In 1938 Spedan Lewis bought almost 200 acres of open agricultural land in Berkshire with the intention of creating a golf course. However war intervened and the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign meant the Government did not allow the Partnership to convert the area from agricultural use, so farming continued and the golf had to wait a while longer.
In 1971 there was a chance to re-evaluate the site’s potential by the Central Board. It was decided that the Partnership should honour the Founder’s original intention and construct a golf course at Winter Hill. It would be available to Partner members on favourable terms and non Partner members on a commercial basis.
The task now was to turn a windblown hill into an environment up to championship golf course standards. It was a help that the architect in charge of the project, Charlie Lawrie , had been non-playing captain of the Walker Cup Team in 1961 and 1963 and Chairman of the Championship Committee of the Royal & Ancient Club of St Andrews in 1971-72. And assisting him was another architect with a wealth of knowledge about the sport; Donald Steel was in his spare time golfing correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph and a joint editor of the Shell Encyclopedia of Golf. For technical advice James Arthur, consulting agronomist to the St Andrews championship committee, selected grasses to create the right type of ‘springy turf’ and oversaw the deliveries of topsoil for the greens and peat for the fairways. The new course also needed a large number of trees – Winter Hill’s existing one fully grown one was an old elm tree by the site earmarked for the clubhouse – and these could be supplied by Longstock Nurseries.
Construction work continued throughout 1975 with few problems apart from rabbits and rumours ‘of an ancient burial in the vicinity of the clubhouse’. The rabbits were defeated by a deep fence sunk around part of the course to keep them out and archaeologists invited to investigate the site found no traces of age-old graves.
On Saturday 15 May 1976, 13 years after Spedan’s death, the course opened and covering 6,432 yards was at the time the fifth longest in the three counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Central Partner Catherine Petrie – in whose honour the Petrie Cup was named – took the first stroke. Although this opening was quite low-key with only 13 golfers playing on the first day, a grander ceremony was held in the Autumn when the car park and clubhouse were finally finished.
During this long hot summer, while the clubhouse was being finished Charles Davis – the first club secretary – set himself up in a shed in the grounds of nearby Grange House and collected green fees from anyone who wanted to play. Hundreds of the newly planted trees died as the heat wave took hold, but with the help of members donating replacements they were replanted and those trees, now mature, help to shape the manicured fairways you see today.
An exhibition match was played between Bernard Gallacher, Bernard Hunt, Donald Steel and Michael Bonallack to mark the official opening.
The first Club Captain was Alex Pounder and Lois Ashwanden was the first Ladies Captain.