GOLF CLOSURE: Par for the Course
A public footpath between Whatlington and Netherfield runs between fairways of what used, until three or four years ago, to be Battle Golf Club. These days occasional walkers make their way past rough clumps of shoulder-high grass on either side. Only a former player of the course would know where the tees, fairways and greens had been sited so recently. When I walked the path the other day I surprised a herd of deer loitering around what was once the fourth green. It doesn’t take long for nature to re-claim its own.
In fact the demise of the Battle course and club is, historically speaking, a norm for this part of Sussex – and should serves a a warning that the course at Beauport Park could rapidly go the same way following its abrupt closure if physical management is not maintained.
In the first half of the twentieth century the golfers of Hastings were served by two golf clubs within the boundaries of the borough. In 1893, the same year as both Rye GC and Battle GC were set up, a nine hole course had been laid out on East Hill to serve the members of Hastings & St Leonards GC; it was expanded after a few years to 18 holes. Eight years later a separate St Leonards & East Sussex GC was formed to play on an 18-hole course established at Filsham.
This club and course were requisitioned during the 1914-18 war, the original members company that had owned it was dissolved, and at the end of hostilities half the course (nine holes) was retained for building purposes. However, the members re-formed the club, and developed an alternative site on the western side of the railway to replace the lost portion so as to return the course to a full 18 holes.
Minutes of the annual meeting of the club in 1923, now just St Leonards GC, refer to 400 paid-up members.
Meanwhile the club on East Hill became known as Hastings Downs GC, and there was a friendly rivalry with their St Leonards neighbours through the inter-war period. Both men’s and ladies’ matches were contested regularly between them. Respective club records also show fixtures against clubs at Camber Castle and at Bexhill (not at Highwoods or Cooden but a links course on the seafront below Galley Hill), both now long defunct. What is not in evidence, though, is any trace of a club or course at Beauport Park in this era. The recent purported ‘125th anniversary’ of the Hastings & St Leonards Club celebrated there this summer seems to have been a PR stunt to hijack the Hastings Downs historical record.
The St Leonards club was again dissolved in World War II and this time taken over by Hastings Corporation. A fresh St Leonards-on-Sea GC managed the course in the 1950s with up to 240 members in the latter years, but fell to housing development in 1960. By then Hastings Downs was also no more, though Hastings Borough Council ran a nine-hole pitch-and-putt for summer tourists on the slopes of East Hill until the 1980s.
As to the course at Beauport Park, an original stately home and grounds were established in the 1760s for General Sir James Murray, second in command to General Wolfe in the campaign to capture Quebec in the Seven Years War: the estate is named after Beauport, a village outside Quebec (so a neat reverse of those colonial towns like Hastings, Ontario named after the English original). The house itself was burnt to the ground in 1923 and rebuilt, becoming a hotel after World War II and eventually bought and expanded by Duncan Bannatyne. Whether or not there was a prior golf course on the estate, Hastings Borough Council acquired the requisite land separate from the hotel and operated a municipal golf club there for 30 years until 2003. It was then sold off. John Summers is the current freehold owner.
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