In Profile: Columnist Chris Boughton looks back at Thetford Golf Club's history
Founded in 1912, Thetford Golf Club is regarded as one of the premier courses in East Anglia.
Situated astride the Brandon Road just over a mile from Thetford town centre, the course was constructed on an open sandy heath known as Thetford Warren, which as the name suggests, was land used to breed rabbits for their fur and meat.
An 18-hole 6,000-yard course was designed by Charles Mayo and later improvements were made by Philip Ross-MacKenzie and James Braid.
The fine sandy soil never becomes water-logged and therefore can be played in all seasons.
After the First World War the Forestry Commission planted extensive pine trees on the surrounding land now known as Thetford Forest.
At the time it was the largest man-made forest in the country.From being a heathland course, it has gradually become a forest course.
Following a request to their Landlord’s agents in October 1978 to improve the old clubhouse the Crown Estate suggested that they erect a new clubhouse in the centre of the course so that this would be in place before the new Thetford northern by-pass was constructed.
The plans for the present clubhouse were put to the 1978 AGM and received unanimous support. Construction was carried out by Carter’s during 1979 and the clubhouse was opened during that year.
Subsequently, as a result of the approval of the new by-pass, five new holes were designed by Cameron Sinclair and Donald Steel.The new longer holes, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 were constructed to replace the old holes 1, 2, 16, 17 and 18.
The trees on these new holes were decimated by the hurricane of 1987 but the new holes have now blended splendidly with the old.
It is now an attractive, undulating Par 72 course, measuring almost 7,000 yards.
The self-seeding trees from the forestry divide fairways of adjacent holes from one another. Gorse, broom and heather, in their seasons, add to its beauty.
In 2017 the golf club announced that they were in the process of purchasing the club from their landlord, Crown Estate, marking an impressive turnaround for an organisation that five years before were on the verge of going under.
It was 2012, the height of the UK recession and the membership had dropped to just 320 with costs far outstripping income.
Only 24 miles away, The Norfolk Golf and Country Club at Reymerston had just been sold and was returning to farmland use (subsequently also a luxury homes gated park) and the prospects for Thetford golfers looked grim.
By mid-2013, however, things were on the up at the club.
Sports Editor Russell Claydon reported in the Free Press, in July 2013, on Thetford’s recovery plans quoting the club’s volunteer head of marketing, David Fossey; “There were 127 members who paid their subscriptions (£820) three months early to keep the cashflow going – I think that is tremendous.”
The annual rent paid to the Crown Estate was successfully re-negotiated and costs across the club were cut.
A management committee, chaired by member Chris White, had steered a dramatic recovery which has since steadily continued, culminating in the club purchasing the land from the Crown Estate.
Innovative membership packages have also aided the recovery, and over the course of the past seven years the membership has more than doubled.
The club’s vision statement on their website reads: “To be the first club of choice for all golfers within the area; to be a required destination for all golfers in East Anglia; and to be on the Must Play list of every golfer.”
Club manager Malcolm Grubb added; “Thetford has long been regarded as one of the best winter courses in the region.
“The heartland course is free-draining and is often playable within minutes of a heavy downpour. Our policy is to play on main greens whenever possible.”
The PGA Professional at the club is the highly regarded Stuart Smith, who is currently featuring free video golf tips and exercises on social media while the golf course is on temporary coronavirus close-down.
Gill Welham is the club’s chairperson, Les Dewey the president and this year’s captains are Sue Pitcher (Ladies), Jim Neale (Seniors) and Rob Mills (Club).
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