Forgotten Greens of Scotland
Forgotten Greens of Scotland

The Sanday golfers at Backascaill Links 1895




The following was taken from a booklet written in 1908 and which was also included in the Orkney Golf Club's centenary booklet.


A 9 hole course at Geramont. “There was a nine hole course at Geramont and probably on the Backasaill Links as well in the 19th century, but when we played on the former course in 1905/06, it was in the process of going out of business. If it has not been ploughed up it should still offer a very suitable and sporting venue for a golf course. it is on record that the members of the Orkney Golf Club played a game with the Sanday players on an occasion when the weather became so bad that they could not return, and this caused a meeting of the Kirkwall Town Council to be cancelled.” Recently a course has been laid out at Rusness, but has not been supported to make it a success. 


Note : Although the above courses of Geramont and Rusness would appear to be factual, i have been unable to find any written evidence of either golf course, other than this booklet, therefore, have not included them in the left hand index to courses.



This course was located at a beautiful spot along the shore of Backaskaill Bay on Sanday Island.

Orkney Herald May 12th, 1897


Formation Of Golf Club


Sanday – Golf Club – A golf club was formed here on the 23rd ult., when the following officers were appointed :- Mr G.T. McKenzie, teacher, Capt.; Mr R. Jarvie, teacher, Hon Secy, ; Mr T. Sinclair, Kettletoft, Hon Treasurer.

A course was drawn out on the 30th ult., on the links of Backaskail, of nine holes. On Friday evening last another meeting was held, when a constitution was and bye-laws was drawn up, and committees formed. Additional members were added including a number of ladies. It is expected that the course will be opened by the latter end of June.

Orkney Herald June 23rd, 1897



Tuesday was observed as a general holiday. Owing to the strong breeze in the morning, the boats were unable to get forward to a regatta, and at 11 o’clock the regatta was declared off. The golf club had a friendly game, and a picnic at Backaskaill Links.

  Orkney Herald, July 7th, 1897



Opening Of Golf Course


On Wednesday last Sheriff Armour, Kirkwall, accompanied by Mr Middlemore, Westness, Rousay ; Mr Grant, Rosetank, Kirkwall ; and Mr Sutherland of Rothiesholm, visited Sanday for the purpose of opening the course of the recently formed Sanday Golf Club. The day was an ideal golfing day, and all the members, with one or two exceptions, turned out to witness the ceremony.

The Sheriff having been introduced to the club by the Captain ( Mr McKenzie ), said that he thanked the club for honour they had done him in asking him to open their golf course. It was a great pleasure to him to do so, and all the more as he had no idea that the club was in so flourishing a condition with regard to membership, particularly with regard to the number of its lady members. He thought that in this latter respect the Kirkwall club was very far behind, as it was only on very special occasions that the Kirkwall course was graced with the presence of ladies interested in the game.

The ceremony which he was about to perform could not be described as other than a revival of the Ancient and Royal game, as there was evidence to show that over two hundred years ago Sanday was the headquarters of golf in Orkney. At that time Kirkwall golfers who wished to enjoy a good game were in the habit of coming to Sanday to play, there being no decent links near their own doors. In conclusion, the Sheriff insisted strongly on the value of golf, which, when reasonably engaged in, tended not only to the physical but also to the social improvement of its devotees. The first ball, which had been ornamented  by Crichton, jeweller, Edinburgh, with a handsome silver ring bearing the following inscription – “ Sanday Golf Course, opened by Sheriff Armour, 30th June, 1897” – was teed by Miss Dennison, West Brough, and gracefully driven by the Sheriff, who thereupon formally declared the course open. After a hearty vote of thanks and the presentation of the ball as a souvenir of his visit to Sheriff Armour, a round of the links was begun, the Captain of the club leading off with the Sheriff, followed by the other visitors, versus a corresponding number of local players. The other members of the club engaged in a cleek match for two mashies, one for ladies, the other for gentlemen, which were won by Miss Morrison, Cross Manse, and Mr Geo. Muir, Hillhead. At the conclusion of the game the visitors were entertained by the club to a cake and wine banquet in Kettletoft Hotel. It is gratifying to add that the enthusiasm of the members of the club has been increased by the kindness of two Glasgow gentlemen, natives of the island, Mr Jas. T. Wilson and Mr Robert Dearness, who have each presented the club with a handsome monthly gold medal ; Mr Wilson’s medal being for the gentlemen and that of Mr Dearness for the ladies. – On Thursday morning two foursomes were engaged in between teams chosen by Sheriff Armour ( Captain of Kirkwall Club ) and Mr McKenzie ( Captain of the Sanday Club ), the result being as follows :- Mr McKenzie and Mr Surherland beat Sheriff Armour and Mr Middlemore by 4 holes, Rev. A. Morrison and Mr Jarvie beat Mr Grant and Mr Sinclair by 2 holes – being a total of 6 holes in favour of Mr McKenzie’s team.

This is the actual ball used in the opening of Sanday golf links in 1897. It is now the property of a colleague of mine in America called Edward Playfair who kindly granted me permission to use the images of the balls and also of Armour. 

Orcadian, May 28th, 1898

Golf Club


The Sanday golf club has entered on its second year with a membership of 11 ladies and 16 gentlemen. The office bearers for the current year are :- President, Lord Zetland ; Vice President, Sir Leonard Lyell, Bart, M.P.; Captain, Mr George T. Mackenzie ; hon treasurer, Mr Thomas Sinclair ; hon secretary, Mr Robert Jarvie.

Mr Robert C. Miller and Miss Burgher are the winners of the aggregate medals for the lowest score in six monthly matches played during last season. The best scores in the match played on the 14th May are as follows ;- Gentlemen – Mr G.T. Mackenzie ( Scratch ), 107 ; Mr R.C. Miller ( 113 less 6 ), 107. Ladies ( 9 Holes ) – Miss Burgher ( Scratch ), 87 ; Miss Mackenzie ( 108 less 18 ), 90 ; Miss Morrison ( Scratch 99 ). The 30th July has been fixed as the opening date of the tournament for the Silver Challenge Cup presented to the club by Lord Zetland. The cup has to be won three years, two of which must be in succession, before it can be retained absolutely.

Orkney Herald June 15th, 1898

Golf Club


The following were the lowest scores made in the monthly medal match on Saturday last :- R.C. Miller 103 less 6 = 97 ; G.T. Mackenzie, Scratch 103 ; G. Muir, 129 less 14 = 115 ; Dr A. Cameron, Scratch 116 ; Mis J.A.C. Burgher, Scratch 89 ; Miss K. Burgher, 99 less 10 = 89 ; Miss M.J. Sinclair, 107 less 18 = 89.

Orkney Herald June 29th, 1898

Golf Club


A special stroke handicap match for two prizes presented by Mr Thomas Sinclair, treasurer of the club, was played on Saturday 18th inst. The weather being somewhat unfavourable, only six competitors came forward. The prizes were won by Mr R.C. Miller ( Scratch ) 99, and Mr H. Maxwell, net score 106.

Orcadian, July 18th, 1898

Golf Club


The medals, at the monthly match played last Saturday, were won by Mr R.C. Miller and Miss J.A.C. Burgher. The following were the lowest scores made ;- Mr R.C. Miller ( 103 less 6 ),97 ; Mr G.T. Mackenzie ( Scratch ), 103 ; Miss J.A.C. Burger ( Scratch ) 89 ; Miss K.A. Burgher ( 99 less 10 ), 89 ; Miss M.J. Sinclair ( 107 less 18 ), 89.

Orkney Herald August 17th, 1898

Golf Club


The first annual tournament for the challenge cup presented by Lord Zetland, the President of the club, was concluded last week, Mr George T. McKenzie, the Captain, being the winner in the final round. In the ladies tournament, which was played at the same time, Miss Burgher took the first place, and thus won a handsome photographic album, the gift of Mr Thomas Sinclair, Kettletoft Hotel. The monthly medals were won on Saturday by Miss Burgher and Mr R. Jarvie.

The Orcadian September 17th, 1898



At the monthly match played last Saturday the medals were won by Mr R.C. Miller and  Miss C.A. Burgher.


Orkney Herald October 12th, 1898

Golf Club


The monthly medals were won on Saturday last by Miss Morrison and Mr G.T. Mackenzie.


Orkney Herald September 14th, 1898

Golf Club


The monthly match was played on Saturday in boisterous weather, which was against low scoring. The medals were won by Mr R.C. Miller ( Scratch ) 109, and Miss Katherine Burgher ( less 10 ), 75.


Orkney Herald July 24th, 1901



The final match for the Zetland cup was played off on Howe Links on Wednesday last, the last competitors being Messrs Ronald Slater and Wm. MacLennan, factor for the Marquis of Zetland. The match was keenly contested, and resulted in a win for Mr MacLennan by three holes up and one to play. The cup becomes the property of the party who wins it on three occasions, not necessarily in succession.

The Orcadian August 1st, 1903

( To the editor of the “ Orcadian” ),


Sanday Golf Club


Sir, Can you or any of your Sanday readers give me any information regarding the Sanday golf club. Being a golfer myself, and having an interest in the island, I have always watched the progress of their competitions for the Earl of Zetland’s cup, getting my information as to the result from your paper. Last year I saw no report whatever, and this season is advancing, and still there is no word of it. Has the secretary of the club or your Sanday correspondent omitted to send in the result ?, though why such should be the case I cannot imagine, as it has been faithfully reported since the institution, some five or six years ago ; and while it is not of the first importance, as far as the golfing section of the country is concerned, there are a few people interested, even as far away as Edinburgh. It is possible that the result may have been disappointing to some of the office bearers of the club, and consequently, not worth reporting from their point of view. If such is the case I should call it exceedingly unsportsmanlike. Aman, worthy of the name, should be able to take an honest beating froma better man, and own it. I will be much obliged if you will give this a little space, and let us have some light on the subject. I am etc.


Edinburgh 28/7/03


( Sportsman will observe we publish the result in another column. – Ed. “O.” )

The Orcadian August 1st, 1903



The Earl of Zetland’s cup, which was recently played for over the course of the Sanday golf club, has been won by Mr Ronald Slater, Scar. This is the second year in succession Mr Slater has won the cup.

Orkney Herald June 28th 1905



The golf club have removed their course to the links of Backaskaill, and a few of the members have been playing lately and are very pleased with the course. The turf is good and nature has supplied bunkers ( with the assistance of rabbits ) in endless variety. It is hoped a few more will avail themselves of the game now during the summer so that the competitions for the medals and challenge cup will be as enjoyable as in former years.

And you moaned about being two over par !


The following article has to be, in my opinion, one of the best descriptions of an early golf match with all the trials and tribulations trying to negotiate the almost impossible conditions of a typical golf course in the 1700s. This article was taken from the archives of the Elphinstone family who lived in Sanday at the time. The article also demonstrates the norm in taking large numbers to complete a hole and the frustrations experienced by the participants, however, these guys had never seen a fairway or a manicured green to putt on, they just simply got on with it, as they didn't know anything else. The other surprising aspect of the game is the long hitting, 30 yards or more !!!!, which should make our modern day high handicappers feel a lot better. The next time you, ( the present day members of a golf club ) have a go at your greenkeeper, then spare a thought for the poor buggers playing the game in a bygone age.


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.

Herald May 26th, 1909


Sanday Golf Club



A general meeting of the present and formal members of the above club will be held in the Central School, Sanday, on Wednesday 16th June, 1909 at 7pm, to decide whether the golf course will be wound up, and to do any other competent business. Members unable to attend can communicate with the Secretary.

                                                             James Baillie.     Hon Secy.

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