Strong winds and driving rain are probably the worst conditions for playing golf in. Despite this the game has been played in Caithness and the north Sutherland coast for more than 100 years. Within Caithness golf was played at Lybster, Wick, John O’Groats, Dunnet, Thurso and Reay. Outside the county reference has been made of golf being played at Melvich and Bettyhill. Also within each district there appears to have been smaller areas of play with possibly only a few holes. Within the Thurso area records show that Dunnet was the main course while smaller courses were at Brims, Gallow Hill/Wolfburn and at the riverside. It is obvious that a relatively large number of people played golf in those earily days in and around Thurso. It is easy to understand therefore why some organisation was needed and there was a desire to form a golf club.
Dunnet Bay Golf Club .
The Dunnet Links had been used for golf well before the newly-formed Thurso Golf Club started to use the links in June 1893. However, it was felt from the outset that Dunnet was too far from Thurso and that a course nearer the town should be sought. One was opened at Pennyland in August 1893 and the club played at both venues, although Dunnet was still the main course. While a new course was opened in 1906 in Thurso, the club retained the rights to play over Dunnet links. In 1921 Dunnet Bay Golf Club was formed to take over the links, although Thurso retained he right to play competitive matches there provided sufficient notice was given.(Thurso GC 1893-1993)
James F Wilson was the hotel-keeper at the Golf Links Hotel and was responsible for the course being laid out by James Braid. As the family took the hotel at the end of 1932, the course must have been laid out in the mid-thirties. The course was strictly a hotel amenity for guests but locals could get permission to play. James Braid was anxious to extend the course to make it a full 18 hole championship course but the 1939 War hit that possibility on the head and even more sadly the course reverted to grazing ground when nobody was able to tend to it properly. By 1940, the hotel was requisitioned to be the Officers Mess for RAF Thurdistoft, a nearby airbase. After the war the hotel was renamed "Northern Sands Hotel."
I understand that many golf enthusiasts drove a few practice strokes on Dunnet Links prior to the course being laid out by James Braid and my wife remembers people driving balls across the road from the links to Marymas Green in front of Maori Ha'."(Source: Mr Wilson's son in law, resident of Dunnet)
From the inception of the club, it was felt that the Dunnet links were rather far from Thurso. Suggestions were being made as early as July 1893 that a course closer to Thurso should be sought. An area at Brimms was looked at and nearer to Thurso the area around Gallow Hill, Howeburn and Wolfburn. By the end of July 1893 permission was granted by Mr George MacDonald of Pennyland to the golf club to lay out a course in this area.
The laying out of a course in those early days was obviously much easier than at present as the first competition, for the Somerville Cup, took place on the 2nd September 1893 over the new course. Twenty members took part and a Dr Asher and a Mr Donald Mackay tied for the first place on 110 while Dr Durran was next on 113 net.
Over the next few years competitive golf was played over both the Dunnet links and the course at Pennyland. The latter course was known by various names during the years of its used, sometimes being called the Wolfburn, the Howeburn, or the Gallows Hill course.
At some time prior to 1900 the course in the Pennyland area was given up and negotiations started to acquire the land at Holburn Head for a course. During 1900 a course at Holburn Head was set out and golf was played there until 1903. Dunnet, however, was still the main course.