Golf has been played at Seaton Carew for more than 140 years, with the club's first written records dating back to 1874. The club's existence is due mainly to one man, Dr. Duncan McCuaig, a surgeon from Edinburgh who moved down to Teesside shortly after qualifying at Edinburgh University. The young doctor was no mean golfer, winning the Gold Medal at St Andrews on two occasions in 1867 and 1869. However, he was dismayed to find there was nowhere throughout County Durham or North Yorkshire to exercise his talent, so he set about finding a suitable place to play. As luck would have it he came across a strip of pasture land, known locally as The Snooks, where local people grazed their livestock. It was close to the mouth of the River Tees, running between the north shore and the village of Seaton Carew, and was owned by Lord Eldon. With his permission, and after some resistance from the stint holders whose sheep and cattle roamed the area, Dr. McCuaig and a few like-minded colleagues were able to rent a piece of land on which they established the Durham & Yorkshire Golf Club. However, by the start of the 20th century more clubs were being formed both in North Yorkshire and County Durham, and it was decided the old title was no longer apt and the name of Seaton Carew Golf Club was adopted, although the Club still uses the old name on its flags.
The original 1874 course at Seaton Carew consisted of only 14 holes and was built on what was essentially meadow land, which over the years became more and more difficult to drain. By the end of the 19th century that course was extended to 18 holes, but by the mid-1920's equipment had improved and the shoreline had retreated Eastward, providing a new area of dunes. With this in mind the members decided that Seaton Links needed an extensive revamp and so they contacted one of the great golf architects of the day, Dr Alister MacKenzie. A letter, dated the 13th of July 1924, shows he already had some knowledge of the course, having been to Seaton Carew during the First World War He described it as a "fine piece of golfing country" and concluded that reconstruction could make it "by far the finest on the North East coast".
He recommended moving the course further East and "nearer the sea on the ground which has within recent years become available owing to the sea having receded”. There would be new tees and bunkers on most holes, others would be re-routed to existing greens, and five brand new holes would be created to replace the original 11th, 12th, 13th 14th & 15th. Perhaps his best piece of work was on the 17th, where he recommended “altering the approach to the green, so that the tee shot be played to the right”. It resulted in what is now widely recognised as the Signature Hole at Seaton Carew. So next time you play a round at Seaton Carew you'll know you're experiencing the work of one of the great golf course designers.
In the early 1970's the excavation of a cooling-water tunnel for Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station provided the Club with a financial windfall and four new holes were added, under the direction of another great golf architect, Frank Pennink.
The Club had also been told at that time that it might lose land at the Southern end of the course, which it rented from Tees Port, although thankfully that never happened.
The four new holes became known as the Brabazon loop and now provide the Club with twenty two holes offering a choice of five different course layouts, the Old, Brabazon, Micklem, Bishop & New, although only the Old, Brabazon and Micklem are regularly played.
The Brabazon Course, which includes all four Pennink holes, has twice been used to stage the English Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship, for the Brabazon Trophy. The Micklem layout, which has three Pennink holes, came about after the then President of the EGU, Gerald Micklem, suggested it would provide a stern test for the youngsters participating in the English Boys Championship, for the Carris Trophy, and is slightly shorter in length than the more demanding Brabazon Course.
James Kay was engaged as a professional by Seaton Carew Golf Club on the 1st of May 1886, following the resignation of Tom Park a member of the famous Scottish golfing family. His duties at the time included assisting in cutting and rolling the greens, filling divots and horses' hoof marks, playing with members, supervising the groundsman and charwoman and keeping a list of players in Club competitions. For that he and his wife were paid the princely sum of thirty shillings a week. However, it was James Kay's playing record which set him apart from both his predecessors and successors. According to press reports of the time he played in a total of 22 Open Championships, qualifying in 20 and twice finishing in the top six.
Without doubt though his greatest achievements came in what were known as "money matches", where he played against some of the top golfers of the time. Pride of place probably goes to his defeat in 1895 of the then Open Champion, J. H. Taylor, who had just retained his prestigious title. Some five years later, Kay exacted a similar outcome on another Open Champion, James Braid, although at that time the latter hadn't recorded any of his five championship victories. In fact Harry Vardon was the only member of the great triumvirate to actually get the better of him. Given such a remarkable playing record it's not surprising that James Kay was held in great esteem by the Club's members, however, in 1926 it was decided that a change of professional was necessary and he was awarded a pension and elected an Honorary Club Member.
Shortly before his retirement Kay was helping chop up some old sleepers when he got a splinter in his right thumb. Sadly, he developed blood poisoning and on the 17th of April 1927 James Kay died. His funeral was attended by fellow professionals, Seaton Carew members and staff from the Golf Club acted as pall bearers. The body of a local golfing legend now lies at rest in Seaton Carew Parish churchyard and he's commemorated in the name of the Old Course's 8th hole - Jimmy Kay.
"It is a splendid course. Personally I am very fond of seaside links. They are natural and provide very interesting and varied types of holes. The Seaton links are very well groomed, the greens lovely, and the fairways and lies good. It is not an easy course. It provides a good test of golf and is one on which I should like to play quite often." Those were the thoughts of four times Open champion Walter Hagen after a visit to Seaton Carew on Saturday 24th of July 1937. The “Clown Prince of Golf”, as he was known, had just partnered his Australian colleague, Joe Kirkwood, in an exhibition match against the Seaton pair of Club Professional, Bert Reveley, and former Captain and Schoolboy International, Peter Salmon.
The visit created considerable interest in local golfing circles, and despite showery rain there was a gallery of several hundred to accompany the match. Kirkwood had arrived well ahead of time and hit a few practice iron shots, followed by some work with a driver and brassie, before finishing with a little approach work and putting. Hagen didn't arrive until 2.30, when a large chauffeur driven car pulled up outside the clubhouse, and out stepped “The Haig” along with his female secretary. He then went into the locker room, but looked in no apparent hurry to start the match. In fact, he sat down and refused to move until his “togs” were brought in. Finally, he came out and instead of being given the bird by the spectators, as might have been expected, he was welcomed with a hearty round of applause.
The Seaton pair took an early lead and by the turn had gone four up. The next three holes were halved, but then the visitors mounted a come-back, thanks to birdies from Hagen at the 13th and 14th. On reaching the 17th the locals were dormie two, That was won by Hagen and Kirkwood with another birdie, but a half at the last gave victory to the home pair, meaning Bert Reveley and Peter Salmon had become the only Professional/Amateur combination to beat two of the best golfers of the era.
The visit by H.R.H. Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, (pictured far right in the group) took place during a short stay at the home of the Marquess of Londonderry, who was then President of Seaton Carew Golf Club. The Royal party arrived on the same day as the Club's annual match against the Artisans, so most members were out on the course. However, four caddies were hurriedly arranged.
His Royal Highness had already dressed for golf, except for his shoes which he changed in the men's locker room. The Royal party duly set off, shortly after 4pm, with a few local villagers watching them tee-off. The Club Captain, Harry Salmon, was anxious that the golfers ahead shouldn't hold up the VIPs and sent the assistant professional, “Mac” Nellist to tell them to let the Prince play through. As he passed the Royal party on the second hole, Nellist had the presence of mind to ask the equerry what drinks they'd like on their return to the clubhouse. The Club had no bar in those days and you had to ring a bell for service. After a few holes it seems the group split into two singles, with the Prince playing Viscount Castlereagh. They finished in about one and three quarter hours, although it's believed they missed out two or three holes, and then took drinks in the Smoke Room. The Prince of Wales had a lager.
Before the party left Alf Andrews realised he couldn't find the Prince's panama hat, which had been entrusted to him. A frantic search proved fruitless and eventually the Prince left without it. However, a promise was made that when it was eventually found it would be forwarded to His Royal Higness. The exploration resumed the next day and thankfully the missing “chapeau” was found near the 8th green, where it had obviously fallen from the golf bag. It was duly packed in a golf ball box and dispatched, and a few days later the Club received a letter of appreciation from the Prince's equerry, Captain Aird, and the honour of Seaton Carew Golf Club was upheld.
Charles John Bunting was the first of the family whose name became synonymous with Seaton Carew Golf Club. He lived on the seafront in the village and worked as a solicitor in Hartlepool. He was a very keen golfer and became the Club's Honorary Secretary from 1893 to 1901 and was made Club Captain in 1901. He was the winner of one of Club's most prestigious competitions, the Gray Trophy, on seven occasions between 1891 to 1904.
The unique role that the Bunting family played at Seaton Carew Golf Club for almost a century and a half was commemorated in 2020 with the re-naming of the Club's main lounge, which is now known as the Bunting Lounge.
Charles John Bunting's son, Charles Gilbert, joined the Club in 1900 and remained an active member until his death in 1967. He was elected to the Committee in 1927, was Club Captain in 1937 and became a Vice President in 1948. He was the Honorary Solicitor for the Club during most of the period of his membership and guided it through a number of tricky legal situations.
After being appointed the Club's representative to the Durham County Golf Union he very quickly became that body's Chairman (today's President) during which time he redrafted the rules of the Union and became the editor of its yearly handbook. He was a lone voice crying in the wilderness for the inception of a Boys' Championship, which he finally founded in 1952 and which has done so much to raise the standard of County golf.
Gilbert was also a keen member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and also a member of the English Golf Union. He also had the unique honour of being the only man invited to referee six successive Ryder Cup contests. His efforts on behalf of Seaton Carew Golf Club, Durham County Golf Union and golf in general were nothing short of tremendous.
C.G.Bunting had three sons, all of whom began their golfing careers at Seaton Carew after the Second World War. Gerald was appointed a Trustee in 1956 and held that position for over 50 years. Derek was always a keen golfer and was an SCGC member until he left Hartlepool in 1961. Before then he won the Gray Trophy in 1952 and also played for Durham County Colts against Northumberland. He joined his father as an R&A member in 1966.
However, it's CG's youngest son, Edward, who left a lasting imprint on the memories of many Seaton Carew members. He joined the Club as a junior in 1949 at the relatively tender age of 14. Just 11 years later he became Club Champion, a feat he repeated in 1971. He was made Club Captain in 1975 and was asked to be Captain again for the Millenium in 2000. He was President of the Club between 2002 & 2005 and was then made an Honorary Life Member.
In true Bunting tradition he became a member of the R&A in 1991 and was famed for taking each year's Club Captain, and a couple of guests, to visit the "Home of Golf", an undoubted high point in their Captain's year.
Edward was also Secretary of the English Golf Union's Northern Counties Group from 1987 to 1998 and Chairman from 1999 to 2001. He was also President of the Teesside & District Union of Golf Clubs in 2003.
Throughout his golfing life Edward used every opportunity he could to promote Seaton Carew Golf Club to the widest audience possible, and he helped attract many National and International events to our great links.