The feature of the Teignmouth course, which is bound to strike the golfing visitor before any other, is the magnificence of its situation. It is laid out on the high moor of Little Haldon, over 800 feet above sea level. From the fairways of the outgoing half we look down on Teignmouth itself, nestling into the foot of the slope, and over the estuary of the River Teign to the Devon coast as far as Berry Head. From the inward holes we have a view of the estuary of the Exe, and on a clear day we can follow the eastward coastline as far as Portland Bill. To the west is Dartmoor, rising in the far distance into the grey bastions of Hay Tor, Saddle Tor and Rippon Tor. To the north lies the hinterland of Devon and the Blackdown Hills.
Our designer, the famous Dr A MacKenzie of Augusta U.S.A. fame, laid the course for the mere sum of £3,500. Teignmouth is not a very old club as golf clubs go, for it was at a meeting of the directors held on April 26th, 1924 that an announcement was made that the course was ready to play.
During the years from 1939 to 1945 the club’s income steadily deteriorated and by the end of the war the problems of trying to stay solvent were even worse. The reasons for the decline in the club’s income are easy to understand. During the war the number of holes on the course available for play was reduced to nine and, to give some indication of the potential income to the club, the number of members in December 1943 was 36 men and 17 ladies. One of these was a well known member, L.E.Williams who, in his capacity as a Sergeant in the Home Guard, was given the responsibility of defending the golf course from any armed invasion from the enemy. He treated that part of his duties very seriously and was regularly seen “defending” the course.
The golf course in those days would not be regarded now as a very fair test of golf. There were some 400 posts placed on the fairways “3 foot underground and 7 foot above” to prevent the landing of enemy aircraft on the course. The Air Ministry took over the 13th and 14th holes, flattened out all the land to improve the landing area for the nearby airstrip and, in addition, an observation tower, which can still be seen today, was put up on the 1st hole.
The owner of the land, Mr Mardon, leased it to the club for a very nominal sum. In addition, he built a clubhouse and that, too, was included at a nominal rent, which the club was never forced to pay if money was a little short. This rather pleasant state of affairs continued until 1927 when it became known that the owner had received an offer for the land. The club officials moved swiftly, and in a very short time the purchase of the course and the clubhouse was completed. The purchase price was just two thousand, five hundred pounds.
The early history was obviously dogged with controversy, with a large body of people convinced that it was totally impractical to attempt to build a golf course on Haldon Moor. To envisage the problems from today’s viewpoint one only needs to imagine the area that the golf course now covers to be a stretch of gorse and heather covered moorland rather like that surrounding the course at present. However, Dr Morton-Palmer and his friends were convinced that it was possible and today’s players have to be grateful for their vision. Dr Morton-Palmer was a well respected family doctor, unassuming in character who remained chairman of the club until 1947. To be chairman of a golf club for the first 24 years of its life requires a very special man and this Dr. Morton-Palmer obviously was.
The club was facing enormous problems, mainly financial, by the end of the war. It had been in a fairly precarious situation in 1939 but by the end of the war in 1945 the financial position was critical. The club had struggled on until early 1947 and at one stage “a syndicate had agreed to take over the course, but owing to the death of one of the members this fell through and an offer from the Teignmouth Urban Council to buy the course for £6000” was subsequently accepted. Looking back 44 years from the comparatively comfortable economic position of today this would appear to be “the sale of the century” but it was obvious at the time that without that offer the golf course would simply have ceased to exist.
But back to the beginning: as mentioned earlier, Dr MacKenzie was contracted to lay out a golf course at a cost not exceeding £3,500 who in his letter of application to the club, mentions that he had responsibility amongst others for the construction of Moor Allerton Golf Course, Bramhall Park Golf Course, Troon New Course and alterations to the Old Course. But the most interesting fact about Dr MacKenzie is that he was, in partnership with the late, great Bobby Jones, the architect of Augusta National Golf Course in Georgia U.S.A. on which the renowned annual U.S. Masters Golf Championship is played. He also designed the Royal Melbourne Golf course in Australia, Lahinch in Ireland and Cypress Point in U.S.A.
Dr MacKenzie left a particular “signature” on all the courses he designed and that was in the way that he laid out the greens. He liked greens that had slopes, he liked to have humps surrounding three sides of the green and he liked two-tier greens. Teignmouth still has eleven greens with a “step” in them and it is amusing to recall that when the late Dai Rees came here first to play an exhibition match in 1957 (the same year he was the successful Ryder Cup captain at Lyndrick) he very quickly recognised the design and commented that “these damn MacKenzie greens” were going to cause him a lot of problems.
The surprising thing to note is how little the course has changed since its original conception, except for one hole, the 13th, which was redesigned after the course was reclaimed at the end of the Second World War. However, in virtually every case new extended tees have been built to bring the course up to its present length. What must always be borne in mind is the equipment that was in use in those days, both clubs and balls, and also remember that the greens were not watered, but it is a great credit to the architect that, except for the necessary lengthening of holes, generally the course is still played as it was originally planned back in 1924 by Dr A MacKenzie.