A Rich History, 130 Years in the Making

The 12th hole circa. 1910

Note: This summary was drawn from Bill McCreath’s book One Hundred Years of Golf at Goswick.

On the evening of Friday 21st October 1889, several local enthusiasts of the suddenly booming game of golf met at the King’s Arms Hotel in Berwick-upon-Tweed, ‘to consider a scheme to organise a golf club and to hear a report as to a piece of ground’.

And so began the story of Goswick, set on natural links land just a few miles to the south of Berwick along the Northumbrian coast.

The initial 9-hole layout, opened for play in April 1890, was extended to 18 holes in 1894 with the help of Mr. R. Collins, the professional at Ryton Golf Club. Plans to build a clubhouse were discussed in December of that year.

Goswick’s reputation rose quickly, boosted in 1901 when James Braid — just a few months removed from the first of what would become his five Open Championships — agreed to play a match against the best ball of Walter Rutherford and A.L. Miller, two of the club’s best players of that time. Braid prevailed in the 36-hole affair. But the big winner was the club, as the match attracted so many spectators that ‘a rope had to be requisitioned to keep them encroaching on the players’.

Course layout circa. 1923

James Braid

The club struggled to survive during the Great War when over a third of its members were on active service. But by 1930, it had recovered sufficiently to proceed with an ambitious plan to lengthen and strengthen the layout. The powers that be engaged James Braid, whose reputation as a course designer now rivalled that of his playing prowess, to guide the transformation. In exchange for his fee of £8.80 per day plus expenses, Braid produced a detailed plan with recommendations for improvements to each of the holes, including extensive revision of 13 of them. The work was started without delay and was completed within two years. Braid’s masterful imprint on Goswick Links remains largely intact to this day.

Almost all seaside courses in their original state lack trees, shrubs and other such features due to the combination of sandy soil and salt air. But they do often have gorse and Goswick is no exception. In 1935, however, the consensus opinion was that there should be more gorse, so the club embarked on a plan to plant more than 100 gorse seedlings and draw upon cuttings of the old bushes. On more than one occasion since then, some members were known to set certain gorse bushes on fire — perhaps out of a pique of anger upon losing one too many golf balls in them. Such acts of vigilantism have since subsided. But the propagation of gorse remains a source of consternation for members and visitors alike more than 80 years later.

Evidence of defence tactics to deter a German invasion remain

The Ravages of War

Goswick’s steady rise was put on hold with the outbreak of the second World War in 1939. As the club’s meeting minutes put it, ‘the large reduction in the number of members caused by military service meant that the financial position was far from good’. On 10th May 1940, Hitler invaded neutral Belgium and Holland. While the bulk of British troops were evacuated at Dunkirk, the threat of a German invasion became very real. 

Concrete blocks, pill boxes and barbed wire appeared all around the coasts to deter the landing of German troops by sea. The sand dunes at Goswick were no exception. Remnants of this defensive effort remain.

Ultimately, play was suspended and the club offered use of its clubhouse to the Home Guard. Parts of the course, in particular the southern end, were requisitioned by the War Department to serve as a target practice area for rocket-firing Typhoons. As such, those holes soon became littered with thousands of clips and cartridges.

After the war, it would take several years of hard work by the greenkeeping staff, assisted by members, to clear the debris — not to mention to corral the rabbits that proliferated during the interlude. But it could have been much worse. If the War Department had taken over all 18 holes, it’s entirely possible Goswick would have ceased to exist.

The course layout circa. 1960

Frank Pennink

Frank Pennink’s Way

As the turmoil of war receded, membership increased, inter-club matches resumed, more visitors started to appear and incremental improvements to the course moved ahead. The most significant of these changes were implemented in the 1960s. For example, in 1962, the 18th tee was moved eastward by 100 yards to its current location, making for a more challenging finishing hole. Similarly, the tee on the 12th was taken back 36 yards and improved drainage removed the threat of flooding near the green.

Then, in 1964, Frank Pennink — a top class amateur golfer — was consulted in how to lengthen the front nine. His contribution was the creation of two new holes, the present-day par-4 5th and par-5 6th. These changes are credited with making Goswick into a course of championship calibre and one of the premier courses in the north of England.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the focus shifted from the course to the clubhouse. The vintage structure was built in 1895 and, in the ensuing years, had undergone no substantial additions or real modernisation. It took a combination of a loan from a local brewery, borrowing from members and a significant hike in member subscriptions to raise the £30,000 needed to address the issue. The new lounge was opened in 1980. It was most recently refurbished in 2019.

Throughout its history, Goswick has been a club that — when given the choice — tends to invest in its course rather than its clubhouse. The latter, while welcoming and sufficient, is decidedly unpretentious. But the former? It is without a doubt second to none in Northumberland and one of the top courses throughout England. For evidence of this in recent years, look no further than the endorsement of the R&A which selected Goswick as one of just 13 regional qualifying sites for the Open Championship across Great Britain and Ireland — first from 2008-2012 and again from 2018-2022.

Goswick’s storied past is, no doubt, merely the prelude to an even more glorious future. We invite you to add, even if only in a small way, to our ongoing story.

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