Memories of the old course

The course at Hawton is now a very large private housing estate but what was it like in those far off days? What about the people who played there and the facilities they enjoyed? We have the old photographs and maps but it's the story of the everyday life of the place that is particularly interesting.

Unfortunately, most of the players from that period have long since passed away, but one man who knew something of those times was still very much alive in 1999, when we had the privilege of talking to him. He had been a caddie at the old Hawton course in the years just after the First World War. These are his recollections of that time and we think they will be of interest to all golfers, whether members of Newark or not.

And the caddie in those days? Harold Rollitt, the father of 1996 Newark Club Captain, Brian Rollitt. Harold was born in 1909 at a house in King Street, Newark, which was less than a mile from the Hawton links. Harold, who for some strange reason was known as Dan to all the golfers, began his caddying days in 1919 when he was 10-years-old, and carried on club caddying until he left school five years later to go out to work. He would go along to the club after school, Mondays to Fridays (no homework in those days!). He was one of about 12 young caddies. They all came under the direction of the Club Professional who was the cad­die master.

On a Saturday, Harold would get to the club early and would then be able to caddie for two rounds of 18 holes during the day, and, of course, 'earn more money'.

It all started for Harold early in 1919 just after the end of the First World War when the club and the members who had survived, were recovering after four long years of war. Money for caddying then, and for a long time afterwards, did not seem to vary a great deal. Those play­ers who did hire caddies would pay them six pence (2.5 new pence) for just 9 holes, and a whole shilling (5 new pence) for just 18 holes, and this, remembers Harold, was in all weath­ers. "The players in those days," he recalled, "were nearly all successful businessmen or pro­fessional men, and the lady members at the time were mostly wives of the members, or their daughters."

In those days only a few of the members travelled by car (or motor bike). Most cycled and left their bicycles in a specially built wooden bike shed beside the clubhouse. Some walked because the course was not too far from the town.

Once a week, recalled Harold, one certain member would come all the way from Hykeham, near Lincoln, in a pony and trap. He would leave the pony to graze close to the bike shed while he went off for a game of golf! How times have changed!

"In those days," said Harold, "the member I caddied for more than anybody else was a local businessman, Vic Tully, and I remember he would arrive at the club riding his Indian make motor cycle, and if he saw me, would tell me that he wanted me all day and I was to go and arrange it with the Professional.

"One Saturday I always remember, Vic booked me for two 18 hole rounds, but apparently something came up and he was not able to play in the afternoon, so he gave me a 10/- note (50 new pence) for my trouble, but I always remember Vic and how he used to look after me. "Sometimes I would caddie for the Club Captain, and in those days he was treated like a God with EVERYONE calling him sir.

"Us caddies would all take sandwiches on a Saturday, or during school holidays, and eat them between rounds of golf. We did not use the clubhouse, of course, but used to sit outside, or shelter in the bike shed if it was raining.''

"The stewardess, Mrs Halliday, always saw to it that we had a drink, whether it was lemon­ade or just a cup of tea. I do remember that she used to work very hard at the club, and many times I have seen her coming along Hawton Road carrying baskets of groceries all the way from the shops in Newark. She had some help as a man with a horse and cart used to deliver bread and one used to call delivering milk."

During his five years of caddying, Harold said that as far as he could remember no famous golfers of the day played at Newark, that is except one, the talented Joyce Wethered. Harold could not remember the exact year that she came, or indeed how she even came to be play­ing the course, but it was more than likely she was playing with a member.

It is worth, for a moment, recalling her wonderful golfing achievements. She was the British Ladies Open Amateur Champion in 1922, '24, '25 and '29, and she also won the English Ladies Close Amateur Championship for five consecutive years, 1920-25. She became the Ladies Curtis Cup playing Captain of 1932, and represented England in full inter­nationals on very many occasions. She is probably better remembered under her famous mar­ried name, Lady Heathcote-Amory. She lived to great age, dying in the 1990s.

"It was while I was caddying that she came to Newark, and I always regret that I did not caddie for her. It was all such a long time ago now, but there are still a great many things that I can remember and are still very clear to me, even after all this time."

And what could Harold remember of the golfing equipment used by the players, the course itself, and the dress code for the players?

Harold's face lit up at the thought of all this, and the years seemed to fall away and he was once more a young boy with the important job of caddying. "Players then had a very small pencil-type carrying bag as there were no trolleys in those days, and in the bag were a few wooden shafted clubs, including a putter, and several golf balls, and was very easy to carry.'' 

"There were no tee pegs in those days, but there were metal boxes alongside the teeing ground which contained sand, and this was used to tee the balls up with. The number of clubs carried in the bag were about six and all had special names, like mashie niblick (a 5 iron), a brassie (a 2 wood) or spoon (a 3 wood) and so on, but they were not numbered as today. The golf balls then were either Silver Kings or Dunlops and were made of solid rubber.''

"If it rained during a round the players might have had a light type of coat in their bag to put on, but most just got wet! The men in those days usually played in a collar and tie and wore a tweed jacket and nearly always sported Plus-Four trousers. There were no spiked shoes and players mostly wore a tough type of brogue shoe.''

"The course itself was mostly flat and not particularly interesting, although there were a few bunkers scattered about, and the other hazard to be wary of was the river running along­side the third fairway. I do remember that there were no temporary greens in the winter months, and all the greens would be in play no matter what the weather and they used to get very worn and wet. And yes, I did get very wet on many occasions as well!"

Some well known local names Harold remembered caddying for in those days were Jessie Stennett, Enos Smith, Teddy Marker, HAD Cherry-Downes, Stuart MacRae and his son Kenny, along with Vic and Charles Tully. 

Most of these names are still recalled in the clubhouse, either on the Past Captains boards, or on donated club trophies.

"The Clubhouse was not particularly big and was made of wood with a corrugated tin roof, but it seemed quite adequate at the time, and there was running water laid on and a consider­able number of wooden lockers for the men. Mrs Halliday, the stewardess, had a small kitchen at the back where she prepared teas and sandwiches for the players, and there was a little bar where you could buy drinks. The men had a smoking lounge while the ladies had their own locker room and sitting room, but they were not very big I seem to remember.''

"I could not afford to play golf in those days, but I did hit a good number of balls from time to time when I got the chance.''

"I certainly enjoyed caddying all that time and it was only when I reached 15 years of age and left school that I had to give it up and go out to work. As a matter of fact, I went to work at Worthington & Simpsons engineering plant in Balderton for the sum of 91- per week (45p), which was not much more than I could earn caddying most the time!"

Thanks must go to Harold for an insight into an age of golf which has now long since dis­appeared. Hopefully, it has made interesting reading to the modern pampered golfer with his big golf bag stuffed full of metal or graphite clubs, along with top weather-proof gear, the very latest dimpled golf ball that flies miles, shoes with the latest studs and, of course, the electric buggy to carry all this whilst playing 18 holes.

Certainly a far cry from Harold's story and the horse grazing by the cycle shed!