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The Big Interview with Joe Baxter
FOR someone who lived nearby yet initially was unaware of Heworth Golf Club’s precise setting, Joe Baxter is at the core of the city of York’s most central golf club.
He revealed to The Press how the club was “scored deep in his heart” and he could never envisage being a member of any of the many other clubs in the area.
And this very day his ticker was doing overtime as he assumed the mantle of being the captain of the club as it entered its centenary year.
A member of Heworth GC since 1983, Baxter said: “It’s a tremendous honour.
“Originally I had no idea that it was going to happen. It took me aback for quite a while when I was asked, because it’s quite a responsibility.
“Not only is the captain’s role a responsible one each year, now with it being the club’s centenary year when there’s a lot more going on, it’s even more high-profile.
“But when I was asked to become vice-captain knowing that I would be the captain during the centenary then it’s an absolute honour – a privilege.”
Originally from Seaham Harbour in County Durham, Baxter came to York when he enrolled at the then St John College to train as a teacher.
It was there he met his wife to be Brenda, also a trainee teacher, and who celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this August in what is turning into a momentous 2011 for the Heworth GC secretary.
After teaching for two years in their respective home towns, they both returned to York when they were married and set up home close to Heworth Stray – barely two decent drives from the golf course’s Muncaster House base.
Baxter’s sporting prowess was primarily in cricket, in which he excelled as a batsman for Acomb Cricket Club and Heworth CC.
He recalls with pride being in the Acomb side which won the York division one crown in 1978 under the captaincy of the late Denzil Webster, a star with the then York Rugby League Club.
“I used to cycle across the Stray to the cricket ground with my gear on my back,” said Baxter, whose primary school teaching posts took him to service at Westfield School, Kingsway School (now Clifton Green) and Yearsley Grove, the latter seeing 18 years of service.
“To be honest, while I lived in the area and the course was on my doorstep, I did not really know where the golf club truly was,” added Baxter.
That all changed when his career with bat and ball began to wane.
Said Baxter: “I was introduced to Heworth by Tony Turnbull, who was a past president of the club and the York Union, who brought me to the course.
“I have loved it ever since. It’s the kind of place that grabs and pulls your heart-strings. It’s scored on my heart.”
One of the attractions for Baxter was the friendly ambience surrounding the club, adding: “It was so easy to get to know people.
“It was so easy to get a game. The people here were particularly understanding and patient as I learned how to play. It has always had this friendly atmosphere.
“And it was this little idyll in the middle of the city of York. There was just so much going for me at the club. Now that I am secretary and sometimes look from my office window out on to the course, I just think how peaceful it is even though we’re so close to the city centre. I just love to watch the seasons come and go.”
Baxter has been further gladdened by the personalities he has encountered at Heworth as well as being intrigued by the challenging nature of an extremely tight course.
He said: “We have had some cracking players here. Like Jim Batt, who is a legend and still captain of our scratch team. Then there are lads like Alistair Smith, Steve Lockwood and Steve Gledhill.
“The course is very testing. It’s one of those courses where you really have to think your way round.”
The 63-year-old Baxter and other influential members at Heworth had to think even harder just a few years ago when darker times threatened the landmark 100 years’ milestone.
But he recalled how the club drew on its camaraderie in a defiant effort to launch a radical overhaul of its policy, and not only bring up the centenary with fitting celebrations, but to now look with optimism to the second century.
“We all pulled together,” recalled the newly-appointed captain.
“We have a committee which is so hard-working. We have a development group who are driving the club forward. We have a centenary group who are helping to organise this year’s events.
“Greenkeeper Greg Fitzmaurice and his staff work tirelessly and we have a great steward in Ian Skinner. Then there’s Peter Jackson, the chairman of greens, who will be out there cutting the grass and holding his development meetings from the back of a truck.”
Buoyed by the recent recruitment of Fraser Kelley as the new head professional, Baxter enthused: “That appointment is another sign of our forward- thinking.
“We want to help to kick-start the club to a further increase in membership, particularly in the ladies’ section.
“The junior programme is improving all the time and, after just getting our GolfMark status, we have more than 40 juniors playing regularly.”
As he looked ahead to the centenary year and especially the crammed three weeks of events at its height in July, Baxter warmed to the memories of the past and the challenges of the future.
He said: “Heworth has a deserved place in York golf folklore.
“It’s got that place because of its history, because of its location and because of the quality of our course.
“This is now the beginning of the next 100 years at Heworth.”