Roger Gilbert

A member of Boyce Hill Golf Club since 1968

On the 22nd February 2022 we interviewed Roger Gilbert who is a member of Boyce Hill Golf Club and he has allowed us to make available his memories of over 50 years.  Roger plays regularly on the course and is also a marshal.  He has seen many changes whilst at the club and you can read below some of his memories as a member.

The Early Years

Roger Gilbert

Roger Gilbert
Photo: Phil Coley

I’ve been a member of Boyce Hill Golf Club since 1968 but prior to that, when I was at school, I used to come up here caddying at age thirteen or it might have been a little bit younger than that.  I think we might have fibbed about our age me and this other boy but if we say thirteen it’s not far out.  I think he gave up before I did but I carried on until I went to college or university as it’s called now.  So, I have many memories, well I was seventy-seven the other week so that gives you an idea of where you are with timing.

 

My dad’s family were from the east end of London and they came down here to Benfleet. One of my dad’s family lived on Canvey and we used to go and visit. I remember the old gate that used to be operated manually to allow people to cross the train track and go on to Canvey. I don’t know how old I was but I do remember it.

Also, the other thing of course was the devastating floods in 1953.  At that time my dad worked for the gas company and one of the fellows that worked for him had a rowing boat. Dad and this other fellow borrowed it to go and see his brother who lived quite close to the end of Long Road.  I remember him saying to me you can’t come with us and I was most upset, most upset.  So, in 1953 I would have been eight years old. Standing up at the water tower you could just see lamp posts and chimney pots and things like that.

Ernie Barker. The Southend Pictorial carried this in September 1922

Ernie Barker. The Southend Pictorial carried this in September 1922

My dad was born in 1910, so he would have come up here caddying with one of his brothers, there were five brothers, dad would have been about fourteen, fifteen or sixteen so we’re sort of looking at the1920s or late 1920s, shortly after the course opened.

One of his brothers had a bit of an aptitude for golf and after a while he was assistant to Ernie Barker who was the professional at the time, he was his assistant for a few years until he went off and did something else. My dad, of course, would tell me bits and pieces about the golf club and so on. I think he used to get one and ninepence  to caddy.  If a husband and wife played together, he would carry both bags and get two shillings and threepence.      

 

My job as a caddy

When I started caddying, I would have been about thirteen.  The going rate was six shillings and there must have been anything up to a dozen kids used to get up there to caddy, and obviously some were better at it than others so they graded them.  You could have what they called a bag carrier and he would get six shillings and then somebody who’d got a bit more of an idea would get  seven shillings and sixpence and me and this other boy we qualified in that area.  A guy who was the general manager at Ekco in Southend, David Radford, asked me if I would caddy for him on a Saturday morning.  Sometimes he used to pick me up in Hadleigh as he drove past the top of the road and I’d caddy for him. He’d give me ten shillings, one of the old brown ten shilling notes, plus any balance there was of his twenty Players cigarettes that he hadn’t smoked, so that was a plum job in those days.

The origins of the club

Boyce Hill Golf Club, Club House

Boyce Hill Golf Club, Club House
Photo: Jackie Barnes collection

The site that the club stands on was farmland originally and the group of people that were the originators in the club were members of Belfairs, which was a private club in those days and they, for whatever reason, wanted to come here.  There was Ernie Hick who’s probably regarded as the founder member along with a guy called Jack Lilly and Peter Turner and these fellows came here.  Now, the Hick family have a long history at this club starting from Ernie Hick going through his son Gordon, who I’m not even sure if he’s still alive, and his son Paul, who is probably in his early to mid 70s now.  That group of people that came here were the original major shareholders. The original 5000 ordinary shares at a pound, was probably what was paid for the club for the land.

These photos, above and below, are from the 1922 Southend Pictorial”.

These photos, above and below, are from the 1922 Southend Pictorial

This is from the 1922 Southend Pictorial. The caption was “proposed golf course at Boyce Hill, South Benfleet. View of the country from the Farmhouse to the Water Tower”.

The caption on the page was “Proposed golf course at Boyce Hill, South Benfleet. View of the country from the Farmhouse to the Water Tower”.

I can remember Ernie Hick being in a wheelchair when this clubhouse was opened, there was a plaque out there to say clubhouse opened by Ernie Hick, formally in 1955.  There were no invalid facilities in those days, and they lifted the wheelchair and carried him up the steps.  That was the way it was.

The plaque commemorating the opening of the clubhouse
Photo: Nigel Pyle

Ernie Barker was the only person that I actually knew who was here when I was caddying and before I was caddying.  Whether he was the original professional or not, I don’t know.  There are pictures of him playing on the course with James Braid who was the designer of the course.

A stone in the wall says the club house  was opened in 1955 but it was the early 1950s when it was built and to digress a little bit on that subject, it was a shame we didn’t have the money then that we have as a club now. I know it’s all relative in terms but this is hopelessly in the wrong position. Okay, we can sit here now, because this is an extension over recent years and we can see out, but it should have been put on that hillside, there. It had all the changing rooms downstairs as opposed to upstairs and you literally would have had panoramic views towards the east and to the west but we didn’t have the money and this got built minus this bit.  Bits have been added on. It was never ever the right building in the right place to start with.  So, it’s a little bit of a mishmash.

The course and the local surroundings

Very early photo of the view from the course. The line of bungalows is in Underhill Road.

Very early photo of the view from the course. The line of bungalows is in Underhill Road.

Going back to my early days there were hardly any houses on that hillside over there (points to Hill Road/Underhill Road).  There was the odd one or two dotted around, and that was it. Gradually, they’ve gone further and further up.  Particularly that side where they go up the Glen towards the London Road. I think in those days when they were built they perhaps should have been piled but they weren’t and people that are living there now see quite a lot of movement.

The V2 rocket

Regarding the V2 rocket that landed on the course, I was under the impression and this is only hearsay, that the first green as it is now was damaged and if you go down the first fairway, it’s 30 yards short of the current green, it’s a flat area but looks like at one stage it was a green. In actual fact I think when the first one was damaged, the current green was damaged, then that one was used. I personally don’t remember that.

The layout of the course

Over time there’s been very little difference in terms of the shape of each hole. There’s a couple that are significantly different but other than that it’s basically the same layout that it was.  There’s no real room to expand it sideways.  As far as the golf course is concerned it’s not on a huge area.  We did have an opportunity some years ago to purchase some land to the right of the fourteenth and there was talk about having the entrance to the club further up Vicarage Hill, by that I mean up to the water tower and going through that way to meet that piece of land. Again, I suspect it didn’t happen because realistically, we didn’t have the money. Whoever was making the decisions in those days, didn’t think it was a good idea to borrow that sort of money. It would have been a major construction programme to do it.  Other than that, I think the course is pretty much as it was.

Originally the club house was right at the top there where the work sheds are. All that area up there where the machinery is housed now, that was timber construction and it was the clubhouse, there was an indoor practice area and the professional’s shop on the end.  It was still there when I was coming up so that was around the late 1950s.

1966 and the World Cup

I remember exactly where I was in 1966. I was on my way back here for the world cup final. I was driving up through France and I saw the semi-final, against Portugal I think it was, in a bar in France somewhere on my way back.  In 1966 I was here and I know that Martin Peters and Trevor Brooking used to come here and play on particular charity days. Martin Britt is the only professional footballer to my knowledge that we had here. He played for West Ham United.

Martin is still a member and still plays. He’s got terrible trouble with his knees. He still plays quite regularly with a group that play on a Monday, which has the nickname of the Catholic Mafia.  Martin was a playing member and people knew who he was and he was instrumental in running this particular charity day, which still goes on now. As I said, Trevor Brooking and Martin Peters used to attend and come and play.

Our hilly course is unique in Essex

Pro Am Tournament 1971, viewed from the top of Hill Road.

Pro Am Tournament 1971, viewed from the top of Hill Road.
Photo: Harry Emery

The club itself is unique in as much as Essex is considered to be a flat county and if you go to any of the golf courses around here, Thorpe Hall, Rochford, Orsett up the road there, they’re flat as a pancake. This course is quite the opposite, it’s very hilly and constantly on the move. There’s no flat areas on any of the greens and as I say, it moves. Therefore, that creates its own difficulties in terms of playing the shot.  If you are a golfer, you like to stand on a flat surface and everything’s even but if it is not, you’ve got one foot up here or the ball’s down there, it adds to the difficulty. Years ago, the Evening Echo used to run a Pro Am, where they invited the top forty professional golfers to play at this event and I think most times most of them did turn up and they’d look at the score card, 6,000 yards, that’s just a pitch and putt course, you know.  Nobody, nobody ever tore it apart. It’s got its little difficulties. Seve Ballesteros played here, you may not be a golfer but I’m sure you’ve heard of him and I played with Peter Oosterhuis here and Bernard Gallagher who was the Ryder Cup captain some years ago.

Evening Echo Pro Am advertisement

Evening Echo Pro Am advertisement

Most of the top 40 turned up and played and I think they enjoyed themselves, it was certainly different. In terms of competitions that we play at county level, there’s a senior team and then what used to be called the junior team, not because it was junior by age but it was the second team if you like in terms of handicaps.  Very, very rarely would we lose here because the opposition had not encountered something quite as tricky and it was a big advantage.

When I was a caddy on Captain’s Day

I can remember something very amusing.  That’s the 18th green out there that you can see, just over that gentleman’s head and the ground goes away up there to the right, up to the top of the car park. That used to be a fruit orchard and was deemed out of bounds, so if you hit your ball in there that was it, you had to play another one. It was a Captain’s Day which was one of the most prestigious events. I was caddying for this fellow, Trevor Owen, his name.  He was a dealer of some sort in London and he hit his ball into that, he was in a strong position to win and there was all sorts of cursing went on.  Then there was a bang and a clatter, as if the ball hit the trees and then it suddenly emerged and rolled down the hill, onto the green and into the hole. An absolute fluke!  But it won him the Captain’s Day prize.  He used to give me £1.50 for the day, because he knew I got 10 shillings off David Radford, so he said, well, two rounds is a pound isn’t it? So, he said if we call it £1.50 for the day is that alright?

The 18th green with the clubhouse in the background

The 18th green with the clubhouse in the background.
Photo: Nigel Pyle

Because people would have bets on him on the tote and they would come out and give me a shilling and two shillings and I ended up with about 4 quid I can remember this one day.  My dad said where’d you get all that from?  There were some interesting characters.

My job as course marshal

Going back a few years, we used to have 500 members and perhaps 300 played on a regular basis. Now we’ve got 500 members and 400 play on a regular basis. So, people work from home, people take days off, they play more than just at the weekends, which going back to the early years most people played at the weekends and that was it.  There was very little happened during the week. So, the course is busy and we like to try and make sure that anything over four hours is considered too long really for a game of golf. So, my job really is to make sure people keep moving and if they don’t, I have a word with them.  In the early days, I’ve only been doing it for three years but in the early days I used to tell them. Now I ask them. So, it’s slightly different but the same message gets over and because I have been here as long as I have a lot of people know me but a lot of the recent intake of people wouldn’t know me because they would play at a different time than I would play but they know of me you see and they’ve asked people, who’s he and this, that and the other.  I do have a bit of respect I think from people, so if I say fellows you need to get a bit of a move on, then there’s no arguing.  They get a bit of a move on.   Whereas I have some friends who play at Thorpe Hall and they would like to have a course marshal down there, because I think they have more problems with slow play and so on than we do here, but they can’t get anybody to do it, nobody wants to do the job and they say, well I’ll do it providing I have a head camera, so I can record any problems that occur. I’ve been thinking, what sort of membership have they got there?  That just wouldn’t happen here.

The course record

Roger's score card when he set the course record

Roger’s score card when he set the course record.
Photo: Phil Coley

Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I hold the course record here.  It was 1973 and whilst the course length has changed, that’s probably not quite true, the way of measuring it has changed and it’s slightly reduced in length, which means the par is one shot less, whereas when I did my score it was par 69 it’s now par 68.  So that record of mine will never ever be beaten.  There are a number of people who have scored lower but not as an official course record. So that’s where a bit of respect comes in you see, they know that in my earlier days I could play to a reasonable standard.

Looking forward

I think this is a very strong club. Financially we are quite sound. We have a waiting list currently of 60 which is a good sign. Some years ago they changed the beginning of the year for the golf club life to April 1st as opposed to January 1st.   No doubt there will be some that give up for whatever reason and that will open the door for somewhere between 10 to 20 more members, that’s a reasonable amount and will open the door for some new people to join. It’s a healthy club!  Financially I think the people that are in charge now know what they’re doing.

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