On a spur of the Chilterns
Dunstable Downs, a living monument to men who loved a golf club. By Tom Scott - Golf Illustrated - 1952

On Sunday afternoon, it is hoped that many golf enthusiasts will find their way to Dunstable Downs Golf Club to watch the match between Stewart Field, the home professional, and Mrs Bolton, Mrs Sheppard and Miss Donald. They will, I hope, be regaled with a sterling experience.

Those who have not visited the course before will be quite enthralled at the vista which will be set out before them. They will be fascinated at the swooping and turning of the giant gliders overhead, and they will be refreshed by the air, which some authors would describe like wine.

From these words you will have gained that the impression that Dunstable Downs golf course is no ordinary one. Nor is it, for in the first place it is one of the highest courses in England, standing some eight hundred feet on a spur of the Chilterns, from the foot of which, the neighbouring countryside stretches away for many miles in every direction.

I would not care to say how many counties can be seen from the clubhouse, but it must certainly be quite a number. When I paid a recent visit there, I could scarcely turn away from a view which I could only describe as memorable.

The town of Dunstable is ancient, with a long and honourable history dating back to the time of the Romans. I say the time of the Romans for does not Watling Street run through the town? We have no news, however, that the Romans played golf in this country, although some distinguished historians would have us believe that they were, indeed, the people who did first play the game which we now call golf.

There is no record of Romans, or anyone else, playing golf in Dunstable until just after the beginning of this century when a few enthusiasts had a small course in the local town park. We are told, in an excellent brochure produced by the club some years ago, that conditions were rather primitive. But primitive or no, they seem to have whetted the appetites of the men of Dunstable, for when the time came for them to vacate the land, they quickly decided to seek pastures new.
In their search they sought the help of some prominent townspeople, and soon purchased some twelve acres of ground on a part of the famed Dunstable Downs. Like so many pioneers, they looked rather further ahead than just merely playing golf, so they purchased a public house as well, and that excellent establishment served as the clubhouse for many years.

The leader of these pioneers, at least from a secretarial point of view, was Mr Healing, and he appears to have had excellent support from Messrs. Apthorp, Benning, Staddon and Thring.

The new enterprise was strongly supported, not only by golfers from Dunstable but also from Luton and other places in the vicinity. The next important realisation that a nine-hole course was inadequate for the numbers who wanted to play on it. So, naturally, attention was then turned to a course of eighteen holes to accommodate growing membership.

Lack of money was the question, but the officials and members did not hesitate. They decided to go on with plans for an eighteen-hole course and get the money afterwards, and this was exactly what was done.

Fortune smiled on them, for they discovered that a neighbouring farmer was disposed to lease a large amount of land. The officials jumped at the offer and it was not long before the eighteen holes was an established fact.

The members were happy men for they had a good sporting course, laid out mostly on private land and with only a few holes on the Common. The club grew and prospered. But then, faintly at first, but later increasing in strength, a dark cloud appeared to worry those who had the welfare of the club at heart.

Dunstable Downs had been for long a noted beauty spot, but by the late ‘twenties motor traffic had increased hundreds of times – owing to a far greater number of picnic parties paying visits, the fact that Whipsnade Zoo had been opened, and also because Dunstable Downs had become a favourite meeting place for gliding enthusiasts.

These happenings did not in themselves worry the golfers, but the layout of the course was such that several holes were played on the other side of the road which led to Whipsnade. This part of the course also seemed to be a favourite pleasure ground for hundreds of families.

Clearly something would have to be done, and soon. Once more the angel which looks after golf clubs was in helpful mood. For, almost at the precise time that the officials were nearly distraught with anxiety for the future of the club, Downs Farm which adjoined the course came into the market, and I imagine that the Club’s officials were waiting at the door of the farmer’s solicitor before he had even thought of getting out of bed.

The deal was soon concluded and, with characteristic enterprise, it was decided to reconstruct the whole course, dispensing with the holes across the road. This was in 1930, and the task of designing the new layout was given to James Braid.

One would have thought that the cost of laying out a new course would have curbed the enterprise of the club, but no. They were determined that only the best was good enough for them. They were not satisfied with the old public house, the “California”, so decided they would build a new one, and this they did in 1936.

Now, both the fine, modern clubhouse and the lovely, well laid out golf course stand as a monument to men who loved a golf club and who were not afraid to take risks so that they could see their visions become reality.

The clubhouse has every amenity that can be desired, and the course, part on the highest point of the Downs, and part on the old farmland which is slightly lower, is an exacting circuit of some 6,600 yards. Every hole, laid out with Braid’s master cunning, presents different problems, and the scenery at all times is magnificent.

Dunstable Downs has always been a club which has attracted visitors, including many who regularly make their pilgrimage from London.

That custom of Londoners appears to have come into vogue quite a time for, in the same excellent brochure I mentioned at the outset, we read: “Dunstable Golf Club revenue is mainly dependent on members’ subscriptions, bar takings and periodic visits by Old Finchleans, South Herts and North Middlesex contingents. South Herts men may be distinguished by their Vardon swing and North Middlesex by their sartorial elegance.”

I am in no position to enter into any argument between the North Middlesex men and their near neighbours at Totteridge as to which are the best dressed, but it seems that many golfers from these clubs did play at Dunstable – and probably many of them still do today.

No club could have made such progress as Dunstable had it not had the right kind of officials. Not for these men any talk that golf is up against it and if such and such isn’t done the game will certainly die out altogether.

Their motto at Dunstable has always been that if there are problems to be faced, they must be faced squarely, and they must be overcome with enthusiasm, with enterprise and with sagacity.

That outlook has carried Dunstable Downs Golf Club though in the past and enabled the officials to surmount hurdles that would have made many quake. With such men to guide the club, there can be little doubt why it has gained such a well-deserved popularity.

The present officials are of the same breed. It is because of that, perhaps, that the club is in a sound position, and with men such as the secretary, Mr Tom Moore, and the captain, Mr J Facer, at the helm I have no fear as to what the future holds.

And if you don’t believe me when I say that Dunstable is an attractive golf course, different perhaps, from any you have visited, go to it on Sunday and see their popular professional play against the best ball of there first-class lady golfers. If you don’t enjoy the golf, please don’t blame me; if you don’t enjoy the scene which spreads before you, then you can certainly chastise me for making an overstatement.

Tom Scott
Golf Illustrated - 1952

The Exhibition Match 1952
Miss Jean Donald, Miss Jean Shepard, Stewart Field (Pro), Mrs Sarah Bolton, Jim Facer (Captain), Mrs Dorothy McQuilton (Lady Captain), Tom Moore (Secretary)