While the present clubhouse of
the Royal Blackheath Golf Club
dates from 17th Century, it more difficult to substantiate
the claimed date of 1608 as the year the Blackheath Club was ‘instituted’.
It is known that James VI of Scotland and
his courtiers took their golf clubs with them,
when he went south to became James I of England in 1603. They would almost certainly
have played at the top of the hill behind the Greenwich palace on Blackheath
and golfers are said to have played on the 'Heath at this time.
Greenwich is still a Royal Park today.
Royal Blackheath Silver Club
The earliest item in Royal
museum is a silver club, dating back to 1766, which was a common medal for clubs
during this period. This date would still make
Royal Blackheath the oldest English golf club and the oldest
golf club outside Scotland.
Blackheath mention that other items in their
possession suggest a date of 1745 may have been the inauguration of a
collection of players into a formalised Club, but they do not give details.
The idea that the first golf club could be English, and not Scottish, is not
as impossible as it sounds. In Edinburgh there were plenty of golfers and
arrangements for a game would have been easy to make.
Blackheath is several miles outside the City of London and to get
there in Stuart times would have meant significant
travel arrangements, such as being ferried by
waterman to Greenwich. Thus the reduced number of golfers and the geography
could easily have produced more organisation sooner, but no conclusive
evidence is felt to exist at present.
The Royal Blackheath have another club
in their collection, called a putter, gifted to them by John Hume. The putter was
presented to Royal Blackheath with an account of 'an original feat of
golfing by the Rev. Dr Carlysle (sic) of Inversk'. In his 'History
of Golf', Robert Browning speculates that the 'Home's golf putter' (sic)
is the actual club that Rev Alexander Carlyle used to perform this feat.
The Rev 'Jupiter' Carlyle won the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club cup in 1775.
In his autobiography, he
recounts a visit to the actor David Garrick in London in 1758, with the author John
Hume. In travelling through London the party were cheered by soldiers
of the Scots Guards, who saw the golf clubs in the back of the coach
and surmised correctly that the occupants must be Scottish. Rev Carlyle makes no mention of a golf club at
Blackheath in his account, but he tells how he, John Hume and Parson Black played golf at Molesly
Hurst (sic) over the river from Garrick's house, near Hampton Court Palace
in the west of London. This is the only reference to the Molesey course at
this time. Afterwards 'Jupiter' Carlyle performed the world's first recorded golf trick
shot, by pitching a ball through an arch in Garrick's garden into the River Thames. Garrick
begged Carlyle to give him the club and it might well have ended up in the
possession of John Hume. The golf visit is also recounted in Olive Geddes
'A Swing Through Time'.
Henry Callender English golfer
above is Henry Callender who was a prominent
English golfer in the
late 18th Century. He was painted here by the famous portrait artist LF
Abbott, wearing the ‘Field Marshal's’ uniform of the
Blackheath Society of Golfers. The two golf clubs illustrated are said to be still in the
possession of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club.
Royal Blackheath's Spring Medal
formerly known as the Knuckle Club Medal goes back to 1789, when there was a
group within the club known as
the Knuckle Club who met and played separately from other members.
The club comments that this is probably the oldest golfing medal prize.
Medal Day at Blackheath 1874 Daily
The print above shows golf
on the ‘Heath by the Victorian artist, F Gilbert,
looking north towards Greenwich park. This
engraving is featured in
Robert Clark’s book facing a florid account of
a ‘Medal Day at Blackheath’, first printed in the June 1874 edition of the Daily News. The Daily News reported that
the caddies were ‘apparently costermongers out of work’ and that there was a
‘scout’ posted with a red flag to warn passers by of the presence of the
golfers (just visible in the background to the
right of centre). Click picture for larger image.
below shows today’s Heath, which is larger than
Bruntsfield or Leith Links, looking towards Blackheath
from the A2 which cuts across it.
In early years, the Blackheath
five holes and later extended to seven holes. After the end of the First World War in 1918, it was unable
to expand on the Heath, which was 'common' ground (a common problem to
early courses). In addition, playing three rounds of the seven holes meant driving
across the main London to Kent Road (the A2) on no fewer than six occasions.
This was unsafe due to the increasing volume of road traffic. In 1923, the
Royal Blackheath Golf Club took over the Eltham Golf Club, which had
been formed in 1892, and they have remained there, over the road from Eltham
Palace, ever since.
Royal Blackheath Clubhouse over 9th
The clubhouse, which the Royal Blackheath
inherited, was completed in
1664 for Sir John Shaw, a
wealthy vintner who supported King Charles II with loans during his
years of exile and
who ‘spared no expense in employing the most talented craftsman of the day
in the construction of this fine building.’ The
items mentioned above with others form a golf museum in the clubhouse which
can be visited for small entrance fee, with or without afternoon tea.
The official website of the
Royal Blackheath Golf Club is the very elaborate with a live webcam
on the clubhouse and grounds.
Societies and functions are welcomed.
Accommodation in Blackheath
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