Polesden Lacey remains one of the prime properties of the National Trust occupying its picturesque setting south of Bookham. It was the home of Mrs Greville, the celebrated host who invited all the great and powerful of her day including royalty to be her guests. It was her country retreat from 1906 to her death in 1942. She catered for all, the sombre politicians to the maharajahs in providing every comfort, entertainment, amusement, and menu and if a guest expected a golden palace then a ‘gold’ room was provided. The list is exhaustive with kings, prime ministers and ministers of state enjoying its company and its luxuries of living. One of its early guests was King Edward VII and Mrs Greville was a close friend of Queen Mary (George V’s wife). She was particularly close to George VI’s wife, the Queen Mother and George VI and the Queen Mother were frequent visitors with their children, our present queen and her sister particularly before George VI came to the throne at the abdication of Edward VIII. In 1923, the future George VI (he was then Prince Albert ) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon spent part of their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey. Mrs Greville remained close to the Queen Mother even to the extent of leaving all her personal jewellery to her on her death.
We have said that every amusement was provided for Mrs Greville’s guests and herself. One of the pictures of the 1923 honeymoon of the future George VI shows the newly married couple playing golf at Polesden Lacey. The scene is depicted in a photo exhibited inside the house. Prince Albert as he then was, with the future queen at his side is about to play his ball out of a bunker. The interest is that this incident can be brought to life to this day as the exact spot where they stood can still be found.
On the drive up to Polesden Lacey from the Dorking Road there is a large field on the left hand side. Today it is used as pasture land for cattle or sheep or for many owners to exercise their dog. The drive takes a slight left turn and passes through the archway where National Trust identity cards used to be checked and goes on towards the house and the present day car park. In Mrs Greville’s day the field was laid out as a nine hole golf course. Very few records remain of this course – to many dog walkers it is known as the golf field.
How can we connect this field with its use as a golf course? From the picture of Prince Albert and Elizabeth playing from the bunker it can be seen that this took place in a golf hole in the field which is rough grass today parallel to the pathway known as Admiral’s Walk above the area now used as the out-door theatre. Behind the bunker the old drive can be seen stretching from the front of the house across the lawns and over a bridge across Connicut Lane and away towards WestHumble and Box Hill. In the heyday of Polesden Lacey this area was laid out as the ninth hole leading back to the final green close to the house. An examination of the contours shows the outline of the original bunker in the existing grass (see the photo and as it would have looked with sand). You can stand in the very same bunker from which George VI played his shot to the ninth green! I wonder what Prince Albert said when he mishit his tee shot only to land in the bunker and whether his new wife made any comment? A further examination of the grass towards the house shows clearly the position of the green together with the not so obvious remains of a bunker which surrounded the final green. This would have allowed the ninth hole to be something just over 200 yards.
What of the large field which held the first eight holes? There is very little evidence surviving of its once use but one distinguishing feature remains. If you examine the contours of the ground parallel to the fence nearest the entrance drive you will find the remains of yet another bunker in the field not far from the archway and lodge. This is featured in the other photo. It could be assumed that this formed part of the first hole of the course as it is reasonable that the first tee would be as you enter the golf course from the house and that it would run parallel to the drive providing a 400 yard plus hole to start your round. The bunker in the photo would form a nicely placed hazard.
The field allows plenty of space for the remaining seven holes but it is not obvious how they were placed. Perhaps in time more evidence will emerge with others noticing from the contours of the land where the tees, holes and bunkers used to be. Perhaps someone will come across an eighty year old golf ball that was mishit and never found. It might even be King George VI’s missing property, a royal golf ball!
It would be good to see the existing bunkers preserved as bunkers in acknowledgement of a further part of the total history of Polesden Lacey. It would be a simple task to restore them and put back the sand in their base to make them into an exhibit. An enlarged photo of Prince Albert and the future Queen Mother playing their round could be added to bring history to life.