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Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Mortehoe, Devon. (1894 - WW2)

The original club was formed in 1894.

The early club kept a fairly low profile during the late 1890s and early 1900s. The club made a revival in about 1905 and even appeared in the Nisbet's Golf Yearbook of that year.  The more accepted foundation date of the later club is 1907.

It became a splendid 18-hole well maintained links with lovely views just 3 minutes walk from the centre of Woolacombe. The station at Mortehoe was about 2 miles from the course with a bus service available to the clubhouse. The course was taken over for military training during WW2 and although the club was recorded in 1947 it is unlikely that golf was played following the war.

The following is from the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Tuesday 19 June 1894. To-day golf links are being laid out. They will be good links for play, inasmuch as they are on sandy soil covered with closely-grown turf, and the ground is within two or three hundred yards from the Woolacombe Bay Hotel.  

Extract from the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Wednesday 10 April 1895.
'A Golf Club has been formed at Woolacombe the rising North Devon seaside resort. Links comprising a nine hole course, and extending over an area of some sixty acres have been laid out by, and constructed under, the supervision of Gibson of the Royal North Devon Golf Club at Westward Ho! and a very favourable opinion on the exceptional natural capabilities of the ground has been expressed by expert golfers.

The links are most picturesquely situated upon the Burrows stretching along the central part of the bay and overlooking the extensive and unrivalled Woolacombe Sands: and are less than five minutes walk from Woolacombe. The greater area of the links is pastureland. The hazards are all natural ones. The putting greens have mostly been formed and ;aid with good turf and £115 has been spent on the construction and preparation of the ground. The Hon Secretary is the Rev J W Cruikshank.'

Ladies at Golf in April 1895.


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Devon. Report on ladies at golf in April 1895

The Queen Saturday 20 April 1895. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


This club continues to be mentioned in the late 1890s in adverts for the Woolacombe Bay Hotel.

Below is the result of a match played in May 1898 against Ilfracombe Golf Club on the Mullacott Links at Ilfracombe.

Ilfracombe Golf Club   Woolacombe Golf Club  
Dr. Toller 4 E Henshall 0
J Crathorne 5 G B Hole 0
G Hilton Lewis 3 Rev. E Skinner 0
Dr. Payne 4 Sir H Vaughan 0
Dr. Toller and J Crathorne 8 E Henshall and Sir H Vaughan 0
G Hilton Lewis and Dr Payne 0 G B Hole and Rev. E Skinner 3
  24   3

In May 1902 the club reappears when it was reported in an article about the Woolacombe Bay Hotel that "The golf links near at hand are well patronised."

So, it seems that the golf course was carrying on at this time albeit in a rather haphazard fashion

  Secretary Professional/Greenkeeper
1907-09 E J Dawes. J Branch (p) 1907-9; C H Shute (p) 1909-13
1913/14 E J Dawes. A Padgham (p)
1914 E J Dawes, Mortehoe RSO.  William Gibson
1924 T S Watkinson, 3 Castle St, Barnstaple. R W Hansford (g)
1925-30s T S Watkinson, Sanfield, Woolacombe. J Morrison (p) G Bennett (g)
1935 T S Watkinson assisted by J W Morrison. A Smith (p) G Bennett (g)
1940-47 H W Jenkins, Estate Office, Woolacombe. A Smith (p) W Boden (g) and E Howard (g)


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Mortehoe, Devon. The seventh hole.

The impressive Seventh Hole.


By 1905 the club was becoming more organised. The following entry appeared in the Nisbet's Golf Yearbook in 1905; Hon. Secretary - F Beer, Woolacombe R.S.O; Entrance fee Nil and subs £1/11s/6d; Number of holes, 6; Terms for visitors' 1/6 a day, 7/- a week, 15/- a month. The course, which for good lies and charming views, is exceptionally attractive, is well maintained, and very conveniently situated, being within three minutes' of the centre of Woolacombe.

Below is the result of a match played at Saunton Golf Club in March 1905.

Saunton Golf Club   Woolacombe Bay Golf Club  
Mr Riddell 1 Mr Branch 0
H Toller 1 Mr Langton 0
Mr Fordyce 0 Mr Teape 1
Mr Harrison 1 Mr Niele 0
Mr Hole 1 Mr Beer 0
Mr Grey 1 Mr Branch 0
M Toller 1 Mr Miller 0
Mr Cooke 1 Mr Stewart 0
Riddell and H Toller 1 Branch and Langton 0
Fordyce and Harrison 1 Teape and Niele 0
Hole and Grey 1 Beer and Branch 0
M Toller and Cooke 1 Miller and Stewart 0
  11   1

A golf and tennis tournament was held in August 1905. Results of the golf competitions; Ladies - Miss A Hardie-Jackson was winner; Miss Hardie-Jackson, runner-up; Gents competition was a tie between Mr Stokoe and Mr Foster Knowles; Mixed Foursomes - winners, Mr Peel and Miss Hardie-Jackson; runners-up, Mr Hardie-Jackson and Miss A Hardie-Jackson.  

Golf Illustrated reported the club as being founded in 1907 under the presidency of the Earl Fortescue and invited potential members to write to the hon. secretary, E J Dawes.

In September 1908 the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reported that the 'first' AGM of the club was held in the pavilion so, presumably, it assumes the club lapsed and was re-founded in 1907. Among those present were; Sir John Gunn, Captain Baynes, H Hardie-Jackson, G Shiers, A G West, J B Strong, G H Smalldon, F Beer and E J Dawes (secretary). The report and balance sheet showed that the first year of the clubs existence had been most successful.

It was reported in April 1909 that visitors to Woolacombe were delighted with the extension of the golf links, presumably to 18 holes. There were a large number of entries for both the Open and Members Easter competitions. Prizes were given by the President, Lord Fortescue, and E J Soares M.P. The President’s prize was won by G H Smalldon and Mr Soares’s prize by J A E Merriman.

Below is the result of a match played at Ilfracombe on Wednesday 23 June 1909. 

Ilfracombe Golf Club   Woolacombe Bay Golf Club  
Rev R L Whytehead (7&6) 1 L Carr 0
J Swinney 0 E J Merriman (2up) 1
G C Shiers (6&5) 1 W F H Laycock 0
J R Drake Goodban (6&4) 1 W Lydall 0
J B Saul (3&1) 1 J H Smalldon 0
B H D Harrison (7&5) 1 F Beer 0
Rev R L Whytehead & J Swinney (1up) 1 L Carr & E J Merriman 0
G C Shiers & J R Drake Goodban (half) 0 W F H Laycock & W Lydall (half) 0
J B Saul & B H D Harrison (6&5) 1 J H Smalldon & F Beer 0
  7   1

In 1914 the club had a membership of 50. The entry fee was £1/1/0 and the subs £1/1/0. Visitors’ fees were 2/6 a day, 10/- a week, 30/- a month. Ladies 1/6, 7/-, 20/- respectively. Sunday play was not allowed.

At the end of March 1914 an extraordinary general meeting was held at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel. In attendance were; Rev T W Pigot (in the chair), H Galsworthy, A Halsey, H D Maclure, W Salisbury, F Beer, G H Smalldon and Ernest J Dawes (hon sec) Owing to Miss Chichester’s decision not to let the links again it was decided to wind up the club when the lease expired on August 15th 1914.

Better news just a week later when the club came under new management. Mr Slaeman was to be the new secretary. The new professional was Wm Gibson, son of the well known professional at Westward Ho!


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Mortehoe, Devon. The Woolacombe Clubhouse.

The Woolacombe Clubhouse. Postcard published by F Beer, Woolacombe. (Authors Collection)


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Mortehoe, Devon. On the first tee at Woolacombe.

The first tee – F Frith Postcard – Authors Colllection.


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Devon. Tinted postcard of the first tee,

Tinted postcard of the first tee. Image courtesy of Frank Accleton.


Nothing found so far regarding the club immediately following WW1 but it did re-appear in the mid 1920s.

In 1924 visitors fees’ were 3/- a day, 15/- a week, £1 a fortnight, 30/- a month. Ladies 2/-, 10/-, 15/-, 20/- respectively.

In the late 1920s the amateur course record holder was E Hobbs 66. 

A unique golf record was set on January 1st 1936 when the Woolacombe professional, Mr Alfred Edward Smith, shot the lowest recorded score on an 18-hole course. He went round in 55 strokes on the 4,248 yard course which had a bogey score of 70. His score as follows; Out - 4,2,3,4,2,4,3,4,3 = 29; In – 2,3,3,3,3,2,5,4,1 = 26. The feat was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records.

Alf Smith was a slight man in build, less than five feet six inches, with a swing that had a loop that could be compared to that of Jim Furyk. He had a magical short game and was a positive putter.

I would like to thank Mr Smith’s son, Paul, who has contacted us and said “The idea was that the course was quite frozen in December and the ball would run further. Remember he was playing with hickory shafted clubs, but he could still drive the ball 200 yards. He started trying to beat 60 in December and got pretty close. But on January 1st he looked like he was going to do it as he reached the eighteenth. And then he finished off with a hole-in-one for the 55. The ironic thing was that my father was contracted to Dunlop at the time; I think he got about £6 a year. He played the first seventeen holes with a Dunlop ball and then, for some reason, on the 18th tee changed to a Slazenger, he then proceeded to hole-in-one! I think that was hushed up a bit. He had a hard life as a professional golfer – mowing 18 holes in the morning before he could even think about playing golf. The life of a club professional was very different back then. He wanted me to get a proper job, so I became a solicitor”

Following WW2 Alfred Edward Smith went on to become professional at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Penwortham in Lancashire and Windermere.

Alfred Smith died aged 79 in 1996 while playing the game he loved; he was on the third tee at Bentham Golf Club in North Yorkshire, when he collapsed and died. 


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Devon. Alfred Smith in action.

Alfred Smith in action. Image courtesy of Paul Smith.


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Devon. The Alfred Smith pro's shop.

Alfred Smith In the doorway of the pro’s shop. Image courtesy of Paul Smith.


In 1940 and the club’s final appearance in 1947 the 18-holes had a SSS of 70 and a Par of 65. Course records were, amateur E Hobbs 66 and professional A Smith 55. Visitors were as 1924. Sunday play was not allowed.

The course can be seen on the Britain From Above link below.

The golf links and pavilion are long gone, the sand dunes and former course are now the property of the National Trust. The “Jacob’s Ladder” was another feature of the course that has disappeared. It wasn’t a ladder as such, it was a wooden platform and walkway which led from the sandhills to the lower area of the course. 


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Mortehoe, Devon. Jacob's Ladder.

Picture of Jacob's Ladder.


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Devon. View of the course in 1904.

The postcard above, published by F Beer, Post Office, Woolacombe, was posted on 24th August 1904. It looks like a pavilion type building in the centre of the picture.


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Devon. View of the links.

Later card showing the typical links land at Woolacombe. 


Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Devon. Golf course location.

Location of the course at Woolacombe.

Grid reference SS45770, 42445, co-ordinates 245770, 142445.




Woolacombe Bay Golf Club, Devon. Site of the former golf course in 2003.

The deserted site of the former Woolacombe links; pictures taken in 2003. Author's Collection.