The early days of Boyce Hill Golf Club in South Benfleet were closely tied with Leigh Park Golf Club, a club certainly in existence during the 1914-1918 war and also for a few years following.
The golf professional at Leigh Park at this time was one Ernest Barker, who had replaced Ernest Gray, an original member of the Professional Golfers Association when it was founded in 1902 and Leigh Park professional 1915 – 1917. Certain of the members of Leigh Park were dissatisfied with both the golfing conditions available and also the news that the estate within which lay their golf club was soon to be compulsorily purchased by the Southend Council, so eyes were cast around to find suitable land that could be converted into a quality golf course.
A letter dated 23rd October 1921 headed Leigh Park Golf Club to a “Mr. Cooper” suggests plans for some members of the Leigh Park committee to walk over the fields of Boyce Hill Farm, South Benfleet to assess its suitability as a golf course. Legal Indentures and Deeds exist back to 1802 regarding the farm, known originally as “Boyce’s” including one dated December 31st. 1868, which mentions that the Incumbent of the Vicarage has the right to use the well on Boyce Hill Farm at a charge of ten shillings per annum, a first mention of the name “Boyce Hill “. In the next few months a group of members from Leigh Park Golf Club formed a company “Boyce Hill Golf and Country Club Limited” with the avowed interest of renting the land at Boyce Hill Farm for conversion to a golf course.
The first meeting of Boyce Hill Golf & Country Club Limited took place on 3rd August,1922 at Gordon Hall, Pall Mall , Leigh on Sea, a hall adjoining the present day United Reformed Church at the corner of Leigh Hall Road and Pall Mall . At this meeting it was agreed that Leigh Park Golf Club was not to be purchased and that Boyce Hill Farm at South Benfleet, comprising 119 acres, was to be leased to the Company for a term of 99 years, at a premium of £1,250 and a rental of £200 per annum with certain options to purchase within a prescribed period.
Things appear to have moved quickly in August 1922 regarding Boyce Hill Farm, as an agreement for a lease dated 27th August, 1922 was superseded by a conveyance, dated 31st August, 1922 of the Freehold Farm and Lands known as Boyce Hill Farm from Montague Jackson at a rental of £200 per annum, together with the option to purchase within 21 years, from the commencement of the term, at a price of £2,900.
The land was thus acquired, comprising 120 acres of hills and dales, with grand views over the rolling hills of Thundersley to the north and west. Thundersley Glen to the east, and the River Thames, together with the quiet villages of Benfleet and the adjoining Canvey Island to the south. In the early twenties, motor cars were at a premium so the reasonably accessible station at Benfleet on the London , Tilbury and Southend Railway was an asset to those traveling from the east and west.
The popular golf professional at Rochford Hundred Golf Club, the oldest golf club in the Southend area, one F. G. Steel, known to all and sundry as “Joe”, was quickly called upon to walk over the land and lay out a golf course. Within days labourers and greens staff were cutting out fairways using horse-drawn mowers and denoting greens, but at that time no sand bunkers that would enable the first nine holes to be “played” over on the formal opening day of 1st October, 1922, only thirty days after the acquisition of the land.
The original eighteen-hole golf course laid out by “Joe” Steel, the Rochford Hundred professional, made use of the terrain in a manner similar to the course we know today except that a few of the holes went in the opposite direction plus some totally different holes and the land now used as a reservoir was part of the course.
Following redesign of the Course by James Braid the magazine “Golf Illustrated”, dated January 9th, 1925 , carried a small article in its “Tee Shots” news page, as follows: “James Braid at Boyce Hill. There is one man who knows exactly what quality of golf will be provided at Boyce Hill in the near future, when the contemplated new layout becomes an accomplished fact, says Mr. Clyde Foster in the Southend Standard. That man is James Braid, five times Open Champion, who visited Boyce Hill recently to give the committee the benefit of his ripe experience in an advisory capacity. To the right you can see (left to right) Percy Alliss, Ernie Barker, J.H. Taylor and James Braid opening his redesigned golf course in 1925 with an exhibition match.
Though John Henry Taylor and Frederick Hawtree are in partnership in golf architecture, it was quite a good idea to have Braid down as well.” James Braid, born in Scotland in 1870, came to London initially to work in the golf department of the Army & Navy Stores in Victoria Street , then obtained the job as professional to Romford Golf Club. The bulk of his working life was spent at ‘Walton Heath Golf Club, where in his seventies he successfully played “under his age” yearly on his birthday! Having won the Open Championship five times between 1901 and 1910 he also became one of the leading golf course architects of his day, having worked on over three hundred courses, including designing near to one hundred, eighteen hole layouts, fifteen nine holers, converting near to fifty existing courses and working on one hundred and forty five other courses, such as rebunkering and adding holes. In this part of the world James Braid designed the course at Orsett, worked on Rochford Hundred and laid out Thorpeness. a course that many of our members have spent happy days playing over in past years.
The Committee at Boyce Hill having selected James Braid to redesign their course together with the golf course construction firm of Hawtree & Taylor Ltd., commissioned work to begin in early 1925. Again we have a quote from “Golf Illustrated”, of May 1st, 1925 : “The directors of the Boyce Hill Golf and Country Club announce that the reconstruction of the course by Messrs. Hawtree & Taylor is now nearing completion, and the new course will be in play during the present summer. Experts have expressed the opinion that it is of exceptional merit and will provide first class golf.”
The culmination of all the work and expense, at that time about £4,500, today’s equivalent say £500,000, led to the official opening in September, 1925. “Golf Illustrated” magazine, dated October 2nd, 1925 , reports: “Braid and Taylor at Benfleet . James Braid (Walton Heath), J. H. Taylor (Mid-Surrey), Percy Alliss (Wanstead) and E. A. Barker, the local professional. took part in two exhibition rounds on the Boyce Hill course, at Benfleet , near Southend, on September 25th. In the early part of the day Alliss won the medal round with a score of 75, Braid taking 78, Taylor 80 and Barker 81. Later Alliss and Barker defeated the veterans by 3 and 2 in a four-ball match.
The Clubhouse 1922 – 1939 within the land known as Boyce Hill Farm acquired by the Club in 1922 was a farmhouse, and a number of outbuildings, that was basically to become the clubhouse for the next seventeen years. A rather damaged photograph, dated 1922, shows the clubhouse in its earliest days before any improvements had been made. The original farm buildings included outhouses and barns, one of which was converted as a shop and workshop for the use of the Professional, Ernest “Ernie” Barker who had followed the Leigh golfers to the newly formed Boyce Hill Golf Club.
Rather grandiose drawings and plans had been prepared for a lavish clubhouse containing dormy house facilities as can be seen by the illustration reproduced from the 1922 “Boyce Hill Golf and Country Club Official Handbook”. Unfortunately none of the schemes to erect a club house/dormy house, tennis courts and a bowling green came to fruition as can be seen by the 1927 photograph of the Club House showing the original farmhouse with additions built onto its front elevation. This building work seems to have been carried out over a few years as no specific figure is shown in the Company accounts during this five-year period, only moderate items of expense year by year.
At the Annual General Meeting of the Company held at the Clubhouse, South Benfleet on Saturday, 12th December 1936 the matter of a new club house was brought up, with Ernest Hick, who had taken over from A. J. Arnold as Captain and Chairman in the previous year, in the chair. The shareholders present were told by the Chairman that “he looked forward with practical certainty to the erection of the new club house. The terms on which the necessary funds were to be raised were a matter of negotiation and would be submitted for approval in due course”.
The 1937 Company A.G.M. produced a statement from J. W. Gilbert, 1936/7 Captain of the Club, and Chairman of the meeting, referring to the prospective new club house, that every possible scheme had been tried, but that the necessary sum of money, approximately £3,000, had not been forthcoming. However, the Board had decided that a possible solution was in an extension of the present bar and lounge, together with improvements in sanitation, and that members could look forward to seeing such improvements put in hand in the near future.
The Directors’ Report for the following year, 1937 – 1938, contains a mention that there had been a considerable increase in Green Fees which had been, to a large extent, due to the great improvement of the course and greens, but also mention was made of the extensions erected to the Club House, at a cost of about £1,250, which had greatly improved the amenities of the Club. This building work seems to have been carried out over a few years as no specific figure is shown in the Company accounts during this five-year period, only moderate items of expense year by year.
During the War Years an Extraordinary General Meeting was held on December 9th, 1939 when it was discussed that due to the recent military occupation of the Clubhouse and Boyce Hill Golf Course, a Committee of Control under the leadership of Ernest Hick would be appointed for the period of the emergency. There appear to be no records of the war years at Boyce Hill but members recall that the course was used as a training area for light tanks and scout cars. A small resident army unit based their tents and cookhouse near the present First Green, and manned a light A.A. unit and searchlight nearby. It is thought that an Officers’ Mess was situated at the top of the property near to the present tractor sheds. The old clubhouse was not used by the army, which saved them from problems when the building received a direct hit in 1941, although the bomb did not explode! A large part of the building was destroyed and the job was completed the following year by the ravages of fire.
The fire even took its toll on the mulberry tree, Boyce Hill’s oldest inhabitant, where burns and scars can be seen to this day. The bomb that hit the Clubhouse was one of a stick of six, five of which were recorded. The sixth bomb was discovered, unexploded some two years later in the vicinity of the present practice putting green. The course was hit by other bombs, none of which made any great impression, though later in the war a V2 rocket landed in the vicinity of the present Fifteenth Hole ladies tee, temporarily producing a pond until it was filled in some years after the war finished.
The first post-war A.G.M. recorded was held on 28th June, 1948, when accounts for the previous seven and three quarter years ending 30th June, 1947, were presented and adopted by the members present. At this meeting the question was raised that due to the financial position of the Club it might be advantageous, in view of the Town and Country Planning Act, to sell Boyce Hill for housing development. Following prolonged discussion it was agreed, thankfully for members today, that in the best interests of shareholders the Company should function as a Golf Club for as long as possible. The few members present at that time were faced with the enormous task of getting Boyce Hill back on its feet with the minimum funds available.
In December 1955 the foundation stone for the present clubhouse was laid and with financial aid from the War Damage Commission a new clubhouse was opened in 1956, which from its first day was found to be rather on the small side and a number of extensions, in hand with the growth in numbers of members were to be made over the next 40 years or so. The basis of the organization of the Club for the pursuance of playing golf, both competitive and otherwise and social events and catering in the post-war period moved into the hands of the various committees, organized by the respective Captains who were voted in at the Annual General Meetings of the Club and of the Ladies Section.
Our current professional Graham Burroughs returned to Boyce Hill in 1974 to take over the Professional’s job upon the departure of Dennis Slocombe who moved into golf equipment marketing. In 1999 a Pro-Am was held to celebrate Graham’s first 25 years as our club professional which was the first of many as in 2015 we celebrated Grahm’s 40th year with the Club as head professional. Over this period Graham has represented the Club with distinction on golf circuits both nationally and locally. Graham has always kept a well stocked shop displaying all the latest equipment at advantageous prices, also offering coaching facilities, to both young and old alike. Some years ago the old cottage building was pulled down to be replaced by a new shop that enabled members to avail themselves of even more tempting items of equipment.
In 1983 Graham Burroughs entered the Open Championship and amongst the 1,107 hopefuls managed to qualify over 36 holes at the West Lanes Golf Club, one of the qualifying courses on the Lancashire coast, for the Championship to be held at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club. By this time the Open was one of the four major events in the world’s golfing calendar and a number of professional golfers leading in various world rankings were not required to qualify, together with former holders and the Amateur Champions of Great Britain and the United States of America . Graham’s first two rounds of 71 and 74 were good enough to survive the cut for the final 36 holes. Since 1966 the final two rounds of the Championship are played over two separate days, Peter Thomson’s sixth and final win of the Open Championship in 1965 being the end of the 36 hole last day of play. A third round of 71 by Graham partnered him on a similar score for play on the final day with Larry Nelson, the holder of the U.S. Open Championship and U.S. Ryder Cup team member. Graham then recorded another round of 71 for the Championship, one stroke better then his partner Larry Nelson, making a grand total of 287 leaving him 12 strokes behind the Open Champion for 1983, Tom Watson, one of the leading world golfers of that period.
Graham Burroughs has had great success in Essex professional golf over the years, starting in 1969. He won the Essex Assistant Professional Championship twice, the Essex Professional Championship four times, the Essex Open Championship three times and the Essex Matchplay Championship once. Moving slightly further afield Graham also won the East Anglian Open Championship and the East Anglian Matchplay Championship. In 1977 Graham was successful in the Southern Region P.G.A. Championship, beating Ryder Cup player George Will of Sundridge Park Golf Club into second place. With Lawrence Farmer, professional at Moor Park Golf Club, Graham won the British Professional Four-Ball Championship in 1987 at John O’Gaunt Golf Club, during the ‘Great Storm’ period. In 1980 Graham was headlined in a sports page as “Graham Burroughs: the King of Estoril” when over two weeks golf, with a team comprising himself and three amateurs, he holed the par 69 Estoril Golf Club course in rounds of 62, 68, 68, 65, 69 & 68 to win both weeks professional first prize in the Hotel Palacio – Longshot Pro-Am. Graham had also won a first prize in each of the two previous years in the same competition. During a friendly game at Boyce Hill in 1979 Graham holed the course in 58 strokes, made up of nine Pars, eight Birdies and one Eagle. During this round Graham single putted eleven times. Despite this round being played off competition tees, winter rules were in force, including picking and placing, it was therefore not considered a new course record.
In 1972 the first Pro-Am was held at Boyce Hill, sponsored by the publishers of the local EVENING ECHO newspaper. A senior member of the publisher’s board of directors, Roy Clarke, was a member of Boyce Hill at the time and it was no doubt through his encouragement within the company of John H. Burrows and Sons of Basildon, that the inaugural competition came to Boyce Hill Golf Club. Don Day, the Boyce Hill captain for 1972, became heavily involved in the organisation of this initial event, together with the publicity department of the Evening Echo and Tony Martin, professional at Basildon Golf Club, who arranged the field of tournament professionals taking part. Thanks to the sponsorship of the various teams entered, plus the finance supplied by the publishers, the professionals were offered the largest prize fund in the country at that time for a one-day event. The outright professional winner could expect a prize in excess of £1,000 which was a sizable amount considering that Brian Huggett, five times a Ryder Cup player had his best year to date in 1972 with winnings totaling £12,373, and eighth place in the P.G.A. Order of Merit.
Many of the top professionals of the period took part in the annual event, far too many to name them all, but including Christy O’Connor, Neil Coles, Max Faulkner, Peter Oosterhuis, Peter Townsend, and Mark James, not to forget Harry Bannerman, Craig Defoy and Malcolm Gregson, winners in the first three years of the event. It was not always the case that the winning professional brought in the winning team as club captain Bill Parcell found in 1978. Bill, together with Tony Fortescue and Jack Slater, was drawn with Ken Brown, one of Britain’s top professionals who had scored a 63 the previous day in the Benson & Hedges Tournament, but in the company of the Boyce Hill captain’s team had torn his card up on the fourteenth hole and on most holes putted out of turn and walked off the greens ahead of his fellow players. Somehow, amidst this furore, Bill Parcell and his team tied for first place, to lose on a points count back and become runners-up!
Mrs. Joan Davies recalls how her late husband Bob and his team in 1976 were drawn with one of the country’s top players, Brian Barnes, but found on arriving at the Club that he had withdrawn, which greatly disappointed the three players. However, at the last moment a replacement had been found; he was about 20 years old, Spanish and did not speak a word of English but he could certainly play the game of golf. He was a pleasure to watch and play with, and also he won a top money prize. His name was Severiano Ballesteros!
Golfing Achievements – Club Members. Boyce Hill Golf Club has had undoubted success in Essex County events. The male members representing the Club were victorious in the Thornton Cup Senior Team Competition in 1985, 1988 and 1997. Success was also gained in the Junior Team Trophy, later known as the Leslie Wood Trophy, in 1930, 1962 and 1991. Boyce Hill were winners of the Essex Foursomes in 1965 in the days when the competition was played as a knockout of 36 holes per round. The lower handicap lady members were successful in the Silver Shield in 1976, 1982 and 1984 and the ladies of handicaps 18 plus in the Bronze Shield were winners in 1933, 1935 and 1959. The Munro County Foursomes, a knockout competition of 18 holes each round, was won by Boyce Hill in 1976, 1977, 1979 and 1986. Boyce Hill was represented in 1988 with a “Year of Captains”, Dolores Foreman was the Captain of Essex Ladies, Ted Wisbey was the Captain of Essex, Robert Cook was the Captain of the Essex Youth Team and our professional Graham Burroughs was Captain of the Essex P.G.A.
We have seen a group of like-minded golfers seeking pastures new in the early 1920’s making way for the start of Boyce Hill Golf Club which by the Millennium has become one of the leading Essex golf clubs and golf courses. Those early golfers with their hickory shafted clubs, inferior golf balls and restricting golfing wear would not believe the standards of course condition and general play that we enjoy today. In the 1999 Boyce Hill Championship two players, Mark Stones and Rickie Sinfield, tied with a 36 hole gross score of 134, two under par, with Mark winning the first extra hole with a birdie three Thanks are due to Michael Smith, Club Captain 1982, who had a first go at this onerous task many years ago but provided this project with a running start, Miss Irene Foster who proof-read, and improved your author’s English, and the group of thirteen very senior, in age, golfers who meet on Tuesdays for a little golf, tie-wearing, and general bonhomie, with President Harry Goss. Known as the “Last of the Summer Wine” they have put their total of 464 years membership and memories to good use supplying and checking various items of Boyce Hill “historic” interest.