Forgotten Greens of Scotland
Forgotten Greens of Scotland

Now this is the proper way to get to the golf.

John O' Groats 1, and 2.

John O’Groats Journal August 31st 1887



A party of golfers enjoyed a game on the links of Duncansby on Monday, and a week ago another party of gentlemen met on the hill of Noss for the same purpose. The ground was found most suitable at both places for the game.

Northern Ensign August 31st 1887


First Golf At John O’Groats


A party of golf players, comprising of gentlemen from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London, along with a contingent from our local club, proceeded to John O’Groats on Monday last and introduced the Ancient & Royal game on the shores of the Pentland Firth. The course, which lies East of the hotel, and at no great distance from it, is superior to that of either Reiss or Dunnet. Some of the company who could speak with authority on the subject, had no hesitation in stating that it was equal if not better than those of St Andrews, and Musselburgh. The fame of John O’Groats House ever attracts tourists to visit the historic spot, while the beauty of it’s sea beach on the one side, no less than the grandeur of the stacks of Duncansbay on the other, are depicted by them in glowing terms on the pages of the visitors book at the comfortable hotel. Now there has opened up an additional attraction, which we trust will make John O’Groats the St Andrews of the near future.

This was taken from the East of the hotel, almost the location of the courses

John O’Groats Golf Club members at Wick


John O’ Groats Journal, June 10th 1890.

Golf Match.


A party of golfers to the number of fifteen drove down from John O’ Groats where they had enjoyed a fair day’s sport. After going round the course three times, the party sat down to an excellent dinner in the Royal Hotel. Mr A.W. Henderson occupied the chair,while Mr W. Paterson Smith acted as croupier. Late in the evening the golfers returned to town highly satisfied with their annual holiday.


 A 9 hole course owned by, and adjacent to the Hotel.  George T MacKenzie, a teacher in John O' Groats, was responsible for laying  out the course.  In 1898 the hotel was sold and the course fell into disuse. It was resuscitated by Mr Mackenzie in 1901.  50 golfers from around the county gathered for the  re-opening in September 1902 by Master Mervyn Sinclair, son of the Freswick Laird, Captain Sinclair.  The course ran almost from the front door of the hotel and stretched for 2815 yards along the links, with a par of 40.(Source: "Lest we Forget - The Parish of Canisbay")

John O' Groats Golf Links.


 First mentioned 1891. “It has been the custom of the Wick golfers for a number of years to spend the annual holiday at John o’Groats. There are at John o’Groats splendid golf links that compare favourably with those of Musselburgh or even St Andrews. There are plenty of hazards, while the putting greens are smooth and even, and last, but not least of the attractions, there is the John ‘Groats Hotel. The course is rather shorter than the ordinary one, and so admitted three full rounds being played before the dinner-adjournment..” (JOGJ 9.6.1891)

John O’ Groat Journal April 12th 1892.

John O’ Groat Golf Club.


A special meeting of the members of this club was held in the evening of Wednesday last in Nicol’s Station Hotel. A.W. Henderson, esq. Of Bilbster, presiding.

The Secretary ( Captain J.H. Henderson, Rosebank ) intimated the terms upon which Mr Sinclair, the tenant of Reiss Links, was willing to allow the members of the club to play any day of the week the whole year through, instead of once a month as at present, which terms were cordially approved of and agreed to. Other business having been disposed of, the President ( A.W. Henderson Esq ) presented the club with a very handsome trophy in the form of a large silver mounted horn on a silver pedestal and bearing the insciption ; “ John O’ Groat Golf Club.- Presented by A.W. Henderson, Captain, 1892.” The President, having made the presentation, Mr Nicholson, Teacher, replied on behalf of the members, and thanked Mr Henderson for his handsome gift to the club. The trophy has to be won three times in succession to become the property of the winner.


John O' Groats Journal September 26th, 1902


John O’ Groats has added a new interest to its visitors in the institution of a golf course. The hotel, for many years under private management, has now been placed under estate control, and Captain Sinclair’s factor is taking energetic measures to utilise the splendid links adjoining the establishment. Under the direction of he local hon, secretary of the John O’ Groats Golf club, rapid progress was made in repairing the greens, and in the removal of superfluous obstacles to a proper enjoyment of the game; and after a few month’s work very little is left, so as to satisfy the requirements of the most ardent golfer. The course is one of nine holes which, however, can very easily be extended to eighteen should it be desirable. It begins almost at the hotel door, and the round embraces the distance of 2815 yards from start to finish. The names and lengths of the holes, with their par play are: 1st Hole “Waster Jubigil” 205 yards, 4 strokes; 2nd Hole “Jubigil” 240 yards, 4 strokes; 3rd Hole “The Burn” 248 yards” 4 strokes; 4th Hole “The Crook” 335 yards, 5 strokes; 5th Hole “Far Hole” 254 yards, 4 strokes; 6th Hole “The Brae” 325 yards, 5 strokes; 7th Hole “The Dale” 340 yards, 5 strokes; 8th “The Gate” 262 yards, 4 strokes; 9th Hole “Home” 290 yards, 5 strokes. Total 2499 yards, 40 strokes. The main feature of play must be a air accuracy of line, as the course is bounded on the north by a sandy beach, from which good recovery is by no means easy, owing to the height of the braes, and a pulled ball on the return lands out of bounds in the crofters; cornfields. The hazards, consisting mainly of sand bunkers and a burn, are well utilised to guard the approaches to the greens, but the pitches on are by no means too difficult when the line is kept. The greens are on the small side, but will gradually be extended at each successive mowing and rolling to the standard size.

Wow, what a statement !


The John O' Groats Hotel was built in 1875 and "The Ha" and the rough grazing along the shore almost to "The Stacks" belonged to the hotel.  "Baillie Rae of Wick referred to the hotel visitors book when he told that a party of experienced golfers from London, Edinburgh and Glasgow had been the first to introduce the game of golf to the shores of the Pentland Firth in 1887.  These gentlemen gave their united testimony to the superiority of the course at John O' Groats to those of St Andrews and Musselburgh."(Source: John O'Groats Journal - files)

John O’ Groat Journal Friday June 9th 1893.

Golf at John O’ Groats


The Wick golf club had a great day of it at John O’ Groats on the Holiday when they went their annual excursion to that famed spot. Upwards of twenty mustered for play, being the largest number they have yet had. The day was brilliant and in driving to John O’ Groats the party took the new road by the Wart Hill which shortens the distance from Wick to John O’ Groats to about 16 ½ miles. After arrival, sport was immediately commenced and actively carried on until about 3 in the afternoon when the members of the club congregated in the John ‘O Groats Hotel and enjoyed their annual festive dinner with great hilarity. After dinner the company proceeded to the Sward at some distance in front of the Hotel and had a capital game of cricket. After this they adjourned for tea and spent the rest of the evening in a very pleasant way indeed. It was not before midnight that the party arrived home after an excellent outing. We were glad to notice as one of the happiest of the company, Mr Gilchrist, formerly agent for the Commercial Bank, Wick, who is here on a short visit.


John O’ Groat Journal June 8th 1894       

Golf and Cricket at John O’ Groats.


As usual, the members of the Wick Golf Club had a jolly day at John O’ Groats, where golf and cricket were energetically indulged in. The party drove to John O’ Groats in three machines hired from Mr James Nicol Jnr, and the day being so fine made the excursion a particularly enjoyable one. Sport was at once commenced on arrival. From contributions by the players a prize-fund was made up and the following are the prize -winners in


The Golf Competition :-


D. Nicolson         ……………………………….. 95 Less 24 – 71

D.W. Georgeson  ………………………………. 81 Less  9 –  72

Geo. Sinclair …………………………………… 90   ‘’    18 – 72

J.H. Henderson ………………………………… 79    ‘’    6 –  73

Chas. Fletcher ………………………………….. 74 Scratch -  74

A.K. Miler ……………………………………… 80 Less  6 –  74


A cricket Match followed the golf and an excellent dinner and tea was partaken of at the Hotel.

Northern Chronicle September 24th 1902.

Golf at John O’ Groats.


New Golf Course


John O’ Groat’s, famed both from it’s geographical position and it’s legendary story, has now for visitors an additional attraction in a new golf course, opened on Saturday.

On a stretch of close turf overlooking the pentland firth, with it’s swiftly running tide and it’s beautiful beach of white shells, the proprietor, Captain E.S. Alexander-Sinclair, R.N., has had an excellent course of nine holes laid out, which was opened on Saturday with a competition in which all the Caithness club’s took part. Master Mervern Alexander-Sinclair, the youthful heir, duly opened the course by playing the first ball off the tee. A keenly contested game, in which over 60 golfers entered, was then played, the first prize falling to the youngest member of the Reay club, Mr Tom Morrison, who went the double round of the course in102. The players were agreed that, given a little time for the greens to improve by being played upon, the course will be a fine one, and one that will afford scope and hazard for the best players.

The golf course at John O'Groats was used often as a runway in the 1930s.

John O’ Groats Journal September 26th, 1902


John O’ Groats House


Opening Of New Golf Course.


 Far famed and historic John O’Groats was on Saturday last the lively and attractive scene of a new chapter in its annals. This British Mecca has now added a new charm and interest to its pilgrims in the institution of a golf course which promises to take high rank in nine-hole greens. The golfing enthusiast has here ample scope to prove bis mettle, and to wreathe bis brow with the laurel of well-deserved success. For this is no field for the carpet knight in the royal game: it is one of the problems of the game, as was so sadly proved to many an aspiring champion of the county on this eventful day. The hotel, for many years under private management, has now been placed under estate control, and Capt, Sinclair's factor is taking energetic measures to ensure that the patrons of the house will have all the comfort and pleasure during their stay, which the natural surroundings of the place so well afford. Naturally, in the first place, was the utilisation of the splendid links adjoining the establishment. Under the direction of the local hon. secretary of the John O’Groats golf club, rapid progress was made in repairing the greens, and in removing superfluous obstacles to a proper enjoyment the game; and after few month’s work very little is left, to satisfy the requirements the most ardent golfer. The course as has been remarked, is one of nine holes, which, however, can very easily be extended to eighteen should it be desirable. It begins almost at the hotel door, and the round embraces the distance of 2815 yards from start to finish. The following list shows the names and lengths of the various holes, with their par play :-


Ist hole, “Waster Jubilgil,” 205 yds., 4 strokes

2nd hole, “ Jubigil,”      240 yds, 4 strokes.

3rd hole, “ The burn,”  248 yds, 4 strokes.

4th hole, “ The Crook,” 335 yds, 5 strokes.

5th hole, “ Far hole,”    254 yds, 4 strokes.

6th hole, “ The brae,”   325 yds, 5 strokes.

7th hole, “ The dale,”   340 yds, 5 strokes.

8th hole, “The gate,”    262 yds, 4 strokes.

9th hole, “ Home,”       290 yds, 5 strokes.

                         Totals 2499 yds   40


The main feature of the play which wins on this course must be a fair accuracy of line, the course is bounded on the north by sandy beach, from which good recovery is by no means easy, owing to the height of the braes, and a pulled ball on the return lands out of bounds in the crofters’ corn fields. The hazards, consisting mainly of sand bunkers and a burn, are well utilised to guard the approaches to the greens, but the pitches on are in no case too difficult when the line is kept. The greens are on the small side, but will be gradually extended at each successive mowing and rolling to the standard size. In order that golfers in the county might have an opportunity of judging the merits of the course, invitations were issued by Captain Sinclair through Mr Mackay, his factor, offering to entertain the members of the Wick, Thurso, and Reay golf clubs to luncheon and tea on Saturday last. It was arranged that the course would also be formally opened on that day. In response to the invitation over fifty golfers attended, thus making probably the largest gathering of golfers ever met in the county. The weather was all that could be desired. The Wick contingent arrived at noon, and the Thurso and Reay conveyances followed. A trial round was first made the players. Luncheon was served in the hotel at half-past one o’clock, and the large party were most sumptuously provided for by Miss Watson, manager of the hotel. Mr Donald Mackay, factor, acted as chairman, and Baillie Rae, Wick, and Dr Durran, Thurso, were the croupiers. At the conclusion of lunch several toasts were proposed. Speeches were brief as the golfers were eager to be out on the green links. D. Mackay proposed, “ The King,” and other loyal toasts, which were heartily responded to. Bailie Rae proposed “ Success to the John O’Groat Golf course,” and doing so said that if they would refer to the visitors book at this hotel they would find that in the year of 1887 party of  gentlemen from Edinburgh, Glasgow and London Were the first to introduce the game golf on the shores of the Pentland Firth. They were keen enthusiasts and had played over many well-known courses in this country. These gentlemen gave their united testimony to the superiority of the course at John O'Groats to those of St Andrews and Musselburgh. He (Ballie Rae) had never been to St Andrews, but he was ready to accept this assertion as being correct. Their statement bad been published in the newspapers at the time and it had never been called in question. ( Laughter) That was fifteen years ago and the virgin turf had been undisturbed. The older it is, the better it is.  Indeed it is like a certain kind of liquor which may probably not be unknown to some of them there —it improves with age. Had some of these pioneers of golf In that district been with them that day they would be doubtless, as they all were, in raptures with the excellent turf. The more the course is played over, the putting greens come into better condition. He asked them to drink success to the John O'Groats course. The toast was received with much applause. Mr A.S. Masson, Reay, proposed the toast of “Golf,” and referred to the course which he described, as an admirable one and that the holes were very well guarded by bunkers. On the present occasion they had greater difficulties to get over in the arrangement the handicaps in competitions. Dr Durran, Thurso, proposed the toast of “ The proprieter of the John O’ Groats course,” They all knew he was an enthusisatic golfer. The Thurso golfers look up to him as one of their vice-presidents. ( Applause )  He thought this was a course with great deal of possibilities in it.  They were all agreed on the good qualities of Captain Sinclair of Freswick. He would ask them to drink to him as a popular landlord, as the popular commander of the torpedo flotilla in the Mediterranean, as the vice-president of the Thurso Golf Club and as the proprietor of a golf course in Caithness. Ha coupled the toast with the name of Mr Donald Mackay. The toast was enthusiastically honoured. Mr Mackay thanked the company very heartily for the manner in which they had responded to this toast. It was a matter of great regret to Captain Sinclair that he was not there that day and able to take part in the days proceedings. Captain Sinclair was a keen golfer Himself, it was of course, due to his interest and investigation that the course now to be opened was formed. He had specially to thank the proposer of the toast for the kind things he had said, but he believed that these were in no way undeserved. It was of course not for him, placed as he was, to speak in eulogistic terms of the laird of Freswick, but would venture to say that he would always count it a privilege that he had been brought in touch with constituent who was so considerate, fair-minded, and truly straight in all his dealings. (Applause.) No more time would be taken up with speechifying. If any member present felt themselves aggrieved on that account he would remind them that Immediately each would have an opportunity of addressing the ball, and no doubt the bunkers would also provide an outlet for language. (Laughter.) He would also ask them to give a vote of thanks to Mr Makenzie, teacher, John O’ Groats, who had given invaluable assistance in making the course.

The following members of the Thurso club were present — Dr Durran, Dr Maclennan, Messrs W. Smith, J. Smith, W. Campbell, D. Dunnet, A. Mackidd, R. Bruce, W. Brims, J. Hay, W. Jack, W. Baikie, J. Mackay, D. Mackay, B. Mackay, B. Macdonald, D. Keith Murray, W. Cunnison, R. Cunnison, D. Dunbar, O. Murray, B. Lindsay, T. Gillieson, J. Robertson, W. Torrance, J. Purvis, J. Stalker, B. Stalker, also a number of local golfers.

Reay—Mr T. F. Morrison, Mr F. L. Cook. Mr Frank Cook, Mr A.S. Manson, Mr G. H. McLeod, Mr D. M’Leod, Mr R. McPherson, Mr Wm. M’Leod.  

Wick—Bailie Rae, Chief Constable Sinclair, Mr James Campbell, Mr R. Robertson, Mr A. Gordon, Mr C. Fletcher, Mr D. Cormack, Dr Dick, Dr W. Gunn, Mr A. K. Miller, Mr A. Jamieson, South Africa.

The course was then formally opened by Master Mervyn Sinclair, who drove off a “ Silvertown,” thus adhering to the old traditions.

Cheers were then called for Master Mervyn by Mr Gordon, Wick, who hoped that Master Mervyn’s interest in golf and his success therein, thus inaugurated, would increase with his years.

Mr McKenzie then called for cheers for Mrs Sinclair of Freswick, who had been so kind as make a special visit to John O'Groats to grace the assembled company with her presence. Both calls were enthusiastically answered. The players ware then sent off In couples under the direction of the secretaries of the different clubs, who had already arranged a mutual standard of handicapping, and in splendid weather play was continued till shortly after sunset. As each couple finished they proceeded to the hotel and partook of a refreshing cup of tea with the usual accessories.

It is understood that Captain Sinclair of Freswick, is likely to Captain the John O'Groats Club, which, during the day, considerably increased its membership. The entrance fee is remarkably moderate, and we have every reason to expect that in a year or two it will be able to give a good account of itself in county golf. Among those present at the opening were —Mrs Sinclair of Freswick, Master Mervyn Sinclair and Miss Stroma Sinclair, Mrs Mansfeldt Finlay (sister of Captain Sinclair) and family. Two dozen balls provided by Captain Sinclair as prises were played for.

The following are some of the best snores:—

T. Morrison. Reay ._ 102+ I = 103

J. Baikie, Reay            116 – 22 = 94

A. McKidd, Thurso     108 – 13 = 95

W. Brimms, Thurso   114 – 19 = 93


The prizes were divided amongst the first five individual scorers. The first prize was a dozen balls, and it went to Mr Morrison, the second, 6 balls, to Mr Baikie, and two each to Messrs M’Kidd, Brims and Mackay. The spade guinea has yet to be played for..

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