Commander G. W. Hillyard relocated from Leicestershire to Pulborough, West Sussex in the summer of 1928. Almost immediately he recognised the potential of a nearby property, known as “Roundabouts and Hurston Warren”, for use as a golf course. The fescue grasses, heather, and free-draining sandy soil made it fit for purpose. Hillyard had some insight on the matter as he had a nine-hole private course at his previous residence.
After an inspection of the proposed site, C.K. Hutchison and G.C. Campbell of Links & Courses Ltd estimated a course construction budget of £5000. The land was seen to be ideal due to its unique natural features and general ground contours. The amount and quality of sand would reduce the bunker construction cost and prove valuable for maintenance as well. A first-class eighteen-hole inland course comparing favourably with Gleneagles, Sunningdale, and Walton Heath was promised. At least three other eminent golf architects inspected the site and were reportedly enthusiastic about its merits and potential to be the best inland course in England. Who those architects were, we cannot be sure.
In earnest, Commander Hillyard began raising capital for the project in the form of £100 debentures. For an estimated £12,000 it was thought the project could be completed. The breakdown was as follows: £1000 for Tools, £2000 for the clubhouse, £3000 for land and £6000 for the course itself.
By September 1928, 28 had pledged a total of £5000. However, by that time, the budget had risen to a proposed £13,000. The £1000 was added to the amount speculated by Links & Courses Ltd to ensure no there would be no overruns. Because of the £8000 deficit, a meeting of all interested parties was arranged to find a solution. The result was that Colonel and Mrs Ravenscroft and the Hon. Philip and Rachel Henderson generously resolved the financial impasse by purchasing the entire estate and leased the land back to the club with an option to buy it at a future date.
On March 2, 1929, club archives show Cecil Key Hutchison on record as the course architect representing the firm Links & Courses Ltd. The appointed course contractors were En-Tout-Cas and the seed contractor chosen was James Hunter & Company. The name “The West Sussex GC” was preferred to “Hurston Warren GC” pending approval from the powers that be. The initial outline plan shows Commander Hillyard and Major Hutchison both agreeing on the course and its boundaries sometime between March 2 and April 15, 1929. Commander Hillyard acted as the Chairman of the Green. Construction began in earnest on April 15, 1929. Although the outline of the course was agreed, what had not was the location of the clubhouse.
The clubhouse and its location was another matter which seemed to take longer to resolve. The location of the clubhouse would affect both the first, eighteenth, and the proposed practice ground. Two options were presented on April 27, 1929. The first option was rejected. The second option would have made the Second the opening hole and the First the closing hole. No satisfying conclusion to the matter was found until December 22, 1929, when the committee approved a newly available third option. This option was due to the purchase of the land where the current clubhouse sits. The sale of the newly acquired property was completed on January 11, 1930. By June 14, 1930, the plans for the clubhouse were approved by the council and work commenced on July 18, 1930, and completed by spring 1931.
The Great Seed Debate
Despite the deliberation as to the location and nature of the clubhouse, the course was quickly taking shape. However, not all was rosy. Recorded in the club’s minutes on June 15, 1929, Links and Courses Ltd. was reprimanded. Firstly, for not frequenting the site enough and secondly, for its strategy with regards to the seeding plan. This same issue was again raised on January 27, 1930.
Why was this a bone of contention? Commander Hillyard was an accomplished tennis player, competing at Wimbledon and even representing Great Britain in the 1908 Olympics, winning a gold medal. Further, Commander Hillyard was the ‘Man Who Moved Wimbledon” from Worple Road to its current location. He was integral to the construction of the new grass and clay courts. He was known to be insistent upon high standards of court maintenance. With this expertise and upon seeing the progress of Links & Courses Ltd seeding strategy, Commander Hillyard took matters into his own hands. Removing James Hunter & Company, he appointed Carter’s as the new seed contractor.
After resolving the issue surrounding the location of the clubhouse, the first green was moved to its current position in March 1930. Not long after, the rest of the greens were entirely ploughed up and re-sown during April and May of the same year. Unsurprisingly, Links and Courses Ltd. contract was terminated not long after on June 21, 1930. En-Tout-Cas was appointed and completed course construction, handing the finished product over to the club on August 8, 1930.
Hillyard’s Changes – 1930 and 1932
On September 19, 1930, Hillyard was given total responsibility for the course and a further £500 to improve it. He was not shy in his endeavours. Hillyard had a massive impact on the course after Links and Courses and En-Tout-Cas finished with it. In a report dated January 22, 1931, it details that fifteen new tees had been constructed. Bunkers on thirteen holes were deepened and reshaped. Three holes received new bunkers. Three holes had bunkers removed. The course officially opened for play to the public on April 25, 1931.
Due to problems with drainage and seed quality an additional £700 was made available on October 29, 1932. With this funding, the Sixth, Tenth, Thirteenth and Fifteenth changed significantly. By December 15, 1933, with the money spent, we have the course pretty much as it is today.
Hillyard’s Changes by Hole
Perhaps the most dramatic of changes was to the Sixth. Due to issues with drainage, Hillyard redesigned the hole in 1933 to its current format. Originally designed as a par four playing around the marsh, the original back tee was between the Fifth and Seventeenth greens, measuring 355 yards around the dogleg. Hillyard abandoned the original tee and placed a new tee where it stands now, set at 240 yards. A pot bunker was also added into the heathery mound to the left of the green called Majuba Hill. The orientation of the green and the bank at the back of the green was also altered. Since then bunkers to the right were added, and the pot bunker Majuba Hill has been lost.
Ten was initially a 375-yard par 4 — the tee located to the left and rear of the present Ninth green and original green situated in the middle of the current Tenth fairway. The green was moved to its present location by Hillyard, making it not only longer but more challenging. How so? By the introduction of a waste area called Sahara. The options from the tee were an aggressive direct line to the green or a layup to the right, which could mean a sidehill lie and longer second shot.
With the genius decision to change the tenth green, thirteen could become what it is today. What makes this hole intriguing is the fact that the green and bunkering are somewhat unique compared to the others. Legendary golf course architect, Tom Simpson, held this hole up as a notable hole of classic risk and reward design and one of outstanding architectural merit. In 1933, Hillyard was purported to have moved the entire green complex and made it a straight as opposed to the original dogleg right design. The positioning of the fairway bunker means the right angle of attack to the flag is closest to the bunkers fairway edge. The design of the green complex itself stands somewhat proud against the rest of the others and the view from the fairway has hallmarks of Simpsonesque layers. Perhaps this is one reason why he esteemed it so highly?
How were the changes received?
CK Hutchison in 1932 sang the praises of the fine, firm turf as well as the quality of the putting greens and their approaches. He mentioned tactfully that one or two holes were shorter than expected, no doubt referring to Six. Citing the new position of the Tenth and Thirteenth greens, he concluded them an improvement. Sir Guy Campbell, one of the original partners for Links & Courses Ltd, was not so cautious in his appraisal. Writing in 1933, he said he greatly deplored the change to Six and regarded it as bad, saying it unbalanced the whole course. However, modern-day architect Tom Doak reveres the Sixth, concluding it is the world’s most excellent two-shot par 3. High praise indeed, considering it would have to compete with the Sixteenth at Cypress Point for that accolade.
Potential for Restoration?
Two – The second hole changed from the original layout after WW2. Across the entrance road from the current second tee is the original. Initially accessed by a bridge, the hole would have stretched to 447 yards from its current 412. Canadian forces removed the bridge during World War 2 and never rebuilt. Still in existence but fallen into disuse, this new tee would be an excellent addition to an already superb hole. The restoration would make it play as a slight dogleg left with greater emphasis placed on the line of attack, not just distance.
Seven – The seventh has remained untouched except for the notable reduction in the size of the Cliff Bunker. Although mostly for aesthetics in the modern age, reinstating this bunker to the original would give an added cerebral element and would add significant eye appeal.
Ten – The aggressive tee shot was over an expansive bunker called Sahara is now occupied by pines. Reinstating Hillyard’s Sahara bunker and removing the pines would be an intriguing addition that would add additional options off the tee and improve the hole. The bravest could risk it all and go for the green or play it safe for par. It is thought the pines were introduced and Sahara lost by 1950.
Campbell, Hutchison, Hotchkin, and Hillyard?
Initially, it was Commander Hillyard who had the vision to see the potential of the property and secured the funded needed to embark on the journey. Despite the support of many, it was the Ravenscroft’s and Henderson’s who made West Sussex possible financially. The original plans were drawn up in 1929 by Links & Courses Ltd with contributions from Hillyard. By June 1931, their contract terminated, Hillyard went on to make a terrific amount of changes to the course.
In 1932, Cecil Key Hutchison visited the course and especially praised holes ten and thirteen. In 1933, Sir Guy Campbell visited and slated the sixth.
All of this leads us to some intriguing conclusions. Firstly, while Links & Courses Ltd. was integral to the layout and routing of the course, virtually all of their work was touched by the hand of Commander Hillyard. Hillyard altered, removed and added bunkers as well as rebuilding tees and greens. He, however, was not an architect. He did have a thorough knowledge of turf science at the time, but his skill set was not necessarily conducive to making significant design changes. To whom else could we attribute these architectural changes at Pulborough?
West Sussex archives show that Charles Ambrose, together with Tom Simpson, became Honorary Members for “valuable services to the club.” Notably, Stafford Vere (S.V.) Hotchkin, Sir Guy Campbell and Cecil Key (C.K.) Hutchison were not. It must be said that Tom Simpson never claimed West Sussex as his own. However, the Fifth, Thirteenth and Seventeenth have the feel of Simpson. The rest follow his strategic principles and bunkering philosophy. In “The Book of Golf” by Louis T. Stanley, published in 1960, Simpson is quoted praising the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Seventeenth. He calls all of them superb and amongst the most-ideal inland holes in Britain. His take on the Tenth in 1960? “Bad” and “the worst – most artificial hole on the course.” Perhaps by this point, the aggressive line across Sahara had been completely lost?
To what does all this point? Despite the fact Hillyard was not shy in making changes, reason would dictate that he completed much of the work under a watchful eye. If he felt he had the necessary skill set, why would he have tendered for the insights of architects in the first place?
The conclusion we might draw is this: It is highly likely, according to West Sussex records, that Tom Simpson worked with Commander Hillyard, either directly or through Charles Ambrose, to make notable changes to the course after the Links & Courses Ltd contract was terminated. For now, however, we must admit that history still holds the truth tight to its chest.
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Picture: © Kevin Murray & West Sussex GC