When Henbury opened ninety years ago last month, golf gripped the public’s imagination. You can trace it in local papers of the time – columns of golfing events and results, advice for golfers, advertisements for equipment and clothing, donations of medals and trophies by large liquor producers like Tooheys and McWilliams.
Would you believe that over the first three or so decades of the century there were ten golf courses in our area. Early on, the Dawsons were trend-setters, laying out a nine-hole course on their property near the area which would, within a decade or so, become Kandos. Rylstone enthusiasts were playing on their course by 1910. Soon after the cement works started, employees laid down a six-hole course on company property between the town and the works. Before long some were playing on Lloyd land across the railway line, which eventually turned into Kandos golf course. Near Charbon cement works there was a three-hole course. Then came Henbury and soon after, three mini-golf courses in Kandos.
We were in the Depression in 1931 but that didn’t deter the management of Standard Portland Cement Company at Charbon. They had a vision for a bigger, better golf course. Most of you know the story. Rival cement works, rival women golfers (whose husbands ran the two cement works) and a golf course (Kandos) that didn’t quite come up to scratch.* It was on May 1st that Charbon cement works manager Christopher Saville called a meeting with engineer Colin Campbell, chemists Edwin Atkins and Henry Meredith, and fitter Arthur Janson, to discuss the situation. They agreed to approach the chairman of the company A J Swan with a proposal.**
Their vision was not for an exclusive private golf course, but for one that would benefit and attract the whole community. It would be ‘something out of the ordinary’ and with this in mind they engaged a leading golf course architect, Rupert Black, to design it.*** It would be inclusive for the whole district, so they appointed trustees from Rylstone (Dr Hansard) Kandos (John Bennett Simpkins, Sidney Robbins and John Walsh) and Charbon (Colin Campbell and Christopher Saville). It would be a beautiful parkland for the community to be proud of, so they selected part of James Dawson’s property between the railway line and the main road. With its sweeping fairways against the backdrop of the Coomber Mellon Range it would be a drawcard for visitors and locals.
Charbon cement works didn’t build the course though they provided many of the materials. For two months, more than thirty volunteers, armed with spades and axes, supplemented by hired labour with horses and scoops, removed trees, dug a mile-long canal, constructed fairways, tees, greens and bunkers, and planted grasses and trees. And so golfing at Henbury began.
Henbury has survived for ninety years on the sweat of its volunteers. As soon as they brought the course up to standard they considered a clubhouse. It was a weatherboard one purchased from Rylstone Golf Club for £20, placed on a solid foundation and painted and improved. It is still there with various extensions added over the years and other improvements like toilets, tennis court (1932) and sheds. Today volunteers man the bar, maintain the fairways and greens, core, weed, mow and lop.
Not only does Henbury have an impressive provenance in terms of its history, design and location, it was reputed to produce outstanding players. For years it was placed in the top four of 42 Western Districts clubs. That ‘rival golfer’ Lee Saville won club championship, Western Districts championship and played regularly in Country Championships in Sydney. Alf Moss has iconic status at Henbury, not so much for his play, but for his training and mentoring of championship players during the sixties and seventies – Beatrice Hayley, Noel Wade, Dennis McGrath, Margaret Leonard, Laurie Sparks, Kevin Miller, John Odgers, Kevin Lloyd, Johnny Cummins and no doubt others. Two junior women players who also made their mark were Donna Reilley and Christy Large.
If Henbury, a par 70 18-hole championship golf course, designed by two renowned golf architects, had been built in the city, it would probably rank well with Elanora, Oatlands and Royal Queensland Golf Clubs, three courses designed or laid out by Rupert Black. At Oatlands today you would pay a joining fee of $2,500 and membership up to $4000. At Royal Queensland you’d pay up to $11,000 to join, up to $2,500 per annum, and $200 to play a game as a visitor. It’s unlikely that you could join Elanora (private) Country Club though you might be able to play a game for $295, as long as you have a letter of introduction from your home club. At Henbury you can play a game for $10 or $15 and membership is $295pa.
Henbury, like many other regional clubs, is facing difficulties, though mind you there has apparently been increasing membership around the country since COVID began – over 4% in regional Australia with some clubs increasing more than 15%. I suspect that’s to do with our concern about health, our need to connect with nature and our desire for freedom. Golfers would talk about other benefits – the fact that it’s a non-contact sport that can be played at any age, at any level of skill, against others or by yourself. Golf is about variety, change and challenge. Whether it is the course you play on, the choice of game, the golf club you select, the time of the year, the wild life you see or the group you play with, a game of golf is never boring.
I worry about Henbury. It is a club surviving on a tiny budget, dependent on its volunteers and occasional government grants, and with a small membership, most aged at my end of the spectrum. Yet it provides huge benefits to our community – a meeting place, a food and drink outlet, a place for entertainment and celebration, and a green open space on the edge of town which supports wildlife and human life.
My question is: How can Henbury fulfil its potential and move well past its centenary?
* The whole story is in Henbury the Early History of a Country Golf Course
** A J Swan was patron of Henbury for 11 years.
*** The second nine holes was designed by well-known golf architect Arthur East of The Lakes Golf Club. It opened in 1938.
If a game of golf at Henbury enthuses you, read the following article by Peter Hume, a visiting golfer in March 2017. He captures the excitement, challenges and aesthetic interest of a game of golf at Henbury. I have added a pdf version below the article and images.
Henbury – A Country Golf Course
Leaving a wretchedly wet and soaking Sydney behind, I have set out for a drier West to find a golf course that is nearly always (I saw flood photos here once) playable.
Golf writers often refer to courses they love as hidden gems. Henbury, at Kandos, on the way to Mudgee, is the whole treasure box for me. Designed by Arthur East in the early 30’s it is worthy of heritage status in my book.
The layout at the foot of the Coomber Melon Range gives the golfer all the challenges, scenic delights and sheer variety they could wish. The sandstone bluffs of the Range overlook some of the holes in a truly inspiring fashion, and catch the moods of the passing hours in colour and shadow.
The first three holes complete what is a gentle promise of what is to come. Two are doglegs requiring some precision in your driving. An uphill 207 metre Par 3 tests your accuracy and your power. You know you’re playing a real golf course around here.
The fourth takes off across some low dips and rising ground in a completely new direction. This is one of the delights of this course – you are led to find the holes; they are not at all apparent at first glance.
This is never more true of the fifth that introduces you to a totally different aspect of the layout. It is another blind tee shot to a curving fairway set in its own little valley and the hole tucked away down in its farthest reaches.
The next two Par 3 holes assert their own selves in the whole scheme. One is 195 metres to a ledge cut into a hill side; the other at 123 metres is pure fun. From an elevated tee you hit out into space and watch more or less breathlessly as your ball reaches its apex to begin its plummet. The answer to all your questions about club selection and shot making hangs in the balance. The result is dramatically delivered as ball and earth resoundingly meet.
The eighth, a demanding Par 5 that requires a drive well to the right but not too far lest trees or hazard interfere with your second, curves around a central hill which you have just negotiated in the previous three holes. It is also a favourite haunt of the kangaroos which breakfast and dinner on the fairways. A bounding roo is always an exciting bonus in a game of golf.
The ninth is set up as a strong drive right once again, this time to an elevated green that rejects everything less than an exact trajectory to its surface. Ten expects you to have your game sorted and does not tolerate anything less than a well-positioned drive to open up the green away from the left dogleg.
Eleven races away beside the Kandos-Rylstone Road with a glorious gum guarding the left. A low straight running drive is the ideal to a green that seems smaller than most. The twelfth is an uphill Par 3 followed by two parallel but very different Par fours that have their fair share of rolling slopes and ridges.
The grand-daddy of them all has been awaiting you at the fifteenth. This Par 5 plays far longer than its already substantial 544 metres because most of its fairway is forever ascending to a dramatic peak that finally overlooks the green nestled below in a grove. Apart from its continual rising, this fairway also turns in an elongated bend to the right. It is a beauty!! Rarely will you get to sight the green for your third shot approach. Fortunately, no desperate rough threatens as you thread your shot over the skyline to where you think that flag resides.
Sixteen and seventeen maintain an intense pressure on your game playing over more undulating ground to pin point greens. The eighteenth brings you back to the clubhouse with, unusually, the green totally visible from the tee.
As a layout, Henbury will exceed your expectations because it takes you over such interesting terrain with a real regard for the rhythm of a golf round. Starting mildly, it has every intention of giving you a ride to remember which it delivers. You really need to keep thinking and use the chances to relax, as they present themselves. Pacing yourself was never more true than here.
The lovely trees on the course are worth observing. Weather-beaten pines, ancient and thriving gums, casuarinas and others all define the fairways and the central forested hill that the holes encircle. It is often totally soundless on this course because of its location off the beaten track. Golf in these surroundings on this course takes on that timelessness that is so rare these days.
All of this is the more remarkable when one understands that this club is almost entirely run by volunteers. The local veterans have a treasure here that they care for with a passion that is resilient and enduring. They deserve our deepest appreciation.
Peter Hume 5 March 2017