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Charles Redhead

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Notable Courses
Year of Birth1873
Year of Death1968 (aged 95)
Place of BirthBillesdon, England
Biography

Charles Redhead was born in Leicestershire and moved over several county boundaries to Lancashire before leaving England for the Emerald Isle prior to the outbreak of the First World War.

“A talented golfer in Ireland, C. H. Redhead worked until age 50 as an engineer in government service,” wrote Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten in The Architects of Golf, “where, among other accomplishments, he supervised the installation of underground telephone cables throughout Ireland during World War I.”

Redhead achieved prominence as a golfer soon after settling in Ireland. He joined Dun Laoghaire Golf Club (designed by Harry Colt) where his golfing results were initially reported in a newspaper dating back to 1914. Six years later, Redhead was appointed Captain of Dun Laoghaire Golf Club. In 1923, he became involved with the Golfing Union of Ireland (Leinster Branch).

Playing off a handicap of 10, Redhead won the 1924 Veterans Cup at Portmarnock, an event open to non-members. The Veterans Cup competition format, and the trophy he won at Portmarnock, would later become one of his lasting antipodean legacies. Later in 1924, the Kerryman newspaper reported: “Mr. Redhead, a very eminent golf architect, was brought down a fortnight ago to advise generally on the reconstruction of Tralee Links.”

“In 1924 he moved to New Zealand and made his home in Rotorua,” continue Cornish and Whitten. “Eager to test the courses of his newly adopted country, Redhead was appalled at what he found.”

Redhead became a member of the Rotorua Golf Club the same year he arrived in New Zealand and soon became a force to be reckoned with at the club, eventually serving three terms as President.

Mary Browne, Life Member of Rotorua Golf Club, kindly provided the following information:

Very shortly after his arrival, he had become virtually the first person consulted whenever matters of course layout arose. The Minutes are full of references to him:

6.5.31: New and enlarged tees to be made on 12 holes; Redhead to supervise.

1.10.31: 8th green to be remodelled under supervision of Redhead.

Redhead had a more complete understanding of all the interactions that go into the making of a superior golf course than anyone else in New Zealand at that time.

“A hole should be reasonable but interesting, not for the benefit of the scratch man or the long handicap man, but for all,” he said. He emphasised the relationships between hole length and green size (for par 3s), abhorred straight lines for fairways, and saw bunkers not as penalties for a bad shot, but to help determine the strategy for a hole.

Bunkers were his specialty, and he had many run-ins with members as he developed a comprehensive system for the whole course. AGMs of the time provided “grand entertainment” as Redhead drove his ideas through against sometimes determined opposition from more conservative members, who could see no reason for bunkers in the first place.

For many years he made his services available to the RGC at no charge, and was successful to the extent that other clubs began to recognise that their courses were becoming outmoded by this new, comprehensive approach to design.

He began to undertake contract work throughout New Zealand, either full course design or remodelling and bunkering. Thus, Chamberlain Park, Fielding, Opotiki, Te Awamutu, Pukekohe, Te Aroha, Thames, Middlemore (where Redhead directed operations from a tent beside the 3rd green), Akarana, Avondale, Cambridge, Glendowie, St. Andrews (Hamilton), Hastings, Hutt, Hokowhitu, Ngamotu, Maungakiekie, St. Clair, Balmacewen, Wanganui and many others, all received the Redhead treatment. It has been claimed that by 1937, there were not more than four courses of note in the whole country that had not been remodelled or bunkered by Charles Redhead.

“In less than one decade, Redhead yanked New Zealand courses from the horse and buggy age to modern times.” (Kelly: Golf in New Zealand 1971).

His opinions were respected, and he was often called upon to defend New Zealand courses against foreign criticism – and when he criticised them himself, he was listened to.

Because of his deep understanding of the nature of the game, Redhead was called upon to be part of a small group that developed a common formula for determining Standard Scratch Scores for all golf courses throughout New Zealand.

As if all this was not enough, Redhead must be given the lion’s share of the credit for introducing the concept of Veterans’ golf to New Zealand.

Charles Redhead was made a Life Member of the Rotorua Golf Club in 1928 (remarkably soon for a man who had only joined the Club in 1924, but a testament to the value of his work), was Patron from 1963 to 1967, and died in 1968, at the age of 95.

Commander John Harris, the famous English golf course designer, was employed to make recommendations on the Arikikapakapa layout in 1966. He had long discussions with Redhead, then in his nineties, and came away saying: “That old man has forgotten more about golf course architecture than I will ever know”.

Credits

We’re very grateful to Mary Browne who, in addition to providing much of the above commentary, very kindly supplied us with both photos of Charles Redhead. The group photo is of Charles Redhead as he pours champagne on the occasion of the first New Zealand Veterans Tournament in 1928. On his right side is his wife. The cup is said to be a replica of the Irish Veteran golfers’ Championship Cup and is still played for annually by the top group at Rotorua Golf Club.

Mary also remarked: “When I first started playing golf in 1973 there was a bunker in the fairway on the 8th hole that was known as ‘The Redhead’. It is no longer there which I am not unhappy about.”

Thanks also to Brendan Cashell (Club Historian at Portmarnock Golf Club) who helped us to unravel Charles Redhead's background while in Ireland.

Snippets

The Architects of Golf by Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten: "Curiously enough, Redhead was not a redhead."

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