council and W. Allen and M. Peacock on behalf of the club. In consequence Billingham Golf Club became officially into existence and three hours later, at midnight, Billingham Urban District Council ceased to exist and the much heralded Teesside County Borough Council came into being. As Bill so aptly remarked in his booklet, to paraphrase the Iron Duke "a damn close run thing".

Billingham Urban District Council may have passed into history but its memory is perpetuated with the adoption of the town's coat of arms as the club's badge, though for practical purposes the motto "Faith" has been omitted.

Subscription rates for 1968 were set at, entrance fee £5, senior male £10, senior female £5, Junior (14-18) £1, junior (18-21) £5, country member (15 mile radius) £5, house membership only £2. It should be noted that in the following months more than one member advanced short term interest free loans to assist the club over its most difficult period. Confidentiality forbids further disclosure but this small mention will assure them their generosity and club spirit have not and will not be forgotten in the mists of time.

Various functions were arranged in order to keep interest flourishing whilst the course was being prepared and these included target golf on the first and ninth fairways and at Billingham Show, friendly matches with neighbouring clubs. Sports panels were organised involving prominent figures from Teesside Club such as Dr. Johnnie McKay, Cleveland G.C., Dr Hugh Donaldson, Teesside G.C., Stuart Hicks, Middlesbrough G.C., and Eaglescliffe professional Jim Munro.

The Club's first Annual General Meeting held in the Billingham Arms on April 4th 1968 revealed a balance sheet with an overall turnover of £901 7s. 0d. Eric Shergold was appointed captain and he invited members to join him for the club's first Captain's Day at Appleby Golf Club. It was later agreed by the committee with the approval of Vice Captain Jack Robertson that Eric be asked to serve a second term enabling him to enjoy a year of office on his home course.

The first captain, Jim Miles, who was appointed in November 1967, without a course or other facilities, was denied the privileges of complete captaincy, handing over to Eric Shergold at the 1968 A.G.M. will nevertheless be remembered as his name is correctly recorded for prosperity.

In the months leading up to the opening of the course on April 5th 1969 the committee worked tirelessly not only raising funds but in ensuring the progress of the course was being maintained to a standard suitable for the needs of a high class golf club. Problems did occur with weeds in the greens, drainage being inadequate, fences being broken or non-existent, and general untidiness on and around the fairways. Mr Dodds the council's Park Superintendent was sympathetic to the cause and he was very helpful in arranging regular inspections and meetings with the course architect and contractor that allowed the committee to monitor progress and discuss any grievances with the relevant personnel.

In addition to overseeing the progress of the course the Golf Club committee were investigating various options with regard to the necessary design requirements of the clubhouse. Billingham Urban District Council appointed architects Parker and Rosner to fulfil the overall design and the committee were in constant discussion with them to ensure that all the club requirements were incorporated. The mutually agreed plans were duly given planning permission and building work commenced on the clubhouse on April 16th 1968 with a contract period of nine months for completion. The house committee pointed out that in the architects remit no provision had been made for an access road to the club house, a fact that was acknowledged by Billingham Urban District Council, who subsequently agreed that it be included.

So a Golf Club at Billingham that started as a wild dream became a reality due to the pioneers whose time, energy and enthusiasm created this now wonderful facility. Special mention must be given to Bill Allen, the instigator of the whole idea, whose leadership and driving personality gave encouragement to his committee throughout all the trials and tribulations encountered on the way to a successful outcome. Many members have given long and sterling service to the club since those early days but without the indomitable efforts of the first committee we would not have a club to either use or serve. To them and to Billingham Urban District Council we should be eternally grateful.