The charm of the village is dominated by Bamburgh’s Castle restored by Lord Armstrong in 1898, and the triangular village green surrounded by charming stone cottages and discreet shops, including Mr. Carter’s butchers, home of the famous Bamburgh banger.
The church of St Aidan was built on the site of the first Christian church founded by St Aidan when he was invited from Iona by King Oswald after the battle of Heavenfield in 635AD. It was here that the Saint died on 651AD and the beam upon which he was leaning may still be seen in the tower.
Here also in the memorial to the famous Victorian heroine Grace Darling, who at the age of 22, with her father rowed from the Longstone Lighthouse to rescue the nine survivors of the shipwrecked steamship “Forfarshire” in 1838.
Opposite the church in a museum, maintained by the R.N.L.I., in which the original “coble” rowed by Grace and her father may be seen as well as an excellent audio/visual presentation and much memorabilia.
Not only does the course boast some impressive local sights, great road links make travelling away for a day extremely easy.
Newcastle, the North’s biggest city is only a 60 minute drive to the south. The city hosts a myriad of contrasting features, from the hustle and bustle of Northumberland Street to the impressive riverside sites of the Sage, Baltic Art Gallery and the Blinking Eye Bridge.
The story of Bamburgh Castle Golf Club mirrors the recent history of the village of Bamburgh. It is fully told in the book by Gordon McKeag published to commemorate the Club’s centenary in 2004, which can be purchased for £15 from the club by application to the Secretary.
The club was founded in 1904 by Lord Armstrong of Bamburgh and Cragside, with the support of his friends, after the failure of two earlier courses on the links between Bamburgh and Seahouses. This effort was on a larger scale. He donated the clubhouse and funded the development of the course, which was laid out on leased land from one of his Newcastle based friends and colleagues, Mr Cruddas.
The club fitted in with his vision to develop Bamburgh as a holiday resort – it already had natural beauty, tennis courts, a cricket club, nearby rail links and to quote from Lord Armstrong’s opening address, “the only thing wanted to make Bamburgh an ideal holiday resort was a golf links”. The course was opened on 18th August 1904 with a tee shot struck by Lord Armstrong’s 10 year old daughter, Winifreda, followed by a lunch and a competition.
There followed a week of competitions, including one for the first mixed foursome in Northumberland. (Bamburgh was unusual in having a Ladies Club at inauguration and has had traditionally a high number of Lady members). Blessed with good weather throughout, the Newcastle Daily Journal described Bamburgh Castle Golf Club’s inaugural week as a “brilliant success” and an early mixed competition predicted “the founding of a first class golf course [would] raise Bamburgh to the first rank of golfing centres”. The paper also noted the “fashionable audience” and the various social events complementing the golf. This was an early indication of an important factor in the Club’s development: it was not a wholly local club. It has certainly relied on local members, but its unique success has been the ability to also draw on visitors and holiday home owners, initially mainly from Newcastle but later also from much further afield.
Notes on the Course
The course was designed by George Rochester, the professional at nearby Alnmouth, in a very natural style. Bernard Darwin, doyen of golf writers, described it as “mountain golf” in A Round of Golf on the London and North East Railway. He also commented: “There may be prettier golf courses, but I really don’t think I have ever seen them, and I have seen a good many by this time”.
Initially the course was 4,282 yards, with a bogey of 80. Although the opening and closing holes were similar to today, the course was squeezed onto less land than now and therefore had a different layout.
In 1907 the club was able to lease two further fields which gave room for more long holes, and a layout that provided more variety. However, in 1910 the landlord let the mineral rights in a disused stone quarry in the middle of the course. The quarry working caused major disruption – and initially some danger when the stone was being blasted – not least because a railway was laid out across the course to take stone to the old pier in Budle Bay (the remnants can be seen today as part of the footpath alongside the 3rd and 4th holes). Although the quarry working was discontinued in the First World War, the disruption it caused had a lasting benefit. It prompted a further reorganisation of the course to avoid the workings, creating a layout that remains substantially the same to this day. The AGM minutes of 1913 record the alterations as a success.
Today’s players can therefore relate their score to an early course record of 66, set in 1928 by the club pro (and later Secretary), Harry Gibb, a very impressive score given the equipment and conditions at the time. The current record is 62, scored in 2012 by member Garrick Porteous, 2013 Amateur Champion. The professional course record is 60, set by George Cowan of Westerhope GC.
There have been some lengthened holes, landscaping improvements and partial extensions over the years, including the creation of a car park in 1938, and the purchase first of the (previously leased) club house in 1969, and then of the practice ground in 1989. All these investments paid off when in 2000 the club was able to purchase the freehold of the Course itself.
The club now has a hard working and long serving green-keeping team – the two most experienced have almost 60 years of service between them – and a steward to run the clubhouse. In earlier times the club also employed a professional and a caddy master, with caddying an essential part of golf. Over the years as the demands of especially visitors but also members changed, the various roles blurred until the current staffing arrangements, which date from the 1950s, were arrived at.
1910s to 1950s
Over the years, the club’s fortunes have fluctuated dramatically, reaching a low point immediately after the Second World War when its very survival was called into question. Initially it had grown quickly into an established club. Membership rose from 133 at inauguration to 280 by 1914. There was also an active “Workmen’s Club” with playing rights which was amalgamated into the main club in the 1950s. The financial position was sound, but the First World War inevitably took its toll. In 1918, the finances needed to be rebuilt and the clubhouse and course needed refurbishment. Subs were increased by 50% and an active committee oversaw the club’s resurgence. By the mid 1930’s, the situation was good: membership was 300, there were regular competitions (most of which are still played for today), the finances were sound, and the course was a popular holiday destination, despite the course landlord not permitting Sunday play and thereby immediately putting the club at a disadvantage compared with its neighbours. Highly evocative of both the era and the area, the first course handbook was prepared at this time.
The Second World War and its aftermath threatened the club as well as the country. The RAF took over most of the clubhouse and part of the course for a radar station (on the 16th hole) and other offices (on the 18th), the Army built defence features and the two extra fields leased in 1907 were given over to agriculture. The remnants of the course remained open but they were hardly played, so that at the end of the war the club’s finances were exhausted. Although the extra fields were released in 1947, the RAF did not fully give up the course until 1949. Even then, a major problem for the club remained: the petrol shortage meant people could not easily get to this remote course. In turn, green fees and subscriptions were well down at a time when money had to be spent reinstating the course. By 1954, membership was down to a lowly 124. The club only survived thanks to donations and fundraising events based on the hard work of a few members. Slowly the club regained its position as rationing was reduced and people could afford to travel again. The course handbook was reissued on the 1950s with a new course description of its time but which is still valid today, reprinted in full in the Centenary book. Many of the advertisers were the same as in the 1930s, which showed the area was also recovering from the War.
The Second Half Century
This coupled with the general economic improvement, lead to increased membership – rising to 331 in 1962 – as well as trading surpluses. Significant investment in the course and clubhouse followed – notably the purchase of the clubhouse from Lord Armstrong in 1969. Recent history has seen gradual growth and success: membership grew to 835 in 1977 and although it dropped to the 600s in the 1980s, it remains close to this level today. The purchase of the freehold of the course in 2000 is perhaps the most significant recent development. The club benefits from an active membership, weekly competitions and frequent friendly matches against neighbouring (and some further flung) clubs, as well as a thriving juniors’ section.
The club is a regular competitor in the North Northumberland League and has won the League many times including a hat trick of successes in 2002, 2003 and fittingly in the centenary year of 2004.
The centenary celebrations were many and varied (including a golf week to mirror the inauguration week), setting the seal on a century of success and instilling a feeling of confidence for the future.
These are factual highlights. The real history of the club is made up of the people who created it, saved it and helped it grow, the many families connected with the club over the years – many members are second or third generation members – and of course the players whose every round is a story in itself.