Potters Bar Golf Club was officially opened on the 24th September 1924 when two widely publicised exhibition matches took place between three famous golfers of the time, Sandy Herd, Ted Ray, James Braid and the Club’s first professional, Jack Taylor.
But behind this formal event lay the heartaches and tribulations of a keen golfer who never achieved a handicap lower than 24 and who simply wanted to play where he felt at home. That golfer was the late William (Willie) Ponikwer, a well known fur and skin merchant and it was he who founded the Club in 1923.
Willie Ponikwer, despite his lack of playing ability, really loved the Royal and Ancient game, but his great problem was that he was unable to join any golf club within reasonable reach of London because he was a Jew.
Ponikwer looked North to Clubs like Moor Allerton in Leeds and Whitefield in Manchester which did not discriminate on racial or religious grounds. His bitter experiences in the South led him to seek somewhere a Jew could play golf. Not a Jewish golf club but a club where a Jew would not feel out of place and he came to the inevitable conclusion that he would have to found a new club where this ideal could be realised.
Johnny Rubens, one of the stalwarts of a somewhat later period, suggests that one reason for choosing Potters Bar as a location was it’s proximity to the railway station which would provide good means of transport from Finsbury Park Station for those living in the Stamford Hill area.
Be that as it may, Potters Bar Golf Club was formed in 1923 and a 42 years lease taken on what was then farm land at a commencing rent of £280 p.a. The course was designed and laid out by one of the greatest golfers of the era, the late James Braid, who took part in the exhibition matches on the opening day in 1924. He took as much advantage as possible of the terrain and natural features and much of the original design
is still with us.
So the Club envisaged by Willie Ponikwer came about. He was an idealist and like most idealists suffered for his ideals. What he conceived was a club with a balanced membership – half Jews and half gentiles. A grand principle, to be sure, but one that was unattainable. Despite every effort it proved impossible to attract sufficient gentiles to form fifty per cent of the membership. The ridiculous situation was reached whereby Jewish applicants were being turned away to avoid an unbalanced membership, and as a result the Club began to lose money from it’s very inception. Thus this concept had to be abandoned and membership was open to all who wanted to join and by the late thirties Potters Bar became predominately a Jewish golf club. In 1938 the Club had its first Jewish Captain, S. E. (Bill) Williams and although Willie Ponikwer was unable to achieve his great ideal, at least a club had been formed which Jews could join and where no religious prejudices existed.
By 1939 the Club had full membership and was paying its way, but the war was soon to change all that. Johnny Rubens recalls that “The war hit Potters Bar harder than other clubs because we had no local membership. We all had to travel 10 miles or more.” Membership fell dramatically and the closure of the Club as a result of the severe financial problems seemed almost inevitable. Fortunately the remnants of the membership included a small band of members who determined that the Club should not die.
In looking back at the dedication of these men in the dark years of the war it should be remembered that the Club was still at that time a proprietary club and the members were not officially involved. It was decided that if the Club was to continue as a viable proposition the only real solution was to turn it into a members club. Accordingly in june 1942 Johnny Rubens and Joe Young met with the existing shareholders and proposed that if the controlling shares were transferred to them as trustees for the members, they would undertake to pay off the debts and change the Club into a members club. This was a turning point in the history and fortunes of the Club.
In 1948, the new Company, P B Golf Club Ltd was formed in which every full member holds one share with exactly similar voting rights.
The greatest playing achievement on behalf of the Club was, of course, the British and U.S. Open Championships won by our former assistant professional, Tony Jacklin, in 1969/1970. In his autobiography Tony has paid tribute to the encouragement and assistance he has always received from the members of Potters Bar. Particular mention must also be made of our professional during this period, Bill Shankland, a very good tournament player himself, an extremely good teacher and a wonderful personality.
This then is the story of Potters Bar Golf Club, a club created by the ideals of one man, Willie Ponikwer, and continued by his successors, which undoubtedly laid the foundations for the other Jewish clubs in the London area providing for the requirements of several generations of Jewish golfers.
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