The 108-year-old Bedfordshire Golf Club, the oldest in the county, has survived the threat of extinction. Four years ago came the bombshell announcement that the Club’s landlords would not be renewing its lease in 2000 having arranged with the Bedford Borough Council to build 900 houses and a road on the golf course. Although there were plans for a new profit-making golf course elsewhere in Biddenham, The Bedfordshire, a members’ club, would not be invited to move there.
A development committee was set up to investigate how best to ensure the Club’s survival and a recommendation to acquire 155 acres of freehold farmland two miles away at Stagsden was adopted. The members are financing the £3.4 million venture with a 10-year share scheme and so far 580 out of 750 have joined. The R&A has made a grant of £50,000 towards the costs.
At Stagsden members will have a championship-length 18-hole course, a much larger clubhouse with increased entertaining facilities, a floodlit driving range and, by next year, a 9-hole par three academy course which will encourage many more local people, especially youngsters, to take up the game.
The course has been designed by Cameron Sinclair, former President of the British Institute of Golf Course Architects, and built by Land Unit Construction, one of Britain’s longest established golf course constructors after more than 23 years in the business.
“In contrast with the old site at Biddenham,” said Cameron Sinclair, “the new site has much more movement in the ground. I spent a lot of time on the site working out the most efficient layout that used the natural landforms and avoided the need for major earth movement. That said I did need to do some alterations to the landforms but I set out to achieve an end product which flowed and appeared natural. I am also pleased to say that The Bedfordshire is not an aquatic golf course. Water has been used for strategy only at the 14th and 15th holes where lakes have been created at the low point of the site.”
“The new Bedfordshire has been a challenge to construct and establish for play in 18 months,” said Bob Blythe of Land Unit Construction, “but last year we were blessed with a dry spring and summer after a very wet winter. Our commitment on site has continued until the opening with tree planting, course maintenance and the managing of a tip of imported clean fill material to create a 9 hole academy course which was seeded this summer for opening in 2001.”
“My favourite hole is probably the 17th,” says Sinclair. “The hole plays across a natural sweeping valley dog-legging slightly to the right with the flow of the ground. On the inside of the dog-leg a natural fold in the ground has been used to provide a setting for some bold bunkering. The result is a dramatic hole in harmony with the existing landforms and demonstrates my design philosophy quite neatly.”
While there is much nostalgia and regret at leaving Biddenham’s 98 acres, the club’s home for a century, there has also been keen anticipation. At Stagsden the Club has 150 acres, a two-storey clubhouse whose function room alone almost equals the total area at the old bungalow clubhouse and a 180 space car park. “The past two years have been hectic,” comments David Romans, general manager, “but the efforts and determination of the Bedfordshire members have ensured the survival of a fine old club.”