WITH its entrance located near the heart of Mandeville, The Manchester Club is the home of golf, tennis and squash within the resort town, and is also one of the town's more sociable meeting places.
Built in 1865, the Manchester Club is not only the oldest golf course in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, but it is believed to be the oldest surviving club in the entire western hemisphere. It predates both Canadian clubs: the Royal Montreal Club formed in 1873 and the Quebec Golf Club formed in 1875.
The course, which is over 2,000 feet above sea level, stretches over 55 acres of undulating hills, and in addition to the beautiful terrain, the golf course has sand traps and bunkers situated throughout to provide some challenge.
The history of the club is one told from generation to generation. It is said that the land surrounding the sugar estates was once a chosen pasture for a handful of British planters who wanted to play golf, a sport they had brought over from the United Kingdom.
This went on for many years before anyone thought of building a proper course or forming a club. Then finally, under the leadership of a Dr Nicholls, a nine-hole course was laid down at Brumalia in Manchester.
The club got off to a rocky start, but it soon took on the name The Manchester Club, which helped it find its footing. Originally an all-male club in the tradition of a British Gentlemen's Club, access to membership had to be proposed and seconded by existing members — a group of at least of six members being necessary to propose. Lots were cast using the white ball/black ball principle where six white balls would admit membership while five white and one black would deny membership.
A 9th Century clubhouse, which was originally located on the adjoining property, was later sold to Scotia Bank, much to the dismay of the local residents.
The residents insisted that although the clubhouse was in need of major repairs the 100-year-old building was historically significant, but the sale still went through.
The old clubhouse was demolished, but a new one was built in the early 1990s on a low hill close to the middle of the course on the Manchester Club property. But as sad as it is to see a piece of history go, many who visit say that the newer structure still maintains an old-world feel.
Among the artifacts to be found at the new club house are championship boards and plaques with the names of past presidents from as far back the 1920s, and even an ancient guestbook with signatures dating as far back to 1910.