This course is probably the oldest covered in this entire web site. The Links are from an ancient time and the information on the following match has been recovered from an authentic source, The Elphinstone Family Archives. The details of the match are also probably the best in descrptive terms of early golf in Orkney.
Orkney Herald May 20th 1908
Golf Two Hundred Years Ago
From Mr Hossack’s interesting volume ( P.125 ) we learn that golf was played in Orkney at least as early as 1685. “ The bal’lea,” he says, “ seems at that time to be the home green of the Kirkwall players. But for a week’s outing they resorted to Sanday and had their foursomes over the Plain Of Fidge.”
At the present day when golf claims so many devotees the following account of “ ane ffrendlye mattsch of nyne hollis” which was “ playit” over two hundred years ago in Sanday, cannot fail to be of interest to some of out readers.
We have modernised the spelling, but otherwise the account is exactly as it is set down in a M.S. lately discovered in the charter chest of the Elphingstones.
A friendly match of nine holes was played the other day on the links of Munkermy between Mr P.S. Tees representing Kirkwall, and Mr Swan Johnson for Sanday. The visitor, who arrived on the day of the match, had had rather a rough crossing, and was undoubtedly a little of his game. At the first hole Mr Johnson unfortunately topping his ball from the tee, gained only four feet. It was an inauspicious opening, but Mr Tees failed to take advantage, for, determining to avoid his opponents mistake, he found earth six inches behind the ball and lay a yard away. Both players recovered well, and with their second, made at least twenty yards. The third and fourth were good long shots for each, and with the fifth, both managed to clear the bunker. The even nature of the play may be judged by the fact that the ninth saw both on the green. Here the Sandayman had the advantage, for, it must be confessed, the greens at Munkermy are not ideal and take some knowing. Mr Tees, evidently imagining he was on a billiard table, did not get up with his putt. Mr Johnson, however, overran the hole, and Mr Tees, after playing the odd, needed only a yard to get down. Mr Johnson, equalising, was only a foot off, but missing his putt went down in 13, the visitor requiring two more.
At the second, Mr Johnson, slicing badly, drove into the basin, while his opponent had a long straight shot of over 30 yards. The local man took four to get out, while Mr Tees, getting into a rabbit hole with his second, had to lift out and count. Taking too much earth again with his next shot, he was unfortunate enough to break his iron, but the ball travelled well.
Steady play followed on both sides till the green was reached in 9 all. Mr Johnson’s local knowledge stood him in good stead again, and he was down in 15. The visitor taking 2 more.
Sanday 2 Kirkwall 0.
At the third, a pull from the tee brought Mr Johnson under the fence, and he needed four more to reach the open again. Mr Tees, playing brilliant golf, crossed the ditch with his fourth. By good work with the cleek, he was within putting distance with 13, while Sanday with 14 lay beyond the green. Profiting by past experience, Mr Tees began to put more into his putts, and got down in 16, his opponent taking 2 more. Kirkwall 1 down.
The fourth hole was got by both in 13 after faultless golf, not, however, before Mr Tees had broken his mashie in a bunker.
At the fifth, Mr Tees getting under the ball, struck a cow 20 yards behind the tee and lay in a cart rut. He needed 4 to get out, and Mr Johnson meantime was half-way to the hole with 7. Two brilliant brassie shots in succession brought Kirkwall alongside with the like, the brassy, however, succumbing at the last shot. The players were evidently now settling down to their work for they were both within 2 yards of the flag with 15. The strain, however, was beginning to tell on the Sanday player, for his 18th lay on the lip, his opponent being down in 1 less. ( All square. )
Mr Tees was trapped from the next tee shot and ran down a rabbit hole 2 yards away, losing his ball and his hole, and ( it is to be feared ) his temper.
Sanday 1 up.
The seventh hole was a bad one for both players. Mr Tees, still inclining to strike too low, sent the head of his driver 20 yards away, while his ball rolled into a cup 18 inches from the tee. Mr Johnson, failing to touch the ball with his first, was bunkered to the left with at his second effort. Recovering splendidly with his fifth, he found he had to play No. 6 out of the ditch while his opponent was across in 7.
By sound play, however, Sanday got out of the ditch with his 13th, and after two beautiful cleek shots needed only a decent approach to be as good as his opponent, who had foozled three shots running.
This approach, however, he failed to get, and his opponent running down a long putt of 15 inches had the hole in 17. ( Level pegs )
Mr Tees was handicapped by having only a cleek and a putter to play with. With the former, however, he got off a good long shot from the tee. Mr Johnson pulling his drive, struck his opponent on the leg and almost crippled him for the rest of the game. His second was out of bounds and lost the distance. His third was equally misfortunate, for he got caught by the wind and landed in the ruts. Three shots were lost here, but by putting his whole body into it he got out with his 7th, and landed within easy approaching distance with his 10th. Kirkwall meantime, with a succession of good lies reached the green in 10. The game was now getting exciting.
Carefully measuring his distance and getting a beautiful loft with the mashie, Mr Johnson struck the pin, and the ball gracefully settled down into the hole.
This was hard lines for Mr Tees, who, failing to hole out could not now win the game. ( Dormy )
Mr Johnson at the home hole was now “ fairly on,” and had a beautiful drive of 40 feet ; while the visitor using his cleek, toed his ball and landed over the fence. Four more shots took both to the ditch. Here Mr Johnson was unfortunate enough to top the ball and rolled in, while his opponent using his putter cleared in great style. Eleven were sufficient for Mr Johnson to reach open country again, and by dogged perseverance he lay hole high with 19, but far to the right. The Kirkwall player had some trouble now in finding his ball.
It was eventually discovered lying close to a fencing post. Slightly miscalculating his distance, Mr Tees unluckily struck the post and broke his cleek. He got the ball well off, however, and by sterling play with his only remaining club, the putter, lay at the edge of the green with 18. Mr Johnson’s 20th seemed at first to be shaping well, but proved too speedy and overshot the mark by 10 yards, while his next 2 were still short. Mr Tees putting with deadly accuracy was only 4ft off with his 23rd, while Mr Johnson with the like stymied him badly. Nothing daunted, however, the visitor playing strongly in the dead line, drove his opponent’s ball 3 yards away, and with a beautiful follow through, won the hole and squared the match. Throwing down the putter and executing a war dance in honour of the saving shot, he incautiously jumped upon the unoffending club which broke at the middle of the shaft.
It is expected a return match will soon be played.