The formation of an ‘OW Golfing Society’ was announced at an OW dinner in January 1913, and a knockout tournament was played that same year, with the first record of a ‘meeting’ – in the sense that we would understand that today – being in June 1914, poignantly close to the start of the First World War, and indeed only days before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which ultimately led to war being declared.
The architect of the society was Charles Thorold Mabey, a Whitgiftian from 1883 to 1886, an enthusiastic and ebullient character who was much involved in the WA and in Croydon affairs generally. Charles was also the society’s first President, although he did not become President until 1935 because there were no ‘officers’ as such until the society was formally constituted in that year.
The very likely reason for the formal constitution of the society is the Halford Hewitt, a scratch competition which started in 1924 but which required competing schools to have a recognised old boy golfing society which was defined as one with ‘regularly appointed office bearers’. Whitgift first entered the competition in ….. you guessed it, 1935.
Formal records such as committee minutes only appear after 1935, but The Whitgiftian is a reliable source of some information up to that point, and it is clear that there were some notable performers within the society. For example, James Braid, five times Open champion, sent his two sons to Whitgift when he moved down to take up the position of Professional at Walton Heath. Harry and James Braid jr were both extremely accomplished golfers; Harry was playing off +2 in some society meetings. Another redoubtable competitor, and Whitgift’s first captain of a team in the Halford Hewitt, was Bob Sheppard, who played cricket for Surrey and ‘The Gentlemen’, the former alongside Jack Hobbs.
After the Second World War, the number of old boy golf societies began to multiply, and once the Halford Hewitt reached a capacity of 64 teams, further scratch competitions started to emerge, amongst them the Grafton Morrish, which was first played in 1963, and which Whitgift first entered in 1965. And as Halford Hewitt golfers began to get longer in the tooth and more likely to be pushed aside by younger replacements, they opted to set up an “old, old boys” competition, the Cyril Gray, which is only for over-50 year olds and started in 1971. A Whitgiftian, Ralph Hopper, was instrumental in setting up that competition and Whitgift played in it from the very first year.
Notable golfers who have represented the OWGS over the years include two Walker Cup players, Ian Caldwell and Peter Hedges. Peter is one of four OWs to have represented Whitgift in over 100 Halford Hewitt matches, the others being his brother David Hedges, Gordon Garment, and Andrew Stracey.
The society is of course not just about golfers who are good enough to play in the above competitions. Casual or social golf has been enjoyed by OWs in society meetings since it first started in 1914. Initially there was just one ‘annual meeting’, but as demand grew, so did the number of meetings, and four meetings have been held now for several years. The oldest society trophy is the Hornsey-Walker Cup, which was first presented for competition at the annual meeting in 1927.
Matches are also played. The first such was against Old Citizens (City of London OBs) in 1937, but there have been several similar opponents over the years, Tonbridge, Aldenham, and Haileybury amongst them, alongside matches against local clubs such as Croham Hurst and Purley Downs. The match against The School however has been the longest-running, understandably.