The University Match

The Blues team that contests the University Match against Oxford University each year is selected in mid-February, with the match itself played approximately one month later. Ten players are selected for the Blues squad, each of whom earns a Full Blue, together with two alternates known as “Dinner Blues”. The Dinner Blues play the “Dinner Match” against their counterparts from Oxford on the day prior to the Varsity Match itself, with the losing side responsible for picking up the (not inconsequential!) tab for the dinner following the Varsity Match.

The University Match itself is played over two days, usually a Friday and a Saturday, with five 36-hole foursomes matches played on the Friday and ten 36-hole singles matches played on the Saturday. Cambridge leads the 134 match series by a score of 65 to 61, with 8 matches halved.

The venue of the match changes each year, but we return regularly to Royal St. George’s G.C. and Rye G.C., which is the “home” of the Oxford & Cambridge Golfing Society. Other recent venues have included Royal Dornoch, Formby, Aldeburgh and Muirfield. The 2024 University Match will be played at Rye Golf Club.

HISTORY

The first University Golf Match was played on March 6, 1878, at Wimbledon Common, as guests of the London Scottish Golf Club. The match was contested by four singles matches, using the now-forgotten ‘Holes Up’ method of scoring.

There have been numerous minor changes to the format over the long history, mostly affecting the number of players on each side or the length of the games (18 or 36 holes). But throughout its early history the Match was decided in one day by a number of singles, and the first significant change came in 1908 when the ‘Holes Up’ method of scoring (matches are played right up to the 36th, even if one player is already leading by more than the remaining number of holes) was replaced by the ‘Matches Won’ method, with one point for a win. The change was prompted by a result that saw Cambridge win the Match by 23 holes to 22, although Oxford had in fact won four games to Cambridge’s three, with one half. Although such an ‘unfair’ result had in fact occured twice before (in 1883 and 1890), enough was deemed enough and the format changed.

The second big change came in 1921, with a move to teams of ten and a total of fifteen games spread over two days, five foursomes and ten singles, with every match being played to a conclusion by sudden-death, should it be tied after 36 holes. This method ensured that there could be no more ties. However, one singles game in 1927 at Hoylake, played in appalling weather, went to the 41st hole, prompting a decision to limit matches to 36 holes. Except for a brief three year experiment with 18 hole games in the mid-1960s, the ten-a-side, two day, five foursomes and ten singles, all over 36 holes, has remained the format from 1928 to the present.

Widest margin of victory (team):

‘Holes Up’ era – Oxford won in 1900 by 69-0, and they had two other ‘whitewash’ victories in 1878 (24-0) and 1889 (18-0). Cambridge’s best win was 52-3 in 1905, and they managed no whitewashes.
‘Matches won’ era – Cambridge won 13-2 in 1977, and Oxford won by the same score in 1994. The Oxford 13 points in 1994 are effectively the ‘win’ record, as all the individual matches were wins, whereas Cambridge won twelve matches in 1977, the other point coming from two halves.

Widest margin of victory (individual):
Big winning margins are inevitable with 36 hole matches. In the ‘Holes Up’ era, there was a 15 hole Cambridge win in 1905, and in the ‘Match’ era there was 15&14 Oxford win in 1992.

Longest match:
In 1927, Cambridge’s G.H. Grimwade beat R.H. Oppenheimer at the 41st at Hoylake, prompting the change which limited all matches to 36 holes.

Shortest match:
In 1992 at Deal, Oxford’s R.A. Sanders beat A.R. Powell 15&14, ie 22 holes.

Most frequently played venues:
Since 1896, the choice of venue has alternated between the two Clubs.
A total of 22 courses have played host to the match, with Wimbledon Common used as the venue for the first 15 Matches from 1878-93, and once again in 1896, but not since. The most played venues are:
Rye – 23 times
Royal St George’s – 22 times
Wimbledon Common – 16 times
Royal Liverpool – 14
Formby – 8
Prince’s – 5
Royal Lytham & St Annes – 5
Royal Porthcawl – 6
Ganton – 4
Hunstanton – 5
Sunningdale – 4
Burnham & Berrow – 3
Royal Cinque Ports – 3
Muirfield – 3
Aldeburgh – 2
Nine other courses have hosted the Match once: Royal Birkdale, Royal St David’s, Royal West Norfolk, Saunton, Walton Heath, Westward Ho!, Woodhall Spa, Woking, Royal Dornoch.

The ‘Dinner Match’:
On the day before the main two-day Match begins, the two reserves for each team traditionally play one 18 hole foursomes and two 18 hole singles games, with the losing side footing the bill for the sizeable dinner at the conclusion of the Match.