Golf has been played on Phillip Island since the early 20th Century. This document provides an overview of the historical development of the club.
Golf on Phillip Island got away to a slow start sometime in the 1920’s. There are no club records of that vintage but some old time Islanders recall that rough courses were set out in various locations in and around Cowes and Ventnor, but all lasted for a short season.
The first serious course was established at Summerland in the late Twenties at the western extremity of the Island adjacent to the site of the Penguin Parade.
That course was a true ‘golf links’ layout in sand dune country, exposed to the South Westerlies of Bass Strait, and, at times, the hordes of mutton birds and penguins which had colonised that part of the Island.
The Summerland course was partly on CrownLand and partly on freehold property owned and operated in conjunction with a guest house.
Good quality water was pumped from a spring adjacent to the course and the greens were reputed to be of a good standard for that era.
Veteran golfers recall that the course provided a first class test of golfing skill and that it enjoyed a reputation comparable with Barwon Heads and Macedon as a venue for a golfing holiday
In those days, there was no bridge connecting PhillipIsland to the mainland and the number of visitors to the Island was limited. The local population amounted to only a few hundred people, but they managed to support the usual cricket, tennis, football, and golf competitions.
As with many other clubs, Summerland Golf Club lapsed during World War II and in 1946 a group of house owners, led by Mr Arthur Jones (a scratch golfer in pre-war years and new owner of the Continental Guest House) decided that a golf course would provide good entertainment for clients and prove to be an asset to business.
At the time, the road to the Island, and on the Island, was not in very good condition and winter travel could prove to be quite adventurous and hazardous.
Mr Jones and his team decided that the old Summerland site was too far away from Cowes and they selected a 78-acre farm on the eastern edge of town. The farm was established on good sandy country with undulation, albeit, with some minor drainage problems.
There was no town water supply available on PhillipIsland at the time but this land was known to hold a supply of good quality water beneath its surface, a priceless asset for a golf course.
In 1947, Mr Jones called a public meeting to start a club to operate on the property, and was turned down at the meeting. The majority wanted to re-establish the old Summerland Club.
Summerland was still owned by the same family as in the pre-war years and they quickly set the old layout into some order and golf at Summerland recommenced, but quickly faltered. Bad access roads and petrol rationing were too great an obstacle.
Another public meeting was held in late 1947 and this time great enthusiasm was exhibited for the proposal to build a course at Cowes. The 78-acre farm was still available and a deal was clinched with its owner, just in time to thwart its sale to another group with ideas of setting up a race course.
The land was purchased by a company of 25 shareholders, many of whom were proprietors of guest houses or local businesses. They could see the value of a good golf course to their business and to the economy of Cowes and PhillipIsland as a holiday venue, as well as its value for their own sporting pleasure.
The company was ably lead by the chairman of directors Arthur Jones. He designed the original 9 hole course, and there have been very few alterations made to that layout to date.
Shortly after the company purchased the land, the Cowes Golf Club was formed, and Arthur Jones was elected president of the club. To prove his versatility and deep love of the game he won the club championship for the first few years, and no doubt, directed course construction and maintenance work in his spare time.
In the few years of the company’s operation the 25 shareholders were known as the ‘owners’ and the other club members, who simply paid an annual subscription, were known as the ‘tenants’. It was commonly held that the ‘owners’ were allowed to take divots whilst the ‘tenants’ were not.
Apparently there was some doubt in the minds of the VGA at the time about the amateur status of the ‘owners’ (and the club), since green fees were collected from visitors and those fees could theoretically have been distributed to the shareholders. However, all fees and income were well and truly absorbed in operating costs and there was never any distribution of the spoils.
Indeed, it worked the other way. If you expressed an opinion that something should be altered or improved you were more often than not expected to put your money where your mouth directed, and see to the job yourself.
The financing and construction of the first clubhouse was a typical example of the club’s spirit and of those early years. Records show Ted Shaw (later a club president) paid for the roof, Owen Allen paid for the doors and the windows and Arthur Jones paid for the floor.
Bill McLardy, a builder and a non-member at the time, led a team of builders, members and associate labourers to put the building together at a working bee.
In 1951, Arthur Jones relinquished the club presidency to Ted Shaw. Mr Shaw was an ordinary member of the club and he did not own company shares. That move apparently satisfied the VGA that the club was an amateur body and the Cowes Golf Club was granted affiliation.
In 1954, the club purchased the property from the Phillip Island Golf Company for the amount it had cost the company to that time, plus a 5 percent dividend to the stakeholders of that year.
It is a tribute to the golfing spirit of those early ‘owners’ that they sold the improved property at such a low figure. In the few years of the ownership, land values on PhillipIsland had increased tremendously and the development potential of the course was enormous.
In those formative years of the Cowes Golf Club, special commendation must go to Messrs Arthur Jones, Allan Murry, Burt West, Colin Smith, Ru and Harry De La Haye, Reece Jones, Rupe Niven, Henry Bray, Vern Thompson and Joe Lawrence, and amongst the ladies the work of Vera Smith and Ida Bishop was outstanding.
Ted Shaw held the office of president from 1951 to 1955 and he was ably supported by the McAdie, Broadbent, Curtin and Gleadall families together with several of the stalwarts from the company days. Arthur Jones continued to make his presence felt by taking out the championship in 1951.
From 1951 until 1960 the club consolidated its membership and its financial position. The money borrowed to buy the property from the company was practically all repaid. Membership was increased rapidly and the amount received from the green fee players each holiday period was starting to look healthy.
In 1960, Bill Mallory became president and held that office until 1967, and again in 1969 and 1975. In the same period his wife Marjorie presided over the associates from 1961 to 1966. During Bill’s long and successful term the club expanded to an 18-hole course. Land abutting the course was not available and purchase of an area of 65 acres over the road was negotiated.
The nine hole layout for that new land was designed by J.S. (Jack) Watson – a consulting engineer from Mornington who was then a member of the VGA and whose design produced a long and challenging course.
Most of the land was very flat, with few natural features, but the few that were available become focal points of the design and the course challenged the best of golfers from the day it was opened. Subsequent planting of trees has added to the challenge, while softening the appearance and adding to the pleasure of the course.
As with the front nine, most of the construction of the back nine was undertaken by the members and associates and many memorable working bees were held in 1964 to 1965. Valuable assistance with equipment was given by the local Shire and by the shire contractor.
Members who participated in those working bees often proclaimed that period to be one of the most enjoyable eras of the club. Each successive week saw another project take shape and the enthusiasm to produce a good result never seemed to diminish.
However, it was unfortunate that the club did not have the finances to construct all of the features Jack had included in his original design and some shortcuts had been taken.
In 1968, a license was obtained whilst the club was under the leadership of Bill McLardy, whose association with the club dated back to the company days. Not only did he build the original club house, but he supervised the removal of that club house to a new site better suited to the 18-hole course and it’s extension to accommodate the increased membership.
In 1975, it was decided that the club house was no longer adequate and that further extensions, or a new building, should be constructed. After an architect’s proposal was considered to be beyond the means of the club, a design for an extension was produced ‘in house’.
Construction by subcontractors was supervised by Jim West, a member who had recently retired from the building construction industry.
The building which Jim produced from basic plans has a character and relaxed atmosphere to compliment the course.
Document from Golf in Victoria, November-December 1985