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A History of RAF Golf

As well as the narrative below, please also take the time to browse (and potentially contribute to) the other history pages:

The Early Days of RAF Golf

Sadly the records of the formation of the Society and much of the pre-Second World War activities were lost, when the London home of the secretary was demolished by a bomb during WW2. However, it is known that the RAF Officers' Golf Association was formed in 1921 and a set of rules drawn up which remain the basis for the present rules. The original management consisted of a committee of 7 drawn from the Air Ministry, Cranwell, Halton and the Inland, Coastal, Bombing and Fighting areas. Membership was limited to officers on the Active Service List and Auxiliary and Special Reserve Forces. Retired officers could continue their membership provided that the subscription of 5/- (25p) was "promptly paid". Three additional areas - Western, Central and Air Defence Group - were included from 1935. The organisation remained until 1938 when the RAF Command structure evolved and the numbers reduced to 6 including the Air Ministry and Cranwell.

Two meetings a year were held, both of 3 days' duration, in Spring and Autumn. The inaugural Spring Meeting was held at Sandy Lodge in April 1921 with the Autumn Meeting at St George's Hill in the same year. Subsequent meetings in the early years were staged at Porter's Park, Sunningdale, Berkhamsted, Oxhey, Walton Heath, Denham, Wentworth and Moor Park. The Championship Meeting held in the Autumn was for all members of the Association and from 1926 there was a championship title at the Spring Meeting for serving officers. Inter-Service matches were introduced in 1922 with the RAF defeating the RN but losing to the Army and Civil Service (this latter match was discontinued in 1928). The RAF had to wait until 1931 before becoming outright champions and this was for the only time before WW2.

On 17 April 1945 the Society was reformed under its present title and in 1946 opened to all ranks, serving and retired. The WRAF was included from 1949. Gradually the Society established itself on much the same lines as before. The annual subscription remained unchanged at 5/-. Inter Command and Inter Group matches became a feature of the calendar and the Society retained the responsibility for selecting the RAF Inter-Service Team. Regional meetings were proposed but this idea was abandoned for lack of support.

Meetings continued to be held at first class courses (and this is still the case) and in 1956 a 4-day meeting was held at St Andrews with an entry of over 150 players. The Provost of St Andrews presented the prizes. The daily green fee of 7/6 (37p) had to be paid in cash by individual players to the starter before play. The 3-day meetings regularly attracted over 100 players and in 1954 more than 200 members played the Spring Meeting at The Berkshire. The total membership during these years exceeded 1000. After a gradual decline in numbers it was thought prudent to raise the annual subscription from £1 to £2 in 1973. Veterans competitions were started in 1952 with an additional Handicap Cup from 1967. The age was fixed at 55 but after 1978 this was increased to 65 since this more accurately reflected the age of the participants.

Formation of the RAF Golf Association

In 1971, however, the Inter-Services Sports Board decided that it was no longer appropriate for the Society to be responsible for selecting the RAF representative team and, since public funds were involved, for former members of the RAF to be subsidised. This led to the formation of the RAF Golf Association (RAFGA) which, on the representative playing side, is responsible for all golf for serving players within the RAF. The RAFGA has expanded its remit to provide a distinctly separate branch in the form of the RAFGA Membership Scheme which is open to serving and retired, male and female members of the RAF. The RAFGA Membership Scheme charges an annual £10 subscription and provides a golf insurance service, coaching opportunities and a bounty for hole-in-ones to its 1800 members. In 1971 the RAF Golfing Society reverted to the role of an all-ranks society consisting of mainly retired members.

The Arrival of the RAF Ladies

The WRAF (as it was then) did not play golf until the mid 1980s. Air Cdre Shirley Jones and her opposite number in the Army were the ones instrumental in starting Ladies Inter-Services golf and Wg Cdr Wendy Humphries was persuaded to be the volunteer RAF Ladies 'Chairman'! However, this was the second time around because in 1918 the WAAF had contested an Inter-Services golf game. The mid-80s team was formed from experienced WRAF tennis and squash players (ion particularly Wendy Humphries, the influential Cynthia Fowler, Dreena Dickson and Gill Corner) and a few others joined in when the stalwarts persuaded their WRAC and WRNS colleagues to play an Inter-Services. Initially the Inter-Services was played in handicap order before adopting scratch format in 1995. Until the start of the 21st Century, the Ladies played their Inter-Services separately to the Men and it was through the persuasion of the then Ladies' Chairman (Marian Evans) that when the RAF Men invited the Ladies to join them. Since then the Men’s and Ladies golf has become one cohesive and successful unit.

More Recent Developments

Over more recent years the RAFGA has managed to maintain a healthy selection of golf events available to golfers of varying standards, despite the ever contracting size of the RAF and the disbandment of the various Commands, reduction in number of Groups and station closures. The top level representative teams remain extremely competitive in the face of very strong opposition at the annual Inter-Services match, with the Men being Champions in alternate years this century. The highlight for the Ladies has been a run of 7 consecutive Inter-Service wins between 1998 and 2004. The annual RAF Individual Championships for both Men and Ladies is now held at the same location and same time as each other, a format which works very well. The Men's entry still has to be balloted out to limit the field to 72 players, usually with a cut-off being at 8 handicap, an indication of the strength in depth of RAF golfers. Public money to subsidise RAF golf has become increasingly difficult to secure with the RAF Sports Board having to spread their increasingly limited finacial resource ever more thinly across a multitude of deserving sports. Like alot of these other sports, the RAFGA has turned to commercial sponsorship in order to enable many of the events to take place at anything approaching a feasible cost to players. It is appropriate that the RAFGA acknowledges this fact and express its sincere appreciation to the sponsors at every opportunity - without this support RAF sports and RAF golf specifically would be unrecognisable.

Notable and Famous Members

The RAF Golfing Society/RAF Golf Association has included a number of famous names in its Members List, among them:

  • Sir Henry Cotton - 3 times Open champion. Henry Cotton won the Open pre-WW2 (1934 and 1937) and post-WW2 (1948) spending the war in the RAF as a pilot officer.
  • Raymond Oppenheimer - British Walker Cup captain. Raymond Oppenheimer, whose wealthy family operated the De Beer diamond mines in South Africa, was a scratch golfer at Temple GC from the age of 16. He played for England before WW2, which he spent in the RAF and attained the rank of wg cdr. He subsequently captained England in 1947, 48, 50 and 51 during which year he also captained the Walker Cup team.
  • Gp Capt Sir Douglas Bader CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar was one of the most famous fighter aces of the Second World War, credited with 20 aerial victories, 4 shared victories, 6 probables, 1 shared probable and 11 damaged. Sir Douglas was a proficient golfer playing off a 6 handicap and regularly participating in RAFGS meetings.
  • Dick Burton - Professional golfer Dick Burton won the Open at St Andrews in 1939 and soon after joined the RAF for the duration of WW2. Accordingly a member of the RAF has held the Open Championship for the longest time in its history. Dick never really had the opportunity to capitalise on his 1939 success.
  • Wg Cdr Laddie Lucas CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC was a superb wartime fighter pilot, an MP, a world class golfer who captained the Walker Cup team, a successful businessman and a fine writer.
  • Flt Lt Max McCready – Less famous than his contemporaries in this list was Max McCready but perhaps the highlight of the Society’s achievement occurred in May 1949 when McCready beat Willie Turnesa of the USA to win the Amateur Championship. A dinner was held in his honour at the RAF Club on Piccadilly. He was a Walker Cup player in 1949 and 1951
  • Peter Alliss - Ryder Cup player and BBC TV commentator. As a boy, Peter Alliss dreamed of becoming a tail-gunner but spent his National Service in the RAF as a "rock" in the ground-based RAF Regiment. Peter's memories of his RAF life... 3 times British PGA champion, Peter also played in 8 Ryder Cups and became highly recognisable as the face and voice of British television golf commentary.

More famous RAF golfers at Notable and Famous RAF Golfers...

No account of the Society/RAFGA would be complete without the mention of some less famous but nonetheless outstanding individuals.

  • Cecil Hayward was the first secretary of the Society, a position he held for 30 years and he can be justly described as the Father of RAF Golf. Not only did he excel in administration but he won the Challenge Cup at the Society's Championship Meeting no less than 13 times in the first 15 years of the Society's existence. He also won the first 4 RAF Individual Championships, a competition which runs to the present day. He was losing finalist in the English Amateur Championship in 1926 and played for England in 1925 and 1928. Cecil retired from the Air Force as a wing commander.
  • Cecil Beamish is a name synonymous with RAF golf. Inspection of the honours board will show his outstanding contribution to the game - 5 times winner of the Society's Challenge Cup and, incredibly, 7 times winner of the RAF Individual Championship over a period of 24 years. Cecil was one of 4 extremely sporting Beamish brothers and outstanding RAF officers. Cecil retired from the Air Force as an air vice-marshal.
  • Paddy Hine has an outstanding golfing pedigree. In 1949, at the age of 18 he won both the Brabazon Trophy and Carris Trophy. Throughout his long and very successful RAF career, which saw him become Commander-In-Chief of Strike Command and act as joint commander of all British forces during the first Gulf War, he supported RAF golf with a passion. It should be pointed out that in 1952, one Pilot Officer P B Hine won the Scratch [link not available] at the RAFGS's Championship meeting and in 2014, a staggering 62 years later, Air Chief Marshal P B Hine won the RAFGS's India Trophy. Sir Patrick was the Captain of the Royal and Ancient (R&A) Golf Club, 2010-11.

More notable RAF golfers at Notable and Famous RAF Golfers...

Past Champions

An archive of the records of Past Champions for many RAFGA competitions is available for browsing at the linked page: Past Champions

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