Strictly speaking the China Golfing Society was not founded until 1936 but ‘China Golf’ is something that goes back much further – to those pre-first-world-war days when China was China and Great Britain had a vast colonial service. The basis of ‘China Golf’ was then, as indeed it is today, an attempt to revive and cement friendships created in the Far East through the playing of golf.
The idea of a meeting appears to have originated in Hong Kong in 1913 and the first one was held at Turnberry in June the following year. The group consisted of 14 in number and included A M Thompson (Colonial Treasurer, Hong Kong), G M Harston, A W W Walkinshaw, T M Loughin, G M Young, F E Walker, G S Archbutt and C A Peel. At least two of the party, on their way to the meeting, saw Harry Vardon win his sixth open championship at Prestwick. No indication is given as to whether the display of the master at Prestwick proved useful at Turnberry.
The next meeting was delayed by the war and did not occur until 1921, when 22 gathered, again at Turnberry, in June. In September that year, some 20 people (including wives) stayed at the Wentworth Hotel, Aldeburgh for a golfing weekend.
In 1922 a small meeting was held at Cruden Bay; this is the last recorded ‘China’ meeting in Scotland until the Fanlingerers appeared on the scene in 1951.
In the meantime several Old China Hands had settled in the Aldeburgh area – namely Sir Newton Stabb, J O P Bland, A Brooke-Smith, R E Wilson, G H Stitt, Captain E I M Barrett, and R J Hillier. It was therefore felt more convenient to have any future rendezvous at the Aldeburgh Golf Club. In about 1922 the Aldeburgh Golf Club was faced with the prospect of having to buy the freehold of the course and issued £100 bonds. Many of these were taken up by Old China Hands. They were repaid in 1929 or thereabouts but the ties with the Club held good until 1971. At the same time C A McLellan was prevailed upon to make plans for an annual event. This he did in conjunction with Frank Crossley and for some ten years, thanks to the efforts of these stalwarts, ‘China Golf’ and Aldeburgh went hand in hand – at least for one weekend each year.
In April 1936 Jack Martin appeared on the scene, and the first of those well-known China Golf meetings was held at Aldeburgh with J O P Bland in the chair and 62 members and guests in attendance. The China Golfing Society was formally inaugurated and received its first Press – in what appears to be a cutting from The Times we learn that Shanghai beat Hong Kong and Other Ports by four matches to three.
By February 1937 there were 87 members. In May 1937, in time for the Aldeburgh Meeting, F O Reynolds presented a silver dragon bowl ‘of real and typical Chinese workmanship’ as a Trophy for the Inter-Port Match. Shanghai won by eight matches to six. Seventy members sat down to dinner with C A McLellan in the chair. 1937 also saw a match played against the Lucifer Golfing Society at Coombe Hill Golf Club. That year two one-day meetings were held, at Betchworth Park and Littlehampton.
In February 1938 it was decided to introduce a life membership subscription of two guineas. This subscription had the added advantage of saving a hard-worked Treasurer the trouble of collecting regular subscriptions from irregular players. By that time the membership was 150 (including 31 overseas). The official Society tie, featuring a gold dragon on a green background, was approved.
In 1938 53 members competed at Aldeburgh and Sir Peter Grain presided at the annual dinner. One-day meetings were held at Woking and Camberley Heath. Membership rose to 177. 1939 saw meetings at Aldeburgh and the Berkshire while a match was held at Coombe Hill against the Lucifer Golfing Society. There was no annual report for 1939 but it is recorded that C W Beswick presided at the annual dinner.
The Second World War brought an inevitable interruption to the Society’s activities. Jack Martin, who had invested £100 of the Society’s funds, later disappeared into the army. He returned from Germany in the autumn of 1947 to find the Society £125 in credit and an out-dated list of members.
The first post-war circular appeared in February 1948 and that year also heralded the appointment of Donald Peat as Treasurer. One-day meetings were held at Moor Park and Knole Park, and on 3rd and 4th July 14 members returned to their spiritual home at Aldeburgh Golf Club. Spiritual? Spirituous? Or even spiritless? At least one can appreciate the timely warning of the Aldeburgh Golf Club that ‘if the present members of the China Golfing Society wished to carry on the traditions of the past they would be well advised to import their own whiskey – or go without!’
1948 also saw the appointment of Far Eastern representatives of the Society in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.
On 21st May 1949 32 members sat down to the annual dinner, with George Hogg in the chair. One-day meetings were held at Woking and Royal Mid-Surrey. Funds were raised for the Hungjao Golf Club (formed in 1916 (and turned into the Shanghai Zoo in 1954!) in Shanghai; £50 was remitted via Hong Kong, £25 of which was a contribution from the Society.
In 1950 K B Reid presented a Rose Bowl, to be competed for annually at the Aldeburgh Meeting, in memory of Charles Beswick. The first winner of the Charles Beswick ‘Dynasty’ Memorial Trophy was C O Cumming. Thirty-two members sat down to dinner, with Stanley Dodwell in the Chair as first Captain of the Society. One-day meetings were also held at Wildernesse and Moor Park. At the end of 1950 there were 177 members – back to 1938 numbers.
1951 found Sir John Masson, as Captain, presiding at a dinner attended by 39 members. One-day events were held at Wildernesse, Woking and Reigate Heath. The last-named, a pleasant nine-hole course, is particularly suitable for a late autumn meeting, as two rounds in a short day leave sufficient time to prove that twice nine still needs two ‘nineteens’ to complete the course. That year a match was also played at Woking against the Ceylon Golfing Society.
1952 saw Jack Martin deservedly presiding as Captain as well as Secretary at Aldeburgh. One-day meetings were held at Woking, Wildernesse and Reigate Heath, and a match was played against the Ceylon Golfing Society at Woking.
By 1953 certain meetings were established as regular fixtures: one-day meetings at Woking in April, Liphook or Wildernesse in July, and Reigate Heath in September with, of course, the two-day meeting at Aldeburgh at the end of May. In early September 1955 the first joint meeting with the Fanlingerers was held at Pulborough and proved to be an outstanding success. The Fanlingerers, which had been established in 1951 with headquarters in Scotland, amply provided for Old China Hands north of the border; their annual invasion of the West Sussex Golf Club led to an assembly of around 150 Hong Kong and Old China Hands.
In September 1958 Jack Martin died and the Society lost its greatest stalwart. When he started the Society in 1936 there were fewer than 100 members. By 1938 membership had grown to 150, by 1952 it was 250, and at his death the figure was 483. This increase in numbers was largely due to Jack's efforts, and nearly 200 members contributed a sum of almost £630 to give to his widow in recognition of his dedication to the Society.
In 1960, in an attempt to increase the number of fixtures, matches were arranged with the Junior Carlton Golfing Society at Walton Heath, the Wine Trade Golfing Society at Worplesdon, the Senior Golfers of Malaya at Walton Heath and the Royal Navy at Woking.
Aldeburgh remained the spiritual home of the Society until 1971 when, after much agonising, the fixture was dropped due to dwindling attendances. It was, however, revived on the occasion of the Society’s 50th anniversary. That meeting took place on 22nd May 1986 and was followed by a dinner attended by 62 members and guests. The match against Aldeburgh Golf Club was played the next day. Since then the meeting and match have been held annually at Aldeburgh. To celebrate the same anniversary, the Hong Kong section of the Society arranged a weekend in China, playing at Chung Shan Hot Springs (China’s first post-revolutionary golf course) and Zuhai International Golf Club. As these courses had only opened in 1984 and 1985 respectively this was quite a pioneering trip. The intrepid group returned to Hong Kong via Macau, the winner’s decanter being put to good use during the journey home. The Society continues to enjoy close links with the Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling.
In celebration of the Millennium a meeting was arranged at Woking Golf Club, with the Society presenting a trophy in recognition of the occasion. Four representatives from each of Aldeburgh, Hankley Common, Liphook, Piltdown and Woodbridge were invited to attend at the Society’s expense. The Millennium Cup was won by Aldeburgh Golf Club. The meeting was much enjoyed by all who participated.
In 2006, following the disbanding of the Fanlingerers, the China Golfing Society agreed to enrol any Fanlingerer into its membership free of cost.
Since 1997 an active section of the Society comprising of members living in the North has held two meetings a year at different venues in Scotland. The Silver Quaich, a trophy bequeathed to the Society by the Fanlingerers, is awarded at the second meeting of the year. The inaugural North/South match between those members living North of the border and those living in the South was held in 2001 at Ladybank and Downfield in Scotland; this event alternates annually between venues in Scotland and England.
To read more about the history of the China Golfing Society read about Fanlingerers.