Chris Boughton's Golf Column: Christian McMillan explains his passion for classic golf clubs and why in Flempton GC he has found the perfect partner
It may seem like you are taking a step back in time when visiting Flempton Golf Club, but it is a place that also has a view to the future, CHRISTIAN MCMILLAN tells the Bury Free Press in a takeover of Chris Boughton's golf round-up.
I first learned of Flempton Golf Cub from a regular golfing partner at another local golf club, where I had been golfing since 2018.
Perhaps it was my passion for ‘classic golf clubs’ which suggested to my friend that I would be warmly received at Flempton, a club which recognises its history and seeks to keep the heritage of that past alive for future golfing generations.
I was not disappointed, being introduced immediately by the Professional, Paul Kent, to a group of enthusiastic and talented golfers with the appropriately named WhatsApp group, Future is Hickory.
Having been involved with the classic golf and the UK hickory golf playing community for many years, it was a great pleasure to meet such keen hickory players just a stones-throw from Bury St Edmunds. They are a very welcoming group of people, whose passion extends not only to the playing of hickory clubs but also to their care and restoration.
My own knowledge and expertise on hickory and classic clubs has been well received, and Flempton Golf Club may fast become a heritage centre for golf; an accolade that will serve it well going forward.
Why Flempton Golf Club? Because the ingredients of good golfing heritage remain in place. Members are committed to keeping the history of the club alive, a history that dates to 1895 when the first holes were created on the land to the left-side of the driveway into the club. The course architecture speaks to the provenance of its designer, the five-time golfing Champion of Open fame, John Henry Taylor who in 1906 re-designed the course and brought into existence the three holes (7, 8, 9) which lie to the right of the driveway into the club.
Taylor was part of the Great Triumvirate also consisting of James Braid and Harry Vardon. Between them they won 16 Open Championships during the high-watermark period of the hickory golfing era, 1895-1930. It has been rumoured in the club archives that the first designer was the great James Braid himself, but this claim has never been fully substantiated.
The course remains largely unchanged from that early, and challenging design of Taylor. The cross-bunkers, so prominent as one prepares to drive from the seventh tee, reflect course design philosophies of that period; bunkering close to the tee and across the fairway to catch an errant ‘guttie’ ball drive.
In truth, by the time Taylor visited and undertook design work at the club the new American Haskell-Coburn rubber-core ball was becoming popular, making redundant some of the cross-bunkering features that one can still find evidence of on so many courses up and down the United Kingdom, courses whose heritage stretches as far as and in some cases beyond that of Flempton Golf Club.
Small, pot bunkering down the sides of the fairways, features associated with course design by James Braid, became more popular in the early 19th century and Flempton has these features in abundance, to the consternation of many of its playing members!
The golfing giants of yesteryear, Edward Ray and Harry Vardon, made an appearance at Flempton for an exhibition match with the club professional, Mr James Arbon in 1922. Ray was a winner of the Open (1912) and the US Open (1920) and he was involved in the official design of Bury St Edmunds golf course in 1924.
Yet, talk of the past can often be mistaken as a denial to embrace the future and this is certainly not the mentally of Flempton Golf Club as far as this new member has observed.
The club seeks to restore some of the great features of its original design in an effort to strengthen some holes and, as it does so, continues to maintain those features which make it such a fantastic heathland course in the heart of Suffolk, with its traditional pine trees and gorse, intermingled with mature English hardwood on a gently undulating landscape. The nine-hole layout remains a unique golfing experience in that members might choose to play three holes, have a tea or coffee, and then return for more golf. One can arrive back at the clubhouse (an aesthetic sight that is perfectly placed within the landscape of the club) after the completion of each set of three holes.
If what you have read has sparked your interest to find out a little more about classic golf then please refer to a recent article in Golf Monthly (April, 2020 issue): Nicklaus for a Day (pp 70-75) in which the equipment editor of the magazine and I discuss all things classic golf.
Furthermore, you might be interested in visiting the Persimmon Golf Society Facebook page and becoming a member of a growing 1,400 internationally strong community of golf historians and classic club golfers.
For those interested in hickory and classic golf club restoration, information can be found in both areas as well as the expertise offered by the hickory playing community of Flempton Golf Club.
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