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Round and Round and Round (but you can't play a round any more)

Last time we were in Beckenham Place Park, we noticed that they were doing quite a lot of landscape work, clearing spaces here, planting trees there, and there were various boards up describing how this was going to be a wetland, that was going to be a wild meadow and so forth.

What we hadn't realised was that the golf course was a casualty. Now I have never been a golfer; indeed, to a first approximation, I have never played golf at all, at least not as an actual golfer would recognise it, and neither has Amanda, but Beckenham Place Park Golf Course was one of the background constants of both our childhoods. It comes as a slight shock to discover it is no more.

The occasion of discovery is that the Beckenham Trail 10k has had to change its route because of the works in progress, and will partly run over the former golf course.

So on the basis that, as Joni Mitchell sang, you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone, we perhaps need to know: what has gone?

Today's lesson is, then, a brief account of the course of the course.

So in 1907, a private 9-hole course was laid out, which was then bought by Lewisham Council in 1934 and turned public. Apparently Lewisham asked neighbouring boroughs if they would like to join in (and contribute to!) the purchase, and while Bromley reckoned they'd chip in for a few quid, Beckenham Council kept their purse tightly closed!

The course was expanded to 18 holes (that's full-size for those even less golf-literate than us) and became extremely popular. In its heyday, it seems it was the busiest course in the whole of Europe!

As a public park, it had to contend with courting couples and playful dogs and others wandering across at any time, so it was always a bit on the cheap and cheerful side, but as time went on, it got rather less cheerful, and cheap didn't pay the bills.

Reviews from ten years ago are fairly consistent: nice place, not great golf, really needs a little TLC.

The main mansion house building is Grade II* listed, and other buildings on the site are Grade II, so upkeep was expensive and Lewisham Council really didn't have the money. Numbers were falling as well, so income was dropping even further behind. Unsurprisingly, the place slowly going downhill made it less popular still, in a classic vicious circle.

In the mid-2010s, then, Lewisham came up with a grand plan to close the golf course and substantially renovate the park with the aid of Lottery money. For everyone but golfers, it looked really good, but it caused a lot of local controversy because it turns out that golfers are pretty vocal!

One argument was that it was quite literally the only public golf course in the whole of Inner London, and the effective cost of a year's membership and play at a not-terribly-expensive private club would be well over £4000. Trouble is, that this argument rather shoots itself in the foot: if not one public course can be a profitable venture in an area that size, yet private clubs are charging an arm and a leg and getting away with it, perhaps the real demand for a public golf course just isn't there.

And for those who think that golf is a snobbish game played by people with strange clothing fetishes, a few quotes from reviews will help to confirm your prejudices:

  • too many people in jeans and t shirts.

  • shouldn't let people on with jeans and trainers

  • I've also had the pleasure of being stuck behind a 6 ball of skinheads with their tops off, i'm sure they wouldn't allow that at Wentworth!

Although some are prepared to be a bit more conciliatory...

  • Being a public course I was not really shocked when I saw people playing in jeans and trainers

  • There is no dress code but most people don the correct attire and there aren't any chav types

Ok, yes, the majority of the reviews weren't like that, but these are real comments and not taken out of context!

Anyway, local history lesson over, on to the running stuff...

Goodness, Beckenham Cricket Club has become rather more ecumenical!

To be fair, back in 2014 when we first did this race, the club was advertising

Tennis Hockey Squash

Cricket Running Social

on the clubhouse outside wall  [that R isn't a typo, the real letter doesn't match the rest!] but it seems to be making much more of a thing of it now. Vets [sic] football and cycling are definitely new, though, but perhaps they're missing a trick by not adding golf?

Oh, yes, sorry, running...

To the park, then, and the new start/finish line. Same bugler, though, having a sneaky practice before the Last Post.

And I have just learnt that there are two different Last Posts! One is "a B♭ bugle call within British infantry regiments" and the other is "an E♭ cavalry trumpet call in British cavalry and Royal Regiment of Artillery", so Wikipedia tells us. The former is the one we all know as the remembrance piece, but originally it was a purely functional signal that the final guard post inspections had been completed and the camp was secure for the night.

Oops, I'm digressing again.

At last! Runners!

Ok, not actually running, but we're getting there...

Did you notice the blue sky in the background of the first picture? Gone without a trace now.

Yay! Running!

The Dulwich contingent is seriously down on previous years that we've been here, and Ola is the first of quite a small number. Claire would be running if only her <expletive deleted> knee was up to it, but we're expecting to see her at some point as marshall/supporter/envious looker-on/etc.

Amanda's definitely happy to be moving after standing around in the cold for the Last Post and two minutes' silence. Next time they have a First World War, can they please arrange to finish in the summer?

And virtually at the back of the field, Paul has either set himself an overtaking challenge or wasn't paying attention and nearly missed the start. I do not speculate as to which.

Off they go. It's far from flat but nothing like the top of the steep hill the traditional route started from.

Roughly halfway through the first lap, the lead man has already pulled out some distance. The results will later show he clearly never has any serious competition, with a winning margin of about a minute.

To emphasise the fact, the next guy in the hi-vis vest is supposed to be guiding the field! The course is a bit too tough in places for a lead bike, so presumably the idea is that a decent runner can do a single lap faster than anybody on a three-lap pace. If so, the plan hasn't quite worked.

New members of my fan club?

Now I wish I had a picture that better showed the size of this dog. It's huge! It must have at least 50% horse DNA! Amanda and everyone else I know is through well before this Irish Wolfhound appears and never get to see it, which is rather a pity. It's friendly too, although if you're trying to run and it's in the way, you'll have quite a detour!

Oh, and you may have noticed patches of sunlight through the trees. Today's weather is changing by the minute.

Amanda's on her second lap now. This course is dead easy for spectating, as this spot is probably about a km of running and a hundred metres or so of walking from the previous point.

The runners emerge from the woods into bright sunshine now.

Mum and son marshalling. Is this family togetherness or child labour?

And behind this marshall, another bit of Beckenham Place Park that I at least have been ignorant of for all these decades. Investigation shows that the building was formerly occupied by the Foxgrove Club, a local social club, who were turfed out for rent arrears. An article in the local paper a couple of years ago is full of outrage: "Residents near a Beckenham Park have expressed their shock after their beloved social club was closed by the council over rent arrears only to find it allegedly being used as a site for dogging"

Shortly after the start of the third and final lap, that's the Mansion House in the background.

Part of the hill where the old route started and finished is still incorporated in the new one. Amanda has described it to me as "Horrible Hill" because of the steep muddy descent - not her favourite!

And Paul comes over the top...

It's slippery, although not quite as bad as it was a few years ago when even walking it was difficult. Then she tells me that the bit around the base of the hill is even worse, so I follow to check it out.

Yep, it's slippery. Initially there's another guy between me and Amanda, but he's definitely not wearing chunky enough shoes and he's all over the place. Even carrying all my camera gear I pass him, although I do momentarily wonder if I might be overdoing the gung-ho bit.

And what's my reward for all this hard work and risk? A lousy photographic angle right into the sun!

Past the mansion house and on to the final not-straight. Because I can go straight, I can take this picture here and still get back to the finish  line in time.

57:09 on the clock. Not exactly a fast time for a 10k, but this hasn't been a fast course. Pretty though, and in the end we've had sunshine for most of it.

Well done ladies! Still haven't seen Claire, though.

Ah, speak of the devil!

The Great Beckenham Bake-Off stars have been busy. We've brought our own lunch, but we'll put a tenner in the donation box and take a few cakes home for later.

The prizes are announced, and Ola has won her age category! Unfortunately, she's already had to leave but Claire can take her prize for her. She's been working her way back after some very difficult times personally, so hopefully this will be a real boost for her.

And this sign certainly wasn't here last time!

Whatever is the world coming to?

Well, as you may have noticed, this report has taken a little longer than usual, but my excuse is that I got distracted with research, and I trust you will appreciate that the fascinating fact quotient is correspondingly higher than usual too!

Love to all,


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