At the heart of Chorleywood’s magnificent common lies the oldest golf course in Hertfordshire. Well-maintained, it enhances the picturesque views in many corners of the area and provides easy walking. Many consider that the constant proximity of golfers makes the common a safer place for walkers. Throughout its long life, the golf club has always taken its responsibilities for sharing the common very seriously. It co-operates with the council in looking after the wooded areas alongside the course and is ever mindful of the need to preserve the wild life habitats.
When the club was founded in 1890, the common was the property of the local Lord of the Manor, John Gilliat, who gave his agreement to the continued use of the common by golfers that year. It soon became a popular club for Londoners due to its convenient railway station. At that time, the 18 holes went more or less round the outer edge of the common, including crossing Common Road and the railway.
The club headquarters were in Rose’s tea-rooms, the half-round corrugated iron building that had been moved from Loudwater Mill where it had served as a canteen. The premises were extended by the time the club bought that and the adjacent orchard in 1900.
Although John Gilliat was not a golfer he was president of the club and continued to ensure equal rights of the use of the common for both golfers and commoners. When he died in 1912, the Lordship of the Manor and club presidency passed to his son Captain John Babington Gilliat. At the end of the Great War, the Lordship of the Manor was acquired by James Batty.
The two holes crossing the railway had been replaced in 1901. By 1921 the course had been cut to nine of the existing holes to reduce the amount of upkeep needed. The following year saw two significant events. The club sold their orchard to allow the building of the Memorial Hall and James Batty gave the Lordship of the Manor to the community in the form of the Chorleywood Urban District Council.
The Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society then established the rights of common users, allowing the golf course to continue and the club to mow the fairways. Club and Council together drew up byelaws to control the use of the course. Sunday play was allowed from 1926. The change to the present lay-out of 9 holes in the middle of the common took place in 1934, making the course more self-contained and giving other common users safer access to a larger part of the land.
Little has changed since then other than the continued maintenance of the course, which has become ever more tree-lined since the end of the last war when cattle ceased to be a feature of common life. It is the variety of trees that help to make the course so attractive in all seasons and challenging too. The club celebrated its centenary by building a new club-house and selling the land behind to allow the development of Gilliat’s Close, a fitting tribute to the public-spirited man who allowed a part of his common to be used for the royal and ancient game of golf.
Perhaps we can close with just a word of warning. Not all the club’s members can play like the professionals on television. They scan the horizon for walkers and take every care to ensure that people are out of range before playing a shot, but occasionally someone will emerge from behind a bush with the ball in mid-flight. Please look before you cross the lines of the holes so that all can continue to share the common in safety.
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