Dedicated duo Richard Hopgood and Gary Brett have crowned 45 years of service at Eltham Warren Golf Club – the stunning nine-hole course built on the Queen’s land in south east London.
Course manager Hopgood, 52, has notched up a quarter-of-a-century looking after the fairways and greens which are all part of the Crown’s estate. But his association with the club goes back much further – as he started playing the James Braid-designed course when he was just 13.
His father David was club captain in 1987 and mum Mary captained the ladies section in 2000. So Eltham is in his DNA. He said: “I love this place. It is a real family club – and my roots are here.”
For pro Brett, Eltham was supposed to be a stepping stone on to bigger things. But like Hopgood, the place worked its way into his affections and two decades later, he is still there.
“It is a lovely club,” he admitted. “I had the chance to be a tour pro, but the reality is I am more of a people person. “The members here are fantastic. It’s been a fun 20 years.”
Everything about Eltham is unique.
It is hard to believe when you look across beautifully manicured fairways it was carved out of land mostly inhabited by rabbits back in 1890 – hence the name ‘Warren’.
In 1900 Braid was hired to work his design magic and he maximised every inch of the compact, 46 acre plot to create a challenging golfing experience.
There’s even a tight practice ground that cuts across the second hole.
It is a jewel and new secretary Andrew Brown is working flat out to get more golfers trying the Eltham experience. He said: “We’re working hard with the resources available to bring in more youngsters, ladies and to get more families involved.”
Hopgood was always destined to be a greenkeeper. As a child he would help his uncle mow the grass at local cricket pitches and at 15 he joined nearby Royal Blackheath as an apprentice greenkeeper. He finally ended up on the Eltham grounds staff after a spell digging roads.
“That was back breaking work,” he admitted. “Then a friend told me about the role at Eltham and I have been here ever since.”
Brett’s pro-shop is as unique as the rest of the club, filling shelves with retro golf bags, balls and memorabilia picked up by members from around the world.
“I am going to turn the pro shop into a museum since most of the things in it have been donated by the members,” he said.
He also has a unique side line, taking old battered putters and blinging them up with paint, engravings, even jewels. “I love old things,” the Ford Capri-driving professional admitted. “I don’t make much money out of it. I just enjoy the creativity.”
Meanwhile Brown has been working creatively himself – improving the club house and facilities.
He said: “We have been improving the entrance and porch, re-launching the website, upgrading the back bar. One of our members even donated money so we could re-lay the drive. Resources are limited and we do our best. But it is the course that’s the real attraction. A hidden jewel. A very special place to play golf.”
Eltham Warren Golf Club www.elthamwarrengolfclub.co.uk
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