South Oxhey Playing Fields

The former 1912-1952 Oxhey Golf Course

By John Swain

"Countryside Pedlar" on Oxhey Playing Fields in August 1964, with the tee boxes for the old 1936 sixth hole in the distance, next to Hampermill Wood.
John Swain Collection.

This valuable stretch of open space has been under threat on several occasions since the war years when German bombs fell on Oxhey Golf Course and in the adjoining woods. Some of the craters became small ponds, much to the enjoyment of small children from the nearby estate!

When the former golf course was closed on March 31st 1952, it was officially designated the South Oxhey Playing Fields, and it has been a much-appreciated feature of the local landscape ever since, with more than 140 acres of quality parkland and extensive woodland.

Save South Oxhey Playing Fields

Apart from the peripheral threats of tall pylons (1955) at the Sandy Lodge end and the installation of natural gas pipelines along the southern boundary in 1963/65, the main opposition to the preservation of the area came in 1989. With the changeover in ownership from the London Residuary Body to the Three Rivers District Council, there was a real chance that the woods and fields would disappear beneath housing and road developments. However, a well-orchestrated campaign to Save Oxhey Playing Fields was launched during the summer and thousands of homes throughout the neighbourhood displayed yellow posters as a measure of the strong support. This threat to the local environment failed to materialise and the full story was published in the Watford Observer over the following weeks.

Since the early 1950s, several clubs have made their homes at the lower end of the playing fields, including the well-known Oxhey Estates United, Fullerian R.F.C. and Solus C.C. In later years, a successful 9-hole golf course has become established on part of the 1912-1952 links at Oxhey Park, on either side of Prestwick Road. Quite apart from the organised activities by the various clubs and schools, many youngsters engaged in informal games of cricket, golf, football and rugby. On at least one occasion, the playing fields were the venue for a major cross country championship (January 1965).

Many folk have good reason to be grateful for the opportunities provided by these facilities as they embarked on long and fruitful careers in sport. In addition, several of the former golf course pathways developed by players and spectators during the interwar period have become popular routes for hikers and dog owners.

It is hoped that future generations will safeguard this precious amenity, at least for the next 60 years.

John Swain, South Oxhey resident 1953-65. 

This page was added on 15/10/2010.

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  • Just to put things into some sort of perspective, I thought I would mention that Bushey Cricket Club, who now play their home games (since about 1983) at the former Colne Valley Water Company ground in Eastbury Road, have experienced another prolonged episode of flooding even worse than that suffered in February 2009. According to an old friend of mine, President Robin Nicholls (BCC member since 1951), the ground and pavilion have been under water since December and the club may have to seek alternative accommodation until early June. This is particularly sad in their 150th Anniversary year, but I guess it shows up the perils of locating on a flood plain site. I was a playing member of the First Eleven from 1958 until 1965, when the club’s base (1926-1974) was at The Moat Field in Bushey, which, despite its name, was seldom subject to seasonal inundation!

    By John Swain (24/03/2014)
  • Hi Peter, With reference to your query, the only water hazard on the former Oxhey Golf Course was located alongside the 1912-1935 final green, adjacent to the clubhouse, which is mentioned in the club rules but is not readily apparent on contemporary maps.Therefore, I rather doubt that this is the cause of your problem. A more likely reason is the fact that this area is a so-called “receiving site” and is liable to periodic waterlogging during phases of prolonged precipitation. The club minutes also record winter waterlogging of the fairways along the southern margin of the course during the interwar years, where clay is more common than sand in the underlying geology. The only other feasible explanation is that this area underwent extensive levelling in the 1950s and this may have caused compaction of the soil/subsoil, resulting in damage to the subsurface structure, thus impeding natural drainage. Obviously, the whole situation has been exacerbated by the wettest winter on record in South Oxhey! I guess things are made worse by the constant hammering of the surface by generations of sports teams since the 1950s! In the unlikely event that the local council will agree to install a new drainage system to alleviate matters, we can only hope for a return to more normal conditions. One minor consolation: at least a temporary lake caused by a perched water table is preferable to experiencing a sink hole, similar to the ones that occurred in Oxhey village (see my notes elsewhere on this website). Best wishes to you and good luck to SORFC. Enjoy your trip up to Twickenham on Saturday! John Swain, SO resident 1953-65, retired geographer and contributor to David Reidy’s book on the History of South Oxhey, “Poor but Proud”, Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

    By John Swain (19/02/2014)
  • Hi – I’m a founding member of South Oxhey Rugby Club. Our first season was 2009-10. we use a rugby pitch at the lower end of South Oxhey Playing Fields (by the children’s play area). Every December / January (and this year into February) the pitch becomes virtually unplayable due to a ‘pond’ appearing in the pitch. The only feasible explanation I can come up with for this happening is that up to the Golf Course becoming playing fields this was a pond water hazard that was simply filled in? Can anybody throw any light on this? This is so bad this year that somebody recently joked that we actually rent a lake which now and again becomes a rugby pitch!

    By Peter Loomes (16/02/2014)
  • Like Barry I too used to cycle up to Hartsbourne and caddy, sometimes twice in a day. I remember standing outside the caddy masters hut and as Barry said trying to attract the caddies master attention. It would then be you, you and you, here’s your clubs get down to the first tee. I don’t remember the professional caddies. Of course we were not real caddies, just bag carriers, as your gentleman never asked you for advice. However at Oxhey, an extract from the 1936 minute book indicates they had 1st and 2nd class caddies, which I presume was the difference between just carrying a bag and giving out advice. Here is an extract from the minutes of a monthly committee meeting of 20th December 1936.   ======================= Payment of caddies 1st class 2 shillings per round 1/6 reasonable tip 2nd class 1/6 per round 1 shilling a reasonable tip.==================================   My brother who was ten years older than me used to caddy at Moor Park, which was all together a much better class of course. I played there a few times about five years ago and the caddy shack is still there, how quaint. I’ve been playing golf for nearly 40 years now, but when I caddied at Hartsbourne I was never interested in playing. Of course in those day a kid from the estate had no chance in joining a club or even taking lessons. I learnt my golf when they opened up the 9 hole pitch and putt in the early sixties. I the moved to WGC in 1967 and joined Panshanger, a municipal golf course which opened in 1975. Been playing on and off every since. I would have loved to played the old course at Oxhey as the bunkers were enormous. My dream round would be myself, Vardon, Ray and Cotton. Cheers, John

    By John Motch (05/05/2013)
  • Hi Jim It’s been a long time since we last met. As you remember I was a member of Happy Herts orienteering club between 1985 and 1995. I gave up golf to go orienteering, then I gave up orienteering to play golf. Like you I have produced a number of maps over the years. I presume your are using Ocad these days. I’m interested in the golf course as I grew up in the housing estate and I remember when the greens and bunkers were still in place. I’m also interested in geology and landscapes and I’m currently finishing off a MSc in Geology and landscapes. I’m retired now and I latched onto the idea a few months ago that I would like to write a book about the the old club. I’ve also been surveying the landscape with the intention of overlaying the prewar course with the current landscape. Todate, I’ve well on the way to archiving that. However, I would be interested to see your TVOC map. By the way, what’s TVOC doing mapping a HH area?. Send me an email and I’ll give you a ring. Are you still in the Watford area, maybe we could meet up. Cheers, John Motch

    By John Motch (04/05/2013)
  • I was very interested to read of the orienteering map made by Jim Prowting in 1998 and I was wondering if it is available to non-members of TVOC? I have several contacts in the area who, I’m sure, would also like to secure a copy. Incidentally, some of the participants in next month’s event may care to call into the Oxhey Park Golf Clubhouse on Prestwick Road and view the old photos of the former golf course (1912-1952), along with my sketch maps of the links as they may have appeared in 1920 and 1939. John Swain-South Oxhey Resident 1953-65; Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

    By John Swain (25/01/2013)
  • In 1998, I made a detailed orienteering map (at scale of 1:5000) of the area. All the old tees, bunkers, greens, quarries and bomb craters are shown in extreme detail with contours at a 2.5 metre interval plus intermediate form lines. About half a dozen events have been held over the years since. The next event is on Saturday 23rd February 2013. Visit: http://www.tvoc.org.uk for details

    By Jim Prowting - Thames Valley Orienteering Club (08/01/2013)
  • What about the caddy! Many boys worked as caddies at the different courses close to the estate. Mine was Hartsbourne, to be seen in the far distance from the classroom in Clarendon block.This was a very long time ago, but I think that the earlier you turned up, the sooner you “got out” and got home-at least 4 hours work, with a long bike ride there and back. Princely sum of 8/6d, as I recall. The boys competed for the caddy masters eye with a group of full time caddies disguised as heavy drinking rough sleepers-one called Staunch! Put me off golf for life……

    By Barry (15/02/2011)
  • At the end of the war in 1945, Oxhey Golf Club faced serious problems, not least of which was the reduced number of members, from a peak of 529 players in 1935. Attracting suitable members became a difficult task, bearing in mind the strong competition from the surrounding clubs such as Moor Park, Sandy Lodge, Bushey Hall and West Herts. With the prospect of a massive new council estate being built in the locality during the immediate post-war period, the club was unable to renew its long-term tenancy and it was officially closed as a private concern on October 31st 1946. The course continued to be used on a municipal basis from April 1st 1947, by which time work had commenced on the LCC estate at South Oxhey. Approximately 30% of the lower (east) end of the links were lost to the developers and the re-designed course was shortened from 6,405 yards in length to 5,602 yards. The halcyon days of the Twenties and Thirties were well and truly over, but the municipal course struggled on for a few more seasons until it was finally closed, as a loss-making concern, by Watford RDC on March 31st 1952. As I only arrived in South Oxhey on February 28th 1953, as a 9 year-old, I never saw the old course in action, but there are still local inhabitants around who are able to recollect golf tournaments taking place on Oxhey Golf Course. However, I for one, have no regrets whatsoever about the changes brought about throughout the next decade as the famous old course became the highly-prized South Oxhey Playing Fields.

    By John Swain (07/11/2010)
  • Comedian Ted Ray (1905-1977), whose real name was Charles Olden, was also an accomplished golfer who played with professionals in various pro-am tournaments. It is possible that he partnered the original Ted Ray in a competition at Oxhey during the 1930s. Ray adopted his stage name by 1949, several years after the death of the famous old golfer. In the Walt Disney film (2005), “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, by Bill Paxton, set in 1913 New England, Ted Ray is played with typical gusto by the massively-built English actor, Stephen Marcus. The film is based on the true story by Mark Frost, of Vardon, Ouimet and the birth of modern golf. It was Harry Vardon (1870-1937), one of the best-ever golfers from the British Isles, who designed Oxhey Golf Course.

    By John Swain (06/11/2010)
  • Thanks. Why did the golf course close?

    By Kevin Whalley (06/11/2010)
  • Ted Ray (1877-1943) was the golf professional at Oxhey Golf Club from its inception in 1912 until 1940. In his time, he was a great champion and he is featured in the film/book, The Greatest Game Ever Played. At 6ft 1in and over 16 stones he was also a giant, and was featured in the Daily Mail Cartoons by Tom Webster during the mid-1930s. The famous comedian of the same name chose his stage name from the golfer, who happened to be one of his favourite personalities! The 1912 clubhouse is now The Pavillion Restaurant and I call in for a meal whenever I’m in the area.

    By John Swain (05/11/2010)
  • Thanks about Ted Ray. Why did Oxhey GC closed in 1952? Financial problems? Lack of golfers?

    By Kevin Whalley (05/11/2010)
  • Was Ted Ray the famous golfer a professional at Oxhey Golf course that now a playfield? Where was the clubhouse?

    By Kevin Whalley (04/11/2010)
  • I think the feature referred to by John Bryan is what we called “Nelson’s Drop”, which was the obstacle on the 1912-1936 famous short hole (15th) on Oxhey Golf Course. This landmark resulted from years of extractive industry in the 19th century: gravel, sand and chalk were removed from the north-west side of Big Wood. Today, the crater tends to be the final resting place for stolen and burnt out motor vehicles.

    By John Swain (28/10/2010)
  • When we were growing up in the 1950’s-early 60’s the old golf course made an amazing playground for us kids on the council estate. I can remember disappearing over there for hours at a time, playing pick-up games of football or cricket, climbing trees etc. There was a very deep hole at one spot that we called the quarry (not sure if it was or not) but we had great fun scrambling down to the bottom then finding various climbs of varying difficulty to get back up again. I am so pleased that for the moment at least it is still there continuing to give pleasure to people.

    By John Bryan (25/10/2010)