Axe Cliff Golf Club back in the hands of its members
By Philip Evans
14th Jun 2023 | Golf
By Dave Bruce
Axe Cliff Golf Club is set out amongst the natural landscape that forms the cliff top and the valley leading down to the Axe River. It is a course that makes full use of the varied contours of the land, with a number of blind tee shots and some blind approach shots as well. Golfers will take direction from the strategically placed poles and signs around the course and the discerning golfer will appreciate the subtlety required for the approach shot to the greens.
The course provides an enjoyable experience for all levels of golfer. For the low handicap player, while the course might not be long, you need to plot your way around the course. A well-placed tee shot is essential and approaches to the greens need to be carefully thought out to take account of the slopes that are a key feature of this course.
For the higher handicap golfer, with wide-open fairways and few trees, it is a course that gives you the opportunity to develop your game and with views down the Axe Valley for the early holes, followed by a panoramic vista of the coast stretching from Weymouth and Portland to the east and Torquay to the west; Axe Cliff is a course that is worth playing for the views alone.
Recently, after a period of 32 years of being managed by external companies, Axe Cliff Golf Club has become incorporated as a company limited by guarantee and is once again being managed by the members.
In a period where golf clubs were being set up the length and breadth of England, between 1890 and the commencement of the First World War, over a thousand golf clubs came into existence, nearly one new club every week for a quarter of a century. In the process, England quickly overtook Scotland as the country where most golf was played. This was not just a well-timed sprint, the resilience of these clubs has been quite remarkable – over 750 of them still exist today, accounting for nearly half of all the golf clubs in England. Axe Cliff is one of those 750 boom time clubs, formed in January 1894. There were just 13 Gentleman involved to launch the club with land rented from Haven Farm for £10 a year and a nine hole course was set up. By April there were 25 members including 4 Ladies. A clubhouse was built and by the end of the year, membership had grown to 51 and the club was well and truly up and running.
The club certainly had its ups and downs over the years, particular during and jus after each of the two World Wars. However, due to the determination of its members, the club kept going. When more land became available extra holes were added and it was an inspired decision to invite five times Open Champion and renowned course architect James Braid, to lay out the extra holes. Axe Cliff then had a course that was enthralling and provided great views of the local area.
A second boom in golf in the late 20th Century saw many farms renting land to entrepreneurs seeking to make a profit from this boom and the Binden Estate was approached by such people who saw an opportunity in Axe Cliff Golf Cub. However, golf participation in England peaked in 2006 and the world recession of 2008 lead to a serious decline in the interest in golf and golf club membership. Faced with a commercial rent, three successive tenants failed to make their business models work and, with little or no investment in the infrastructure of the club, by 2014 the membership of Axe Cliff fell from a high of over four hundred to a little over one hundred members.
The club was in debt and the bailiffs were coming in to take what they could. Two members came to the rescue and formed Friends of Axe Cliff Golf Club, a company limited by shares. Simon and Jill Wellington loaned the club funds to keep it going, and for the next seven years, managed the club and renovated what they could of the neglected buildings and infrastructure. In 2022, they passed over control of Friends of Axe Cliff Golf Club to the caretaking of three other members with the intention of bringing the club back to the control of the membership.
Building on what had been done over the last seven years and supported by the Binden Estate, firstly through Robert Loveridge and more recently the new owner Michael Loveridge, a robust business plan was put together. This lead to a new Board of Directors has being formed from within the club's membership and the signing of a new 15 year lease. The Board is looking to push the club forward and work has already been done to refurbish the decking area that overlooks the bay ready for al fresco drinks for the summer months and , a large wood burner is in place to ensure a warm welcome in the clubhouse in the winter. There are also plans a Bore hole to ensure the club's water supply and the car park is to be re-surfaced. Current Director and club member for over 45 years David Lacey, is certainly enthusiastic about the future.
Alex Taylor has been appointed club manager and he works closely with the staff and volunteers to produce an excellent golf course that drains very well and a clubhouse that is rustic, but very friendly and welcoming. The future is promising as the club has also taken over Fairview House as part of the lease. This house stands beside the clubhouse with views over the bay and, with three double or twin bedrooms, it is an ideal rental property for golfers, walkers and holiday makers.
Membership has risen steadily over the years but there are still vacancies in all categories. The annual fees (£820) are amongst the lowest in the area as the club keeps them as reasonable as possible for the members. Recognising that younger adults will just be starting out on careers and families, the fees are even lower for 18-24 year olds (£275) and for those aged 25-30 (£430). Memberships are also available for Children (£45) and Youths (£110). Memberships run for 12 months from April 1st and are available on a pro-rata basis after that date. For further details of what's going on at Axe Cliff Golf Club, see the club website. (Axecliffgolfclub.com)