On the 2nd January 1910 eleven local businessmen, many of whom were members of the Cheshire Hunt, met on an informal basis and agreed to form a golf club to be sited on Crown land adjacent to the ancient English hunting forest off Delamere. Hunting had taken place in Delamere Forest dating back to William the Conqueror’s time under the stewardship of Hugh d'Avranches the first of the Norman Earls of Chester.
The name Delamere originates from the medieval forests of Mara and Mondrem. By a quirk of geology however the site selected for the course had in prehistoric times been beneath the sea and in consequence the course has the great good fortune to be built entirely on a sandy base.
The first formal meeting of the proposed committee took place on the 13th March 1910. The founders were clearly men of vision and action. Having decided to build a golf course they engaged the celebrated architect Herbert Fowler to advise on the original layout of a front 8 and a back 10 which had been proposed by founder member Willie Clegg. The club house was the work of prominent local architect Alfred Powles who was also a founder member. Powles had previously designed many local buildings and public edifices throughout the county. His typical design style included the traditional Cheshire 'black and white' exterior and the club house is a good example of this.
The first and only President of the club was Hugh Grosvenor the 2nd Duke of Westminster.
Funding was to be by way of debenture and the sum of £5,000 in £50 lots was quickly raised by subscription from Founder Members and local businessmen to enable the project to progress. This equates to approximately £380.000 in todays terms, which did not of course include the cost of the land on which the course was to be built being leased from the Crown Estates.
Such was the energy of the founder members and the team of predominantly local farm labour which they engaged that the course was formally opened on the 29th April 1911. During the intervening period the course was built, the club house opened, staff were engaged including the renowned Scottish professional James Arundel and some 200 members had joined the club. A momentous decision was to deliberately restrict the membership size to enable everyone to play at a brisk pace without undue delay and this remains the case today.
A match to inaugurate the club was played between James Braid, Sandy Herd, Ted Ray and James Arundel over 18 holes for which each of the professionals received £35. Braid, Herd and Ray won 7 Open Championships and one US Open between them. James Braid won the match with a score of 77.
From its inception Delamere was established as an egalitarian enterprise. Ladies in particular played a strong part in encouraging visitors which was an essential element due to the very rural nature of the location and the absence of road transport at the time. Golfers were encouraged to play in competition regardless of age or sex, the only issues being their ability to play golf and their etiquette on and off the course.
Within 3 years of opening the club suffered its first major setback following the outbreak of the First World War. Many of the male members immediately joined the armed forces, resigning from the club but the records sadly show that some 40 percent of them never returned. The Committee took this turn of events with typical stoicism by embarking in 1918 upon a recruiting drive which returned the membership to a healthy level within 3 years of the ending of hostilities. By 1921 Delamere was a thriving enterprise once again.
At this point in the club’s history a number of Cheshire golf clubs were considering forming a county association – the Cheshire Union of Golf Clubs. Such was the standing of Delamere that the inaugural County Meeting was held at Delamere in 1921 and the club has enjoyed an extremely close relationship with the County from this point onwards.
The formation of the Cheshire Union coincided with the decision to invite Herbert Fowler back to the club to fundamentally redesign the course from its 8 plus 10 hole set-up to 2 nines. Fowler completely changed the course building 7 new holes and remodelling the remaining 11. The essence of his undoubted skill however was to retain the characteristics of a classic heathland course such that the distance between green and tee was minimised.
Fowler worked with the land and believed that every aspect of a golfer’s ability should be tested. He created short but difficult par 4s, generally long, testing par 3s and challenging par 5s where the hazards were as natural as possible. He disliked greens which were guarded by bunkers in front and set out to avoid hazards at the back of greens or which were for aesthetic purposes only.
The Lady golfers of Cheshire had in the meantime been much more organised than their male counterparts and had founded the County Club, which was the forerunner of the Cheshire County Ladies Golf Association in 1907. The Delamere lady members had formed their own committee in 1919 and permission was granted for the County to hold its Annual Handicap Meeting in 1920. This was the start of a long and happy association between club and county which has resulted in Delamere having a disproportionately high number of county, national and international lady golfers throughout the years.
The next significant challenge for the club was the Great Depression but this was eclipsed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Delamere weathered the storm in its usual fashion but came very close to financial collapse during the war. This was primarily due to the club's rural location, accessibility to which was seriously affected by petrol rationing. The club was only saved by the generosity of members and local business people who provided loans and donations during this extremely difficult period.
Following the cessation of hostilities in 1945 a new mood of optimism prevailed. Existing members returned and new members were recruited, but the strength of the Delamere culture and character helped to ensure that the club retained its old fashioned values and quirkiness. One example of this is that dogs have always been allowed on the course providing they are under control, a situation which continues to the present date.
In 1959 almost 50 years after the club had been formed the noted firm of golf course architects Hawtree and Son were invited to consider changes to the course. The proposals which they made were both subtle and significant in that whilst almost every hole was modified and improved the inherent characteristics of the Fowler’s design remained intact.
Some 4 years later from a chance discussion with the agents of the Crown the club had the opportunity to acquire the freehold of the course along with 2 cottages close to the entrance. The club negotiated hard and acquired the land and buildings which amounted to some 140 acres for the princely sum of £12,000. In addition the Committee decided to carry out improvements to the clubhouse at the same time costing a further £10,000. Having agreed to purchase the course and make the improvements consideration was given as to how the money would be raised. In consequence a decision was taken to fund this by way of member’s loans and this was rapidly and succinctly accomplished being oversubscribed in a matter of weeks.
A further milestone took place in 1967 when the Open Championship was held at Royal Liverpool. Delamere along with Sandiway were selected as the 2 qualifying courses that year. Players included Bobby Cole, Dean Beman, Malcolm Gregson and Maurice Bembridge. The Professional Course Record of 63 was set by Bembridge and this remains unbeaten today. In addition the former 3 times Amateur Champion Irishman Joe Carr broke the amateur course record. Lewine Mair writing in the Times noted the fact that Carr ‘used his driver sparingly on the back 9 due to the spiteful fairways’ a typical Delamere trait in the summer months.
During the next 30 year period Delamere continued to prosper and moved gradually but inexorably from what had been a somewhat autocratic club towards a more modern and inclusive organisation. Finances were tightly controlled and in consequence the club was able to continue with a select and small membership which was effectively ‘by invitation only’. Coupled with the sandy terrain this allowed golf to be played all year round, without the need for teeing times and with a warm welcome to visitors. During this period concentration of effort and finances was always biased towards the course.
Towards the end of the century however the Committee recognised the need to upgrade the off-course facilities and embarked upon a major remodelling and rebuilding programme of the club house. A new viewing area was created; the ladies and gentlemen’s locker rooms were upgraded; a new Professional’s shop and visitor’s locker room were built and the steward’s accommodation and dining room were remodelled. In consequence the club now has tremendous off-course facilities to complement a great all year round golf course providing a tremendous test for amateur and professional alike.
In 2010 the club celebrated its centenary and such is the spirit and friendliness of Delamere that the vast majority of members supported a range of events throughout the year. To mark the centenary a formal record has been retained and a book chronicling the first one hundred years was written by Bill Briggs with the help of Mark Rowlinson. Copies of the book are available from the Professional’s shop.
Delamere is today a fantastic example of a traditional golf club – a great all year round course which encourages and welcomes visiting golfers, tremendous off course facilities and a small and select membership who have embraced the long-established values and play competitively at a brisk pace.