Founded almost 120 years ago, the Stage Golfing Society has brought together many of our favorite actors, comedians, and film and television stars to love a part of the game. April Todd List the history of the oldest golf society in the UK and find out the stories behind the exploitation of its famous players and its most coveted trophies
Although football seems to be a suitable sport for actors to play in their spare time, considering the level of amateur drama and the injuries that occur in most matches nowadays, it seems to be the royal and ancient game of golf that has proved it. The most exciting leisure pursuit for ‘artists’ under the year.
From Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to Ronnie Corbett, Bill Murray and Ant & Des, there’s something about swinging in a club and walking the fairway that has proved to be an irresistible attraction for generations of actors, comedians, movie stars and all-round entertainers. Whether it’s the show-off nature of sticking a long putt or breaking a booming drive, or the sophistication and confidence of a post-match clubhouse, the most recent Oscar, BAFTA or TV Choice Awards show might have brought a decent Scratch golf team together. Short notice if required in the situation.
Although many British actors happily played their own solo golfing pharaoh for years, it was not until 1903 that the game’s popularity among the domestic Hispanic community grew to such an extent that a society was formed to provide them with a board. Sharing each other’s companies for a living – and the farewell – is a more formal setting.
The Stage Golfing Society, as it was known, and still exists, was founded 119 years ago as a way for many poor actors to play golf, a less expensive way to absorb the cheap green fees paid to associations. While its 400-strong membership has healed somewhat better than a century ago, it has expanded its selection criteria for those working in all areas of the entertainment industry, including TV, film and radio, in the early days it was only for those who worked on stage. At the time, it was virtually the only source of entertainment for the public – who could apply for membership.
In order to attract a maximum of 100 founding members, a letter was sent inviting 213 potential members to join the new golf society, all of whom would have to pay a guinea for the privilege. All but one answered, although not all were positive, the only non-response was comedian Fred Leslie, who, somewhat sarcastically, became one of the most well-known and most successful golfers in society. In a subsequent letter, the new members were instructed to ‘play like a gentleman, not an actor,’ a requirement that remains to this day, although the gender-stereotypical language has been updated.
In those early years, Bush Hall Golf Club in Hertfordshire – which sadly closed in 2019 – was the only club approved by the community, and it did not have much association with clubs after World War I, including Ashford Manor, Beaconsfield, Foxhills, Moore. Park, Richmond and Sandy Lodge are among the early supporters.
And it wasn’t more than a quarter of the time since the establishment that SGS hosted its first ever legendary annual dinner, with members gathering at The Savvy Hotel in London in 1929 to toast the winners of that year. The dinner was attended by several high-profile guests, including the Prince of Wales, the Earl of Birkenhead, Lord Brabzon, and Sir Anthony Eden. An impressive four balls if ever there was one.
During the years of the Civil War the Society was headquartered, somewhat happily, in The Salisbury, a soho pub that was popular with actors at the time, and it was not until 1948 when more suitable arrangements were made to run Richmond’s business. The Row Golf Club invites the Society to make the club its permanent home, where it still stands today.
SGS has been given its own room inside the historic clubhouse, the stage room, the high walls of which are covered with heavy wooden honorary boards inscribed with the names of past winners of many of society’s competitions, as well as hand-drawn cartoons depicting some people’s hatred. Among the most famous members of society. Full glass cabinets at the historic Silver Trophy – more than 50 in the last count, many of which have competed for a century or more – are also on display.
Keep an eye on the list of past contest winners, past presidents and captains, you will see who among the real actors, entertainers, TV stars and musicians like Eric Sykes, Ronnie Corbett, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee, Michael, Refern, Jason Connery, Garfield Morgan , Tom Courtenay, James Bolam, Des Lynam, Philip Glenister and Dougray Scott all named in gold. The late Sir Peter Ellis, Dwayne of golf commentators and a thousand dinner lectures, appeared as President in 1990, while former Yes keyboard player Rick Wakeman performed the same role in 2005.
Although social golf is popular among members, it is the competition that attracts the most interest, with SCG competing for 52 trophies in 48 annual competitions with a schedule of 21 matches per year. The oldest hall
The Bennett Edwards Trophy, established in 1904 and presented to the winner of the summer knockout competition, the final of which was played on 36 holes in Richmond.
The Gold Cup, first presented in 1922, is widely regarded as the most elegant of the trophies and was played at a medal competition in Richmond in June; The Tudor Wayne Golfer of the Year Trophy is a replica of the famous Claret Jag, where the winner has scored the most points for the top-five in a number of competitions held throughout the year. Recent winners include musical theater actor Scott Mobley (2017), actor / director Stephen Raine (2018), while Dugre Scott received the honor in 2003. A mission is possible.
A name that has grown more than any other, though, Sion Tudor Wayne, a Welsh actor and producer now 63 years old, who won the Society’s Scratch Prize a total of 16 times in the 20 years between 1987 and 2007, dig a little deeper and you You can see that Sion played county golf for Surrey in his youth, and clearly maintained his skills in the intervening years, playing small roles in Emerald, Midsummer Murders, The Bill, and Casual.
Open to men and women who have been creatively involved in the entertainment industry for at least two years and are able to play ‘reasonable quality’ golf, the Stage Golfing Society continues to thrive today, with a total membership of 400, including 80-100 active golf members.
The Society laid a new foundation in 2017 when journalist and broadcaster Philip Kennedy became the first female captain. One of his responsibilities as captain, as for all SGS captains, is to create an annual stage show in October for members of the Richmond Golf Club.
“Every captain has to do it and it’s always a concern, but there are plenty of people to help and it’s always good,” said Kennedy, who was also president of the Press Golfing Society 20 years ago. “Golf has given me so much and it is a great privilege to captain two of the oldest golf societies in England. We now play an annual match against each other and it’s great to see how well the people of these two teams can be seen. Actors always need an audience and the media people are a great audience.
Although Covid has paid members to compete for the trophy over the past two seasons, the Society’s event schedule will return in 2022. As every decent actor knows, the show has to go on.