Warley Woods Golf Course and Club – pioneers in municipal golf since 1921

At the meeting of the Parks Committee of Birmingham City Council held on December 6th 1920 a momentous decision was made to open the first Municipal Golf course in the Birmingham area. It was to be at Warley, a park run by Birmingham City Council since 1906, although just outside the City boundary. There had previously been a course here from 1896 until 1910, when it was the home of Edgbaston Golf Club. The City Council did not renew Edgbaston’s lease in 1910 and that club moved elsewhere. Golf at Warley ceased and it was Councillor R. R. Gelling, Chairman of the Birmingham Corporation Parks Committee, who was the driving force behind the movement to open a municipal golf course to cover the districts of Warley, Langley and Smethwick in the early 1920s.
The municipal course opened on Wednesday May 4th 1921. The rates for play were set at £3 – 3s – 0d a year, or one shilling per round.

By March 1922 over 20,000 nine-hole tickets had been sold at Warley. Gelling and the Parks Committee were delighted with the success and popularity. Gelling hinted that in the future, a further 9 holes would be added to extend the course to 18 holes and there was considerable demand from the golfers for this. In July 1923, a deputation of players presented themselves to the Parks Committee and suggested the purchase of some adjoining land in the area for another 9 holes. The Parks Committee made enquiries, which resulted in them finding that the price asked for the land was prohibitive. The course has always remained as 9 holes.

After the opening of the course, Warley Woods Golf Club was formed in the weeks which followed and on 12th June 1921, a general meeting was held at the course to determine club rules and committee responsibilities. 20 players were in attendance and it was decided that membership should be restricted to 50 gentlemen (an amount which could be easily managed) and the number of ladies eligible for membership would be left to the discretion of the newly formed committee.

From the outset, Councillor Gelling was accepted into the club and held the post of Vice-President of Warley Woods Golf Club until the mid-1930s. He donated the Gelling Challenge Cup which is still awarded annually.

The first golf professional, Mr Alf J Padgham, (A. J. as he was known) was appointed by the City Corporation, with tuition at 2s per hour, with 6d for greenage. He supplied handmade clubs, such as a brassie, niblick, mashie or jigger – not the irons and woods that we are familiar with nowadays. A J was one of the founders of the club, and in 1925 was elected the first life member. His wife Annie Padgham, known as The Mother of Municipal Golfers, was in charge of catering and entertainments since her husband became pro in 1921. (The Annie Padgham Pairs Trophy was awarded to James Bustin and Steve Goodwin in 2020.) Romance blossomed at the Golf Club when A.J. and Annie’s only daughter, Miss Gladys Lillian Padgham, married club member Mr George Goodman, a popular Warley member, on 24th August 1935.

The Golf Club was keen to have a club house for its members to use and in April 1930 it was reported that part of Warley Abbey had been secured for the benefit of the club members. There was an annual charge of £12 with the accommodation exclusively for the use of members. £20 was made available from club expenditure to furnish the club room. By the 1950s, however, the Abbey had fallen into serious disrepair and it was demolished in 1957. A new temporary club house was opened off Lightwoods Hill on 26th July 1957 by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and this is the Pavilion which is still home to the Trust and golf club to this day.

Over the years the course and the club has flourished. Membership of the club soared (often in the 200s) and players “comprising such varied occupations from coalmen, city councillors and even stars in the BBC firmament” (Letter in the Birmingham Gazette 6th November 1925), all of whom met and played together in a friendly and sporting sprit. One celebrity member was Miss Gladys Lunn who became the Lady Captain in January 1939. Gladys gained national and international fame as a track and field athlete winning gold in both the 800 yards and the javelin in the 1934 British Empire Games whilst a member of Birchfield Harriers Athletics Club. The Gladys Lunn Trophy is played for annually by the Ladies’ Section.

We are proud that the course at Warley Woods is open to all and that currently we have over 8,000 people on our database who play golf here. Although we are aware that golf is not such a popular sport as it once was, during the pandemic the numbers of people playing rose remarkably as people appreciated the opportunity to get out in the fresh air and in the company of friends.
Sadly, because of restrictions due to Coronavirus we will not be able to have the anniversary celebrations that we had hoped. However, the golf club will be organising what they can and hopefully some events will be taking place. There will be a Centenary raffle which will start running after the Pavilion reopens, and we will also be producing a fuller leaflet on the history of the course and club and the memories of golfers over the years.

125 years since the first golf course opened at Warley in 1896, 100 years since Warley became the first Municipal Golf Course in the Birmingham area, so let’s raise a glass to the next 100 years!

Anne Hornsby - Secretary of Warley Woods Golf Club
Kate Slade – Trustee Warley Woods Community Trust

A longer version of this blog has been produced as a leaflet as part of our Centenary Celebrations.

Love Golf at Warley Woods?   You can find more about playing golf here.

You can read more about why the golf course is so special in a previous blog here