I first heard of Cookie Jar Golf when I was researching for a piece I posted about Cleeve Hill.
Cookie Jar made a short film highlighting the proposed closure of this great course, which actually helped in saving the club as the new owners used the film for inspiration whilst writing their tender document.
As by chance Jon Davie from Sounder Golf knew the Cookie Jar guys and put me in touch with them. Towards the end of summer Sam, one of the Founders called me to arrange a meeting as he and Tom, another founding member, were on a long weekend of golf in Surrey and wanted to see if we could meet up.
It’s not often I get excited by a phone call as I am far too long in the tooth, but I was thrilled that Sam knew of my blog and liked some of my posts. I was also relieved as I thought he was ringing me to give me a dressing down about not asking permission to use their video. In fact, Sam was delighted I had used the film as more people got to know of Cookie Jar Golf and Cleeve Hill.
We met the following Monday morning, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to play as the boys were off to visit St Georges Hill, so we took a quick course walk. I could tell that they were real golf nuts just engrossed in the traditions and quirkiness of the game and loved the fact that Sunningdale Heath was so pro junior golf.
Cookie Jar’s home club is Blackwell where they were founded in 2020 taking their name from a President’s Cup incident in 2006. Tiger had hit one of his greatest shots and walked up the fairway with his arms outstretched and his fingers wiggling like his hands were in the Cookie Jar and hence the name. www.cookiejargolf.com
I had heard of Blackwell only because there had been a huge debate on our top 100 panellists WhatsApp group about the course and where it should be placed in the top 100. Sam & Tom kindly invited me up to see the club and we agreed to play on 1st October. I set off early in the height of the petrol shortage and wasn’t sure I was going to make it but after a 40-minute wait, I finally got some petrol and arrived on time in a place that pleasantly looked like time had forgotten.
I was ushered through to the spike bar, the centrepiece of the club, that I felt hadn’t been changed since the club was founded in 1893. There are only 197 members and 100 of them play regularly meeting up in the spike bar before going out to play, with the rule being everyone gets a game no one is left behind.
Tom was proposed on behalf of Cookie Jar to take on “the Round with Niall Challenge’ and being a 7-handicap had to give me 2 shots. The first tee and 18th greens are positioned at the front and back doors of the club and until recently the spike bar was part of the course, so it was possible to get up and down for par from a bar side table!
Tom had been a physics teacher and became a wedding videographer when he found that he and his wife couldn’t afford a video of their wedding. Tom decided to have a go himself and the result made him believe he could swap teaching for making wedding videos. This skill set has been instrumental in allowing Cookie Jar Golf to achieve a growing presence in the golfing landscape and a good source of revenue with Ecco shoes and a number of other leading brands in the golf industry already clients of theirs.
Tom didn’t take up golf until he was 28 having played rugby at a high level so unlike Sam and the third founder of Cookie Jar, Bruce did not enjoy the benefit of being a junior golfer as his other two colleagues had. Sam, when he is not playing golf or looking after his newborn son works in the financial services sector and Bruce the winner of the illustrious President’s Putter has just started work as a lawyer having enjoyed his time in academia studying at St.Andrew’s and Oxford Universities with more degrees than I have O levels!
We set off from the first on a beautiful autumnal morning and I was full of expectation to play a course with so much history. Although the course was founded in 1893 it was just 9 holes, Harry Colt got involved in 1912 when another 1000 yards was added but in 1923 Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson designed the course that exists today, one of only 7 that they collaborated on.
The great Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen played challenge matches at the club and there are some great pictures of those matches in the club’s dining room today. Most recently the club has hosted regional qualifying for The Open Championship on 6 occasions and Sandy Lyle won the Midland Junior Championship at the club back in the ’70s.
As is the norm my opponent was coming up with excuses being 3 down after 4 holes and getting stick from his fellow member for letting the side down. This time the excuse being a hangover as he had been up until 2 am drinking champagne with his mother-in-law. REALLY!
The course is set on a small acreage, but you feel every inch is used to its full capacity with some striking holes and a smooth flow between greens and tees emphasising the traditional nature of pre-war courses.
Tom seemed to get a second wind and by the turn, I was just 1 up. The club has a really warm feel and as we approached the 9th green, I was introduced to two ladies who happened to be the mothers of Sam and Bruce who shared some insight into the upbringing of two-thirds of Cookie Jar.
As we entered the back nine the conversation between Sam, Tom and I never ceased talking about architecture, the golf business and courses we still strive to play. The course was in great shape with some work being undertaken on the back nine so as to continually keep improving the playability and presentation of the course. Frank Pont (Pont, Clayton and Pont) course architects have been having led the club through an ambitious long term planning programme. Widening the playing surfaces and restoring the famous Simpson lace-edged bunkering has become central to the identity of the course.
Tom found his game on the back nine and despite a long putt for a well-earned par on the tough 16th I eventually lost the game 1 down much to the delight of Sam who had been concerned about Cookie Jar’s reputation after the first few holes!
As we returned to the clubhouse for a beer in the Spike bar, I couldn’t help thinking how different golf can be. Just a couple of weeks ago I was at The Grove a successful modern-day golf business thriving with golfers looking for their golfing fix. Blackwell could not be more different but equally successful in its own way. If you are ever in the Midlands and want to try something different other than the well-known courses such as Little Aston and The Belfry take the time to go to Blackwell, you will not be disappointed. I for one will back and will only say great things about this special place to those I meet.
What I found from the Cookie Jar is that they are becoming a force to be reckoned with. The passion and dedication to the traditions of the game along with their storytelling will in my opinion allow them to grow significantly and deliver something unique to the growing band of golfers who love this great game.
Until next time