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Origins of Highlands Golf Club

Official Opening Souvenir – Oct 2nd 1926
Official Opening Souvenir – Oct 2nd 1926

The Highlands Golf Club, as it is now known, was founded on October 2, 1926, as the Mittagong Municipal Golf Links. To get to this historic point, years of hard work, lobbying and decisions had to be made prior to the development of the course and clubhouse that would come to serve the community for many years.

The Mittagong Municipal Council, as it was known at the time, began acquiring land for a sporting and recreational area on the northern outskirts of Mittagong through purchase, lease and resumption in early 1922. Council decided to set aside 25 acres (9 hectares) for a general oval and sports ground and a swimming pool area was purchased from the railways in 1928, with the pool officially opening in 1931. This is one example of the local Council's forward-thinking and community-mindedness at the time.

Since there was a need to purchase land for a proposed golf club as well as the actual cost of course construction, the council prepared and published its estimates for these costs in October 1922. Mr C Murray, a local landholder with a large area of pastoral land and an avid sportsman, including golf, was approached and agreed to provide the required loan of 1000 pounds ($2000).

The work began that year, but the task was enormous given the area's giant eucalypts and dense scrub. In the early days, much of the labour was done on a volunteer basis, which has remained a constant factor throughout the club's long history. Mr W Worner did the majority of the clearing work, using bullock teams to clear the tall timber and scrub. With the clearing and formation of the golf course well underway, it was found in 1925 that an additional 500 pounds ($1000) was required to complete the work. Despite complaints from some ratepayers, the council was given permission to borrow the additional funds, which were once again provided by Mr Murray and his sister Miss Murray.

Carnegie Clark, a well-known Australian golfer at the time (and who later became the club's first professional), designed the original course layout. Clarke was widely regarded as the father of professional golf in Australia. Born in Scotland in 1881, he moved to Australia in 1902 to work for a sports store. He toured the east coast promoting golf, giving lessons, and taking orders for clubs and balls. He turned professional at the Royal Sydney Golf Club in 1904. Carnegie Clark and his colleague Dan Sauter were instrumental in establishing the PGA in Australia, with the first meeting held in the pro shop at Royal Sydney in 1911.

Carnegie's course design continued in Sydney and throughout New South Wales for many years, with his son, Hastings Clark, assisting on numerous occasions. Hastings arrived in Mittagong in 1933 and created the first grass green on the Mittagong course, the 9th green (or the current 18th green now), during a six-month stay. Hastings then went on to work as a golf professional at Bowral Golf Club for over 50 years. Carnegie designed and built clubs and other equipment in his backyard for many years, with another son, Carnegie Junior, carrying on the business after his father died in 1959 and continuing to make them until his mother died in 1980.

The course began to take shape by October 1925, so a meeting was called to form a golf club. Alderman Terry (chair), A L Horniman, C N Lee, C Boswell, A Shimmels, J Kennedy, A N Chew, H D Ferguson, R W Downs, C H Thompson, R W Nichols, A E Boswell, H Hedger, H C Hain, S Downs, and Miss S E Hatherall were among those in attendance. It was proposed at this meeting to ask the council if they could lease the course for a nominal 1 pound, ($2) per year for three years, with annual fees of 2 guineas, ($4:20) for gentlemen and 1 guinea, ($2:10) for associates. C H Thompson was elected president, A N Chew was appointed secretary and C N Lee was appointed treasurer. As an aside, Mr Claude Lee, Treasurer, later hiked from Mittagong to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains and then hiked back!

Following this initial meeting in 1925, the work on completing the course accelerated. The removal of rocky outcrops, stump removal and the overall layout of the tees, fairways and greens were the major items that needed to be improved. Horses were used for the majority of the heavy clearing and rock removal. The control of bracken ferns was an ongoing issue that lasted for many years. All of the above office bearers were re-elected at the first annual general meeting in 1926. The Women Associate golf club was founded in August 1926, with Mrs Dobson (mayoress) elected president, Mrs S Downs vice president and Miss D Thompson secretary.

Shortly before the official opening, Aldermen Boswell and Hedger, along with a volunteer working bee, built a new bridge across Nattai Creek and Mr W H Jones lent a tarpaulin for the women' refreshment booth. Mr Horniman, who had been paid $25 for surveying and laying out the course for the council, returned the money to the club. A ball was held in the School of Arts Hall on the Friday evening (1 October 2, 1926) before the golf course opened, with Mr Beavan's orchestra performing, Mr C Boswell decorating the hall and the women under Mrs Chester Smith preparing food for the nearly 200 attendees. A list of 80 women, as well as a description of the material used in each of their dresses, was published in the local newspaper at the time and a copy was enclosed.

On Saturday, October 2, 1926, the Mittagong Municipal Golf Course was officially opened. The Mayor, Alderman Dobson, and the club's President, Mr C H Thompson, welcomed all the guests from the surrounding areas, including a large contingent from Sydney. Mr Murray, who had financed the two loans, was given the honour of officially opening the course. All in attendance applauded his skill when he played the first ball. As a memento of the occasion, he was given a suitably inscribed paperweight made with a base of Joadja shale with a slab of brown country rock on the shale and a sphere of obsidian representing a golf ball on top.

The following year (1927) matches were played against the Bargo, Campbelltown and Kangaroo Valley Clubs, with wins against the Bargo and Kangaroo Valley Clubs. Mr Murray, the club's early benefactor, donated a shield for a yearly knockout competition on behalf of his late father, Judge Murray, and the local chemist, Mr Edgar Browne, donated a silver cup for the club champion. Mr Jack Allen took home both trophies.

Mr H Hedges built the first clubhouse in 1928, near the current clubhouse location. On June 29, 1928, the club's Captain, Arthur L Horniman, who had been heavily involved in the effort to erect the building, performed the opening ceremony. Stone for the St Stephens Anglican Church extensions in Mittagong was quarried on-site from the golf course this year too and transported by local carrier Vince Worner, with the stonework completed by Mr H Hedger. Both of these gentlemen were on the golf club committee at the time. This quarry was located on the then-short par-3 7th hole, near where the current 15th hole is now. For obvious reasons, the deep quarry was also known as the "snake pit" back then! If your ball landed in this area, the ricochet could send a ball anywhere or you could enter the snake habitat.

In 1933/34, a group of club members became dissatisfied with the club's fairways and general course condition and formed a new club in Dave Cupitt's Paddock on Bong Bong Street Mittagong. This 9-hole course was located on the right side of Bong Bong Street, east of Mary Street. The clubhouse was a small stone structure with a verandah around it and all work on the course, like the original course near the highway, was done on a volunteer basis. Coincidently, there was also a hole that went over a quarry which was called the brick pit. Although the grass may have been greener, the effort and support for the breakaway group did not last forever. The old club was known as Mittagong Park Golf Club and the new club was known as Mittagong Golf Club. This situation lasted until 1940 when the breakaway group returned to its original location and the club was renamed Mittagong Golf Club.

In early May 1937, despite the breakaway group, the Mittagong Park Golf Club hosted a major three-day tournament. The Coronation Tournament was named to commemorate King George VI's coronation and the main event was a 36-hole stroke scratch competition for the prestigious Mittagong Championship Cup, which was donated by the Mittagong Municipal Council. This appears to be the forefather of today's well-known and prestigious Mittagong Cup.

The golf club ceased operations during the war years of 1941 to 1945 but resumed operations after the war. The course fairways were ploughed up and sown with new grasses with the assistance of members George Elliot, Carl Dowling, Peter Osbourn, Vince Worner and Len Hawkins in 1946/47, at a cost of about 1000 pounds ($2000). Since the sowing was so successful, the members were unable to keep up with the mowing of the fairways, so the 9 greens were all fenced off and cattle and horses from the Greta Drew Riding School of Bowral were agist on the course to try and keep the grass down.

The following local rules can be found on score cards from that era:

  • Rule 3: If a ball strikes any part of the Green Fence, the ball must be re-played.
  • Rule 4: If the Green Fence becomes an impediment to the ball or the player the ball may be removed one club length but not closer to the hole.
  • Rule 5: Hoof prints, wheel tracks, animal scrapes and manure on the course should all be considered ground under repair (GUR).

In 1950, an officer from the Department of Agriculture discovered some soil deficiencies at the club, including very poor soil and slow grass growth. As a result, the golf club was fortunate to receive some excellent topsoil when the Mittagong Shire Council was doing some work at the foot of Catherine Hill, just north of Mittagong. In 1954, the Council purchased a Gang Mower for the club for 400 pounds ($800), to be paid back over six years.

Despite the membership's valiant efforts, the club's finances deteriorated in the late 1950s. The Council attempted, but failed, to broker a Mittagong RSL takeover of the golf club. Meetings were held in early 1961 between the three parties in an attempt to solve the golf club's problems. The golf club had always relied heavily on volunteer labour to maintain playable fairways and greens, which had been exacerbated by a lack of water. Since there were no licenced establishments, the only sources of income were a £500 Council grant, annual golf fees and green fees. The RSL's inability to "split" its liquor licence posed a significant barrier to the clubs' merger.

With no outcome from the merger proposal, it was decided in mid-1961 to disband the golf club and turn over the assets to the council. This disappointing decision did not last long, as on November 15, 1961, Councilor Bender, Shire President of Mittagong Shire Council, called a meeting to reform the golf club.

Old course layout and size

The original course, which opened on October 21, 1926, was only 9 holes long. The par for each 9 holes was 38, but the first 9 had two par 6, two par 5, one par 4 and three par 3, while the second had one par 6, three par 5, two par 4 and three par 3. Each nine-hole women' par was 47 strokes, with each nine consisting of one par 7, three par 6, two par 5 and three par 4. Another interesting fact is that the word 'par' was not used on the original scorecard, but the word 'bogey' was. Apparently, back then, the two words were interchangeable, with no distinct definitions as they do now.

Before the late 1950s, when the main road was re-routed over the railway line, the highway was to the east of the railway, in front of the current Fitzroy Inn (or Oaklands Guest House, as it was then known) and near the old maltings. Mr Carnegie Clark, who not only supplemented his income by making hickory shafted golf clubs but also served as the club's first professional, designed the course. Refer to the Highlands Golf Club's history for more information on Carnegie Clark. His son, Hastings Clark, arrived in 1933 and created the first grass green during a six-month stay. This was the 9th green, which is now the 18th.

The first tee was located to the east of the current clubhouse, roughly in the middle of the current main road. This was next to the bowling club, which was near the railway line and the new bowling club and bowling green opened in December 1937. This first golf hole was a par 4 across Nattai Creek, with the green located further up the road, not far from the railway line. The tee was surrounded by a thorny hedge.

Old scorecard
Old scorecard

The second hole was a par 3 with the tee near the railway with a north-westerly direction towards a wooded area near the current first hole. The third hole was a par 6, similar to the current 5th. The railways owned the entire area to the right of this (our current 2nd hole). The fourth hole was a par 5, similar to the current 9th. The fifth hole was a par 3, similar to but shorter than the current fourth hole.

The sixth hole, which is now the 14th, was a par 6. The bush between the fifth and sixth holes was dense. The seventh hole was a par three that began south of the current 15th green and featured a sandstone quarry between the tee and green. Precision was required due to the quarry and dense bush to the right.

The eighth hole was a par 5 that started near the top of the hill, halfway down the current 16th fairway, but right next to the bush on the right. The fairway followed the tree line to the current 17th green, which was built on newly installed mounds. The ninth hole, like the current 18th hole, was a par 3 back across Nattai Creek, but with the tee closer to the back of the current first tee. The course was simply played twice to complete 18 holes.

Bunkers as we know them today did not exist in the beginning, with hazards consisting of mounds of dirt running straight across the fairways from one side to the other. Interestingly, a copy of the scorecard from that period, 1926, refers to bogey or women bogey rather than par for each hole. This was apparently because the term bogey meant the same as par at the time. It was also interesting to note that the par for men was 76 for 18 holes and 94 for women!

Before the Second World War, barbwire was used to keep stock off the greens. Mr Griffiths of the Maltings was in charge of much of the barbwire fencing. Following the war, more fences were built around the greens to continue keeping livestock off them, as sheep, cattle and horses were frequently agist on the course to keep the undergrowth down. On the scorecards at the time, specific local rules covering these new structures were introduced.

Various changes to the layout of specific holes were made during the 9-hole course's existence, but the major change was implemented in the early 1960s. The Mittagong Bowling Club and bowling green were built behind the then-first tee near the railway line in 1939. When the DMR (Department of Main Roads) decided in the late 1950s to build a new railway overpass or bridge and direct the Hume Highway on the western side of the railway, next to the golf course, the layout had to be changed because tees 1 and 2 would have to be moved. This also meant relocating the bowling club to Alexandra Square in Mittagong.

To facilitate this change, a new hole was built between the then-fifth and then-third holes. This was a par 3 hole located between the current 4th and 5th holes. This hole became the new second hole. With this new hole replacing the former second hole, a new first tee and green were constructed. The slope of the green undoubtedly faces the direction of the original 2nd tee, so whether a new green was built or the old second green was used is a moot point.

The documents from the May 7th, 1967 monthly committee meeting stated that there were discussions about plans for an 18-hole course. The greens committee was then tasked with developing plans for the 18-hole course and determining the amount of land that needed to be reclaimed.

A letter from the Mittagong Shire Council to the golf club dated 21st June 1967 stated that the council's opinion was favourable and that it resolved to secure 38 acres (14 hectares) of land adjoining the then-current course. This 18-hole expansion was completed in early 1974 and officially opened on December 8, 1974.

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