The story of Urban Golf’s birth in Germany in the early 90’s under the leadership of Torsten Schilling and his team the Natural Born Golfers has been recounted by fanatics and media alike for years. 19News Mag will certainly dedicate an article to this pioneer team in the future, but this article will shine the spotlight on the untold beginnings of streetgolf in London – host of the European Urban Golf Cup in 2015.
Who’s the badass that first dared take golf off course in the UK? John Lyons from the Shoreditch Golf Club provides us with the play-by-play.
- Melat Amha
So first my confession, I have never played [classic] golf. I've also never really had much interest in it as a sport. Despite these obvious setbacks, I have accidentally become a pioneer of urban golf in London!
I have been involved in street golf since the 2004 Shoreditch Urban Open, an 18 hole, par 72 course on the streets of one of the cooler parts of London, best known for the street art scene and artists such as Banksy (whose fake leather bright yellow Adidas tracksuit was worn by our club captain) and Eine (who became part of the planning committee). Actually, I became involved the year before, when my friend Jeremy Feakes was telling me his latest crazy plan for something called Urban Golf over a beer in town.
Jeremy was the driving force behind the tournaments. We had collaborated on various creative ventures since becoming friends at University. This led us from the architecture that we'd studied to t-shirt design, nightclub visual shows, digital design and djing. By 2003 I had long left architecture and was running a creative digital marketing agency. Jeremy had continued to intertwine architecture with a variety of creative pursuits and this is where the concept of the Urban Open was formed.
Jeremy had always been a keen golfer, but had sold the concept to me as people playing in the streets - a crazy mix of people going about their daily business and golfers. I found the idea hilarious and agreed to help if I could, but in all honesty expected it to be little more than another great idea which would get some architecture and design media coverage but not really happen. It did get that coverage and then it really actually started to happen. It was amazing.
Before Jeremy passed away in 2007, we had put on two Shoreditch Urban Open tournaments and were planning the third. We'd also been in conversations with groups globally about franchising the concept, but without the vision and drive Jeremy brought to our small team we were never able to achieve the same and so it became a less formal event played by friends, collaborators and family. Until last year ....
We had achieved a lot of media coverage for the Shoreditch events and so when Richard Shaw from Community Golf played in the EUGC tournament in 2014 and decided that London must host the next tournament, he became inspired by what we had achieved and through a journalist, made contact with me. I very quickly realized that what he was trying to do was important and that it would be a suitable legacy for my friend. So I became involved in organizing what would be the first UK Cross Golf Open, which would be represented by the Jeremy Feakes Memorial Trophy, and the very next day the European Urban Golf Cup.
The Shoreditch Golf Club was resurrected to play in the UKCG event, which would act as a qualifier for the UK team for the next day's EUGC event. Amongst the team [members] was Jeremy's older brother, himself a keen golfer, and two long time friends of ours, Will and Rawden. Magically they qualified. That is if magic includes the team which should have qualified not being available the next day.
My role on the day of the event was media liaison, so I spent a lot of time presenting and representing the events and making sure that when the world saw it, it looked amazing.
I still don't play golf, but I’m always enthused and excited by those that do and how that can create an amazing spectacle, experience or opportunity for so many. I'm happy being a facilitator and proud to have helped in some small way with these events and a very cool streetgolf movement. I'm proud that people are still interested in what my old friend achieved and also to have provided some new memories for his family in this past year. I plan to be around to help in whatever way I can in the years to come - so long as there’s a golf buggy for me on site. That was my one demand, get me a damn golf buggy!