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History

Golf began at Frilford Heath long before the club was officially formed in 1908. In the final decade of the previous century prominent Abingdon families amused themselves after Sunday lunch with chipping and putting on their lawns.

By the turn of the century sufficient interest had been aroused to create an informal club and a rough nine-hole course was laid out onto rented fields. Within a few years the local golfers had moved to a much larger piece of land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, but the game was not to be properly established in the area until the discovery nearby of a perfect piece of golfing terrain.

Described by the club as "one of those odd stretches of land intended by nature for a golf course, but hitherto unrecognised", it had shallow sandy soil of little agricultural use where gorse and heather were indigenous and where stone and peat had been extracted. It was, in fact, a veritable golfers paradise.

The discovery of this Promised Land and its subsequent development into the original Frilford Heath Golf Course was the work of two men whose professions made them oddly suited to the task. Dr Harry Challenor was a local physician and he was joined in the venture by A.E Preston who was an accountant, barrister and historian. The third member of the group, and undoubtedly indispensable to the project, was T.S Skurray, the head of Morland Brewery. Their enthusiasm for the game of golf and their wide-ranging skills led to the acquisition of nature's natural golf course. The formal inauguration of the Frilford Heath Golf Club was in 1908 and the then three times Open Champion J.H Taylor was commissioned to put the finishing touches to natures design. It was in the following year that Taylor was to win the fourth of his five Open titles.

The company, which still owns and operates the club, was formed in 1912 under the chairmanship of Claude Rippon of the Oxford Times company. During the First World War, older members of the club and the few remaining staff kept the golf club going and membership increased greatly with the vast resurgence of interest in the game when hostilities came to an end.

In 1921, a new clubhouse was erected after the previous thatched roof clubhouse was hit by lightening and over the next few years J.H Turner, the club professional, proved himself invaluable in re-designing and improving parts of the original course. But his masterpiece was yet to come - the creation of a new nine-hole course in an area of gorse and heather. He had a real flair for using contours of the ground and he retained all the natural features in a delightful course, which was given pride of place above the 18-hole course by many members and visitors.

After the Second World War the directors of the club realised that the woods of Frilford Heath House Estate, which bordered the course, could possibly be bought for development, thus destroying the peaceful isolation, which was such an attractive part of golf at Frilford. When the estate did eventually come on the market the club quickly stepped in to acquire a further 49 acres and the fine country mansion.

A new nine holes was then designed by C.K Cotton, which, together with J.H Turner's gem, now make up Frilford Heath's second 18-hole course. The country mansion was converted into an extremely attractive and spacious clubhouse in idyllic surroundings.

In 1991 the club then acquired a further 169 acres of adjoining farmlands, still part of the "odd stretch of land intended by nature for a golf course" and therefore perfect for another 18 holes. Under the mindful eye of Simon Gidman, course architect, work started on the new 'Blue Course', combining a subtle blend of modern golf architecture with many of the traditional features associated with a heathland course. It is of a modern design and at 6,750 yards provides a serious challenge. The new course opened in 1994 and allows Frilford Heath to join a select and unique group of golf clubs throughout the British Isles to boast 54 holes of championship golf.

The clubhouse has had many modifications over the years, but manages to retain the charm and feel of the old country mansion that it originated from.

Keith Mackie