|Eaton Captain Simon Dangar||Eaton Lady Captain Ann Shepherd|
Eaton Golf Club is one of three distinguished Cheshire Clubs celebrating their Centenary in 2020 along with the Cheshire Union of Golf Clubs.
Eaton kicked off its year with fireworks and an ABBA tribute band followed by the drive-in from new Captain Simon Dangar and Lady Captain Ann Shepherd.
As well as hosting Cheshire events in the coming season Eaton will also be enjoying Triangular matches with co-centenary clubs Sandiway and Prestbury.
Bob Costello, the chairman of the Eaton Centenary Committee has compiled a brief history of the club.
Eaton Golf Club, Chester, not to be confused with a Golf Club of the same name in Norwich, has its roots in the Great War when in October 1914 the second Duke of Westminster handed over his country estate, Eaton Hall near Eccleston, three miles south of Chester, to the War Office for use as a hospital for wounded soldiers of all ranks. In early 1917 the Hall became a convalescent home for officers, and a 9 hole golf course was constructed in the grounds to aid their rehabilitation.
The military vacated the Hall in 1919 and in 1920 Eaton Golf Club was formed principally for the Estate’s staff and tenants of its farms and other properties.
Handicaps were allocated and monthly medals and knock out competitions organised.
There were also inter-club matches against Chester, Delamere Forest and Chester Doctors. The Duke, coincidentally, was also the first and to this day only the President of Delamere Forest.
The Duke’s Agent, Major Basil Kerr, played a prominent role in the new club, and partnered the Duke in his occasional rounds of golf. The Duke also hosted regular house parties when sporting professionals and members of high society would also enjoy the golf course.
In 1938 nine ladies were invited to join the Club, which to this day has had both a thriving ladies section and an emphasis on mixed golf.
During the Second World War the golf course was maintained only to a basic standard while first the Army, and later the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, took over Eaton Hall.
After the War the Club reverted to its former self, and remained so until 1963 when the third Duke agreed to the enlargement of the course to 18 holes, a process completed in 1965 by when the fourth Duke, Gerald Grosvenor, had succeeded to the title and the Presidency of the Golf Club.
This was accompanied by a 10-fold increase in membership to around 350, including 50 ladies, though it remained on a ‘by invitation’ basis, with the Club still owned by the Duke and managed by the Estate, who also appointed the Captains.
The Club thrived in this way with an enjoyable 18 hole course and active social life for the next 25 years until December 1990 when the members were told that on the advice of the sixth Duke’s security advisers, golf had to cease on the Estate. The Duke had a young vulnerable family and his advisers were extremely concerned about the relatively open access to the grounds of Eaton Hall enjoyed by the golfers and other passers through. Thus the Club was put on a year’s notice to leave, although as events progressed this was progressively extended.
A small group of leading members decided not to take this bombshell news lying down. Philip Beresford Adams, a Chester Estate Agent and adviser to the Estate on property matters, had learned that a tenanted farm at Waverton, about four miles from Eaton Hall, was to become vacant and at the Estate’s disposal.
Along with John Arrowsmith, a local accountant and immediate past captain and Chris Cowen, a prominent local architect, they persuaded the membership to raise sufficient capital by way of a share issue to lease the farmland and construct an 18 hole golf course and clubhouse.
Donald Steel was engaged as course architect and Philip McCormick as clubhouse architect. The tees and greens were constructed to USGA standards from the outset, and the project was completed and the new course opened in June 1993.
Since then the course has matured, the many thousands of new trees have grown and, thanks to the considerable drainage work carried out in difficult Cheshire clay using a technique known as gravel banding, the course and in particular the undulating McKenzie greens have developed into one of the finest in Cheshire, having hosted the County Strokeplay Championship, the County Matchplay Championship, and numerous County matches.
Club membership has grown to around 650, including 120 ladies and 60 juniors. Over the years new tees, ponds and bunkers have been added, extending the course to a challenging 6714 yards, Par 72, SSS 73 from the black tees for the competitive golfer, though it is pleasing to note that the original social ethos of the Club has also largely been retained.
Photos & copy courtesy Geoff Garnett