On Course for a Century

A brief history of Golf at Stowe and Old Stoic Golf.

Stowe has often had a reputation for producing great individuals, but in the sporting field, it must be golf that has produced so many notable performances.

The School was fortunate in starting with so much land. It was therefore unsurprising that in the second term of its existence, thoughts turned to establishing a small golf course in the grounds. A committee was formed, of whom one was a thirteen-year-old boy Stanley Anderson (Cobham 28).

In 1929, the first of Stowe’s great golfers arrived. Laddie Lucas (Grenville 34). His father had been responsible for establishing the Prince’s Golf Club near Sandwich in Kent and was the first club secretary. Laddie was more often to be found in the Professional’s shop than his home and was soon winning junior events. There was also other talent developing on the golf course and in 1932, John Langley (Grenville 36) arrived at the School. There is little to separate the great records of Lucas and Langley whose names were synonymous in pre- and post-war golf.

In 1931, the Old Stoic Golfing Society (OSGS) was formed by Stanley Anderson. This was probably prompted by the aim of entering a team for the Public Schools’ Golfing Society competition, the Halford Hewitt Cup (HH). In 1932, Stowe entered the competition but could not raise the team of 10 players. They raised a team in 1935 but lost to Marlborough in the first round.

In 1937, Laddie persuaded another four Stoic players from a winning Cambridge side to play in the HH, a very youthful team got through to the semi-final where they were defeated by Charterhouse.  In the same year Godfrey Smith  (Cobham 34), who was also a member of the team, won the Swedish Amateur Championship.

In the remaining years before the war, Robert Booth (Chandos 35), the youngest of three brothers, represented England in the Boys Internationals and the Society was also able to call upon Arthur Buchanan (Grenville/Walpole 37) and Peter Choyce (Stowe 35), who had also achieved Blues at Cambridge.

Michael Scholfield (Stowe 39) left the School in 1939 but went up to Cambridge (Caius) in 1947 and gained a Blue for that year. The OSGS was back to almost full strength in 1949, with Laddie captaining the side. They reached the semi-final again, only to succumb to Rugby. The following year Laddie was not available, so Langley captained the side, which managed to reach the final only to lose out to Rugby again.

Soon after the war, the School course had been remodelled with the holes over in the Armoury Field abandoned and fresh holes formed in Chatham field. Also in 1952, Stowe was invited to take part in a new (rather select) public schools’ competition, The Micklem Trophy, which we managed to win in 1957 and 1958.

In 1952, Richard Pearman (Walpole 53) left Stowe and gained a Blue at Oxford in 1954. He played in the HH for several years before emigrating to Bermuda. He had the distinction of actually playing in the HH whilst still at Stowe.

The mid-fifties saw considerable talent emerging from the School with Duncan Marshall-Andrew (Bruce 55), the elder of two brothers, as well as George Day (Grafton 50). In 1957, Peter Cooper (Walpole 39) joined the lengthening number of Cambridge Blues. In 1958, Mike Anderson (Cobham 57) and Lorne Williamson (Temple 56) also gained Blues, with Williamson becoming captain in 1960. In the same year, Anderson also won The President’s Putter. Both players were also selected to represent England in the youth internationals.

The ‘Swinging Sixties’ arrived with Stowe now fielding a very strong and young team for the HH. The Cambridge Blues were now joined by Nigel Stern (Bruce 47) and George Shaw (Grafton 59) as well as David Wright (Bruce 53). In 1962, Stowe had a very good run in the competition and after beating several strong schools in earlier rounds, emerged into a final against our traditional rugby foes, Oundle. It was a very close match, but we succumbed in the final match on the last hole.

1964 saw the last changes to the existing School golf course with holes remodelled and bunkers added. In the same year Bob Durrant (Walpole 65) became the figurehead for OS golf for over twenty years. He was a youth international and later a full international player who won several prestigious tournaments. He married Wendy Hinds, whose father had also been at Stowe and played in the Hewitt.

Success in team sport can be down to a number of factors but captaincy can often prove decisive. In 1978, the captain of the Society and the Hewitt team was Lorne Williamson. The team had several new members including Arvind Sethi (Lyttelton 76), who was a recent Oxford Blue and also Bruce Marshall–Andrew (Stowe 67). The team was made up of Greg Choyce (Cobham 73), another Cambridge Blue, and Stewart McNair (Grenville 71). Stowe beat their old rivals from the 1962 final in the semi-final but were then quite easily beaten by Harrow in the final.

The following year, Stowe had quite an easy draw and there was a certain laissez faire attitude, however, form was good and the partnerships gelled, so much so that by the time we reached the semi-final against our old adversary Rossall, four of our pairs were unbeaten. A good team dinner was enjoyed the evening before the semi-final, but captain’s orders for an early night prevailed!

The match against Rossall was close, until our youngest pairing of Choyce and Lucas managed to win their match against two veteran opponents, we ran out as winners by three and a half to one and a half matches. The final was against Marlborough and was again close until Durrant and Marshall-Andrew won on the last hole to preserve their unbeaten record. Our two ex-Cambridge captains, Peter Cooper (Chatham 54) and Lorne Williamson won on the 17th hole and then Mike Anderson and David Wright (Stowe 52) won a slightly easier match. It took 40 years for Stowe to win this prestigious event.

In 1979, the Society also reached the final of The Grafton Morrish Cup, which has a one round regional qualifying stroke play format for over a hundred schools, leading to a finals knock out competition for 48 schools. Stowe has often struggled to qualify but did so in 1979 where they were once again captained by Lorne Williamson but lost out to Harrow.

A further competition for HH schools, The Cyril Gray, for players over 50, had also commenced in the sixties and initially there was a problem with eligible Stoic players admitting to being over 50! The side was captained for many years by Peter Piper (Bruce 34), the first President of the Society, and they eventually triumphed in 1992 with further wins in 1995, 1998, 2003 and 2013.

The 1980s found more talent emerging from Stowe with two sets of brothers – Neil (Chatham 78) and Jason (Chatham 82) Grey and Guy (Temple 80) and Jeremy (Temple 84) Robinson. In 1984, Charlie Rotheroe (Walpole 85) was to succeed Bob Durrant as the figurehead of OS golf for the next two decades.

The Society enjoyed mixed success in the HH for much of the 1980s but in 1988 came a slightly unexpected renaissance. The side had a non-playing captain in Peter Simmons (Cobham 79), who had also been match secretary for many years, so he knew the form of the leading players. Charlie Rotheroe played top with George Shaw and they only lost one match. Jason Grey was partnered with Charlie Perring (Chatham 87), Peter Cooper partnered Bob Durrant and was unbeaten. Nigel Stern (Bruce 57) partnered David Hadfield (Walpole 63) and Charles Dimpfl (Chatham 66) partnered Ben Marlowe (Temple 79) – they were also unbeaten. David Hinds (Temple 77) played in one early round. The semi-final was against Malvern and we won a tight match. Stowe were favourites to win the final against Bradfield, which they duly did by four and a half points to a half.

The 1990s proved to be a fruitful decade for Stowe in the HH with consistently good results without unfortunately lifting the cup. The new century dawned with a mixture of old and new players for the HH and we managed to win a few rounds without really being a threat. In 2006, Stowe got through to the quarter-final with Anthony Edgerley (Chandos 82), the older of two brothers playing in the HH, and Charlie Rotheroe.

Our form since 2010 has dropped somewhat, with wins a rarity. 2012 saw the last appearance in the HH for Bob Durrant, who played in 104 matches for the Society a record that is unlikely to be surpassed.

As we enter yet another decade, it is interesting to make a comparison of our prowess over time. In the early and mid-years, the team were very dependent on university players. They played a lot of golf, mainly foursomes, against doughty opponents so they were match hardened. Stowe has found that having only one star player is not nearly enough, particularly in the HH. Three or four strong, reliable pairings are needed to be successful.

To finish this article, and from where we started, is the news of an entirely new golf course at Stowe. The new course is a great improvement on the original and is not only a longer and a better test of golf but has been landscaped to a high standard.

Guy Vowles (Cobham 62)