Wildernesse Club was one of the earliest golf courses in Kent, formed in 1890 by its first patron, Lord Hillingdon (formerly Sir Charles Mills Bt., M.P.) on land to the east of Wildernesse House (now Dorton House, home to the Royal London Society for the Blind).
Prior to 1890 golf had been played on the Wildernesse estate over a small 9 hole course on land which was also used for cricket. In summer the estate hosted week-end house parties, a popular way for the landed class to entertain relatives and friends and on Saturdays Wildernesse House played cricket matches against many club sides. Golf was probably a diversion for the non-cricketers and perhaps for the ladies too.
One regular visitor to Wildernesse at this time was Lord George Hamilton, brother-in-law to Lord Hillingdon, a politician and keen golfer. It was Lord George who suggested to Lord Hillingdon that the golf holes would be greatly improved if they were moved to the present site, east of the mansion. The suggestion was accepted and in 1890 the original nine holes was laid out, sadly by an unknown professional golfer. In 1891 the first official round was played between Lord Hillingdon’s eldest son, Charles William Mills M.P. the Club’s first President and John Stewart Norman, founder of New Beacon School and the first (Honorary) Secretary of Wildernesse. By 1892 a full 18 holes was in play and in 1895 Lord Hillingdon provided a clubhouse which stood between the present 7th tee and the 8th green.
In 1898 the first Lord Hillingdon died, to be succeeded by his elder son. His heir was the Hon. Charles Thomas Mills, later M.P. for Uxbridge, and second President of the Club. He was killed in action in 1915. On the death of the second Lord Hillingdon in 1919 the heir, the Hon. Arthur Mills, decided to sell the estate but this proved to be a timely exercise and the Members, who had no security of tenure, approached Lord Sackville in the hope that he and his trustees would agree to construct a golf course in KnolePark. Consent having been given and financial arrangements made, the move was made in 1924. On 1st November that year the first official round was played and almost all the members of Knole Park Golf Club, as it was known, were members of the original Wildernesse Club.
The purchasers of the Hillingdon estate was a syndicate of three people and it was they and some of the Wildernesse Ladies Golf Club (founded 1910) who kept the Wildernesse course open using the original clubhouse. New Members were soon attracted, many having bought plots of land and built houses on the roads now known as Wildernesse Avenue, Parkfield and Woodland Rise. As membership increased a move was made to the Hillingdon Mansion, suitably adapted for use as a new clubhouse. Two new holes were constructed on the west side of Park Lane, which still divides the course today, so that a round started and ended there. However, by 1927, the syndicate were in serious financial difficulty, one answer to which was to sell the golf course for development. News of this soon reached the ears of George Fawcett who had not long since built the property “Wildwood” which overlooks the present 3rd hole. Concerned at the prospect of an estate on his doorstep, he bought out the syndicate and so preserved what we now enjoy today. To him all who play Wildernesse owe a very great debt.
Wildernesse Country Club, as it was known, offered facilities beyond simply golf. There were six hard tennis courts, two squash courts, a billiards room and apartments for those on leave from abroad. The large reception rooms were ideal for social functions and the West Kent Hunt Ball was held there for many years.
In 1952, Bernard Fawcett, who had inherited from his father decided that a privately owned club was no longer viable in an austere post-war world and he sold the course and clubhouse to the Royal London Society for the Blind. Fortunately, the Society did not require the land to the east of Park Lane, so a handful of Members led by C.E. Mansell raised, with some difficulty, the necessary capital to buy the land, build a new clubhouse and construct new holes to replace those lost. Wildernesse Club Limited was incorporated in 1954 and in March 1956 the present clubhouse was formally opened. The late Gerald Micklem, C.B.E., was elected President in recognition of his outstanding record in amateur golf.
The Club has hosted a number of prestigious competitions including Regional Qualifying for The Open, the British Seniors Championship and the English Golf Union Club Foursomes and County Finals.
So after some sixty-odd years the idea borne out of Lord Hillingdon’s generosity and patronage eventually flourished into a Members’ Club. After over 100 years of golf at Wildernesse our predecessors would still recognise much of the course (always played clockwise round Chance Wood) and although new holes have been built (16th and 17th) and some lengthened and realigned, Wildernesse still presents a challenge to the golfer at all levels. There cannot be many Golf Clubs to have had three clubhouses in 100 years and still play on the same course!
Today Wildernesse remains a successful private club, fully owned and managed by its members and a testament to the strength and dedication of those early golfers.
View over the water of the second hole at Wildernesse Golf Club