Forgotten Greens of Scotland
Forgotten Greens of Scotland

  Above. A nice wee Opening At Corriecravie




        The dates of the formation, or of the first mention, of clubs which merit highlighting. The earliest club was the Bow of Fife Golfing Club. Until now, this had only been known by name because it is mentioned on the “Pitcairn Bowl”, an early Spode Bowl awarded as a trophy in 1814, and which came to prominence in 1994 when it fetched £16,100 at auction. The earliest mention I have found was in 1813, and I know that it was still going in 1824. Close behind this came Tweedside Golfing Society, founded in 1820, but it was not only its age which surprised me, but more its location, as it held its meetings on a course beside the River Tweed in Kelso. Prior to this, all the major golfing centres were on links land, round the coast. To find an inland course in the Borders, far from the traditional golfing country was indeed remarkable.  Another unusual one was the Leith Albyn Golf Club, which in 1825 was described as a “juvenile institution.” Apart from a few records of meetings, nothing more about the club has been found so i cannot be sure exactly what a juvenile institution was. Next was the Earlsferry Abbey Golfing Society, formed in 1830 and the likely antecedent of the Elie and Earlsferry Golf Club, formed in 1832. Then comes perhaps the most interesting of all, the Hercules Club in Fife. Formed in 1837, but more likely earlier, it was a multi-activity club which included a prominent golf section. Originally a “gymnastic club”, it held athletic meetings which included both track and field events and shooting competitions which attracted large numbers of spectator. It also held twice-yearly golfing meetings at Dunbarnie Links for two silver medals - in time this changed to thrice-yearly meetings, two at Dunbarnie and the third at Earlsferry. Several of the members were also members of the R & A and the club remained active until at least 1870, and it is thought that many of its golfing members joined the Golf House Club at Elie when it was formed.  The Delvine House Golf Society was founded in 1842 by its owner, Sir John Muir Mackenzie, and met at first annually, then biannually, to compete for the medal presented by Sir John. The day finished with a sumptuous dinner in Delvine House, and since the majority of its members were members of the Royal Perth Golfing Society, it might well be that this was as much a social club as a golfing one, albeit the competition was keenly contested. Another unusual club was the Caledonian Union Golf Club, established in 1848 to enable the best amateur golfers of Carnoustie, Montrose, Perth and St Andrews to compete regularly on the club’s course at Carnoustie. The activities were facilitated by the good railway and ferry connections linking the four centres, but after the early enthusiasm, attendances began to fall, and there was talk of winding up the club in 1879, but it was agreed to carry on. However, the Tay Bridge disaster later in the year could well have been the final straw, as there are no further references to it after then I am not sure why the Thorntree Golf Club at Prestonpans does not appear in any of the lists of oldest clubs, as it was established in 1856, appears in The Golf Book of East Lothian, and although it lost its course in 1904, it continued in being, playing firstly over Port Seton and Cockenzie, and today, over Royal Musselburgh. My final club is a “sleeper” in that the official history of the Leslie Golf Club states that the first reference to golf in the town was in 1897. I have  extracts from 1864 and 1865 on the formation and activities of an earlier Leslie Golf Club. I have passed these to the club for their information, but recieved no response.



        The explosion in the number of new clubs in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, has been long recognised, the popularity of the game itself being given as the main reason for this. But another powerful driving force, rarely mentioned, was tourism. In reading the reports concerning the wish to form a club, time and time again one of the justifications quoted by the civic leaders was the financial benefits a club would bring to the community or area by attracting visitors. And to attract these visitors suitable facilities had to be available to keep them amused, eg “The feuars of Denholm did a wise thing on Monday evening when they resolved to give financial support to the village golf club. The Denholm people have long been anxious to draw summer visitors to their place, and there are few districts of a more attractive or historic character, and nowadays one of the best attractions is a good golf course” (Hawick News 2.4.1909) In the late 19th century rural Scotland, away from the central industrial belt, the only revenue–raising activity, apart from agriculture, came from visitors with their spending power in the communities. Having laid out their course, several local councils, to further attract custom, sponsored tournaments specifically for visitors, as did those at Carnoustie, Crail, Grantown on Spey and Newtonmore. But finance was not the exclusive reason. In small, isolated communities, the golf club often became the centre of social activities with regular bazaars, concerts, dances, and whist drives. Matches were arranged with neighbouring clubs, so strengthening local ties. But the benefits were not always so positive. “At a late meeting of the School Board at Campbeltown the Officer reported: I wish to draw your attention to the fact that a number of boys are playing truant for the purpose of attending the golf links  as caddies, and I would like if it was possible for the Board to take such steps as they may see fit to warn golfers not to employ boys of such age. “The Chairman stated that a woman came to him regarding her boy, who she said, was earning 1s 6d at carrying clubs, and she asked how much would likely be the fine if she would be called before the Board for the boy not attending school, He had informed the woman that the boy must be sent to school.  The Chairman then suggested to the Board that it should be indicated to the secretary of the Golf Club that they ought not to employ boys as caddies who were under the age of fourteen, or who had not passed the requisite standard.  The Rev. Mr MacQueen said that there was very serious injury being done by the boys being employed as caddies.  They were also under evil influences in many ways.  It was then unanimously agreed that the clerk should communicate with the Machrihanish Golf Club, in order that the practice of employing boys under fourteen years age, or who may not have passed the Fifth Standard, may be discontinued.” (Oban Times  6.1893)

        It was not only the civic leaders who recognised the opportunity a golf course could bring; in many instances, particularly in very remote and under-populated areas, it was hoteliers who led the way. In seeking to boost their own businesses, they were also serving the community because, in the majority of cases, having laid out the course it was then opened up for a local club to be formed. The number and geographical spread of courses attached to hotels, listed in Annex 3, illustrates this point vividly. But how were the visitors to get to these remote locations?

Influence Of The Railways


The influence of railways on the development of golf has long been recognised, usually on the major developments, Cruden Bay, Gleneagles, Turnberry, and the like. But we have two striking examples of their influence in much smaller and less well-known areas. We have already seen that hoteliers were keen to add a golf course to their attractions as a means of attracting more guests. But many were deep in the country, at a time when roads were generally narrow and of poor quality by today’s standards, so the railways became the prime means of access. One such spur to the opening of hotel-based courses was the old Callander and Oban Railway. Apart from the two termini, all the stations on this line served extremely sparsely populated countryside, but which was highly attractive to the tourist. Of the ten stations on the line, five had hotel-based courses, Lochearnhead, Killin, Crianlarich, Luib, Loch Awe and Dalmally, while Callander received support from the local Hydro, and only two, Balqhuidder and Tyndrum, did not have a course at all.

        Another striking example of the Railways’ part in popularising golf is shown on the Glasgow to Carlisle main line, but in this case it did not serve the tourist, but brought the much-needed relief of fresh-air and healthy living to workers in the heavy coal, iron and steel industries in upper Lanarkshire. Once past Wishaw, the line follows the valley of the River Clyde, with its hamlets at regular intervals. In the 1901 census Thankerton, Symington, Lamington, Roberton, Abington and Ctawford, no more than five or so miles apart, all had around the 300 population mark, yet all boasted golf courses, only made viable by the influx of workers and their families from the industrial conurbation twenty or so miles to the north; while the men golfed, the families picnicked and generally relaxed in pleasant countryside. These courses survived until the industry-based towns and villages to the north opened up their own clubs. Similarly, the Glasgow and South Western Railway was very prominent in advertising the numerous golf courses along its line, and their easy access from the crowded Glasgow conurbation, supporting its campaign with many and varied “bargain fares” for golfers and their families.

        At the opening of the Pannanich Hotel Course, near Ballater, around 40 friends of the owner travelled from Aberdeed by train for the event. Whether the course could have survived without this vital link is debatable.

        On the other hand, the loss of railway facilities finally forced the closure of a bold golfing initiative. The Caledonian Union  Golf Club. formed in 1848 to bring together the best amateur golfers in the four major golfing centres of St Andrews, Perth, Carnoustie and Montrose. Its activities were made possible by the railways, and ferries, linking the four towns. After a flourishing start, the club’s activities waned until it finally closed in 1879, when the Tay Railway Bridge disaster closed the line and cut off direct contact with the members from Fife.






Two other interesting areas of golfing expansion lay in the Hydropathic movement, and the development of mental health facilities in Scotland. The Hydropathic movement started in Scotland in 1840 and by 1914 there were 26 in operation. Initially opened as medical establishments, gradually fewer guests came as patients and more came as holidaymakers. Important though the medical, or cure, departments remained in some hydropathics, increasingly it was the recreational and leisure facilities that mattered to the majority of guests. Less than 10% of Peebles Hydro’s takings came from the cure department in 1908, even though it was to retain an active interest in this area. The resident physician gave way to one who visited on a daily basis, and eventually in the inter-war years a local doctor who came as required. More and more attention was paid to the provision of both indoor and outside activities: tennis courts, croquet, and golf courses became standard for hydropathics with any ambitions to retain their middle-class and professional clientele. Important as tennis was – as at Craiglockhart, Peebles and Pitlochry – golf was the sine qua non for a Scottish Hydro. Either special arrangements were made with the local course, as at Callander, or steps were taken to lease ground for a course, which could be shared with the locals off-season. The directors of Cluny Hill Hydropathic at Forres, for example, responding to pressure from their visitors, accepted that the purchase of a golf course would enhance their business. In 1903, therefore, they bought for just over £4000, ground already in use, then they upgraded the facilities, appointed a professional and arranged exhibition matches by such well-known players as Vardon and Braid. The results were impressive, and the directors congratulated themselves; “the Golf Course has been a decided success.” In 1911, the experienced professional Willie Park of Musselburgh was brought in to advise on the extension of the course to eighteen holes. The company at Crieff contributed £35 in 1893 to a new course at Culcrieff on the north side of the Knock, only ten minutes walk from the Hydro, on condition that visitors to the hydro got free use. Unfortunately the number of hydro players and their lack of competence led to a temporary falling-out between the local club and the hydro.”

        “One area where there was a slower degree of relaxation was over Sunday activities. Sabbath observance was strictly policed, something no doubt aided by the numbers of clergy among the guests. Several hydros offered special terms to ministers, who were in turn expected to conduct morning prayers, say grace at meals and lead Sunday worship. While week-long programs of entertainments were arranged, the most that was normally permitted for Sunday was a program of sacred music. Some, especially visitors from outside Scotland, chafed against the dullness of the Sabbath, and golfers were in the van of those pressing for a relaxation of the rules against Sunday play. And however much some of the Hydro managers may have sympathized, they had to be careful for fear of alienating a substantial and influential section of their visitors. A report in April 1896 that two gentlemen had had a Sunday game of golf on the Dunblane Hydro course produced an instant denial from the Directors that it had been done with either their permission or knowledge. As one local paper observed, “this golf course is in connection with one of these impeachable institutions known as Hydropathic establishments. They are patronised by the ‘unco guid’ of all denominations. Our readers can understand how absolutely necessary it is for the proprietor of these golf course to disclaim all complicity with these Sabbath breakers” [Bridge of Allan Reporter, April 25, 1896]. Not until the inter-war years did Sunday in Scotland begin to change, and even then not at any pace.”

        The onset of WW1 reduced the number of visitors, and ergo, the finances of the Hydro’s, from which they never wholly recovered. Craiglockhart and Shandon survived until WW2, when the former became a military hospital, and the longest lived was Pitlochry, which was closed in 1973.

        [1,2] Water is Best – The Hydros and Health Tourism in Scotland 1840-1940 – Dr A J Durie


      One of the surprising findings is the number of Hospitals, Mental Institutions and Asylums which had golf courses. Conventional thinking has been that these courses were intended for the staff, and only rarely for the patients. Yet the therapeutic value to a patient of a round of golf is easily recognised, and this was spelled out by the Commissioners in Lunacy Scotland annual report of 1878.

Thus, rather than purely banishing a patient to a “remote room”, the Commissioners continually advocated the use of the asylum estates for treatment, which, through careful planning and management, were believed to hold the ‘power’ to act as a crucial tool in the treatment of the insane. One method of achieving the desired affective atmosphere was through the laying out of the grounds in order to achieve a healthful, cheerful and, if not curative, then at least calming environment. This was done by planting trees and bushes, and laying out walkways and terraces, which had the dual result of providing outdoor employment for a number of patients (to supplement agricultural employment), as well as attaining an aesthetically pleasing appearance. Furthermore, asylums increasingly provided outdoor recreation in their grounds, which it was hoped would act as a deterrent from morbid thoughts, distracting and engaging the patients’ mind through mirroring the entertainment found in ‘ordinary’ life: Relatedly, the Commissioners widely believed that outdoor recreation and occupation would have a positive affect on the mental condition of a person, stating:

The experience of common life proves that when we are in a state of nervous irritation, fidgety, and out of sorts, comfort and calm are best restored by active exercise in the open air.

Given the large acreage required by a golf course, it is not surprising that the provision of tennis courts and cricket pitches appeared more quickly. Nevertheless, golf was to come. The Gartnavel Hospital (Glasgow Royal Lunatic Asylum), perhaps the largest such institution in Scotland at the time, led in following this doctrine, opening its golf course in 1893.. The course was used by Doctors, Nurses, Attendants and Patients, and, much more rare in those times, ladies in all categories were encouraged to play. Indeed, when the St Vincent Cup Competition was introduced in 1914, contested monthly on a handicap basis, ladies and gentlemen competed for the trophy, with at least one lady nurse winning one month. “Until summer time ended, golf was going strong. We are pleased to note the considerable number of ladies who are devotees. Even yet the golf course is rarely without some one engaged in beating the elusive rubber-core.” (GNG October 1923). Given that the medical community in Scotland then was not over large, it is very likely that Gartnavel spurred other establishments to encourage patients to play, so contributing to their mental and physical well-being. Indeed, we have found that 17 mental hospitals had their own golf course. The Centenary History of the Perth and District Asylum, Murthly, also includes a brief reference to golf as one of the inmates' chief summer recreational activities. However, in this case, the asylum did not have its own course but had arranged for the inmates to use the nearby Birnam Golf Club course. Gartnaval continued to use its course until at least 1924 “Even the keen golfer has had his ardour damped a good deal, but, of course, not suppressed. We do not yet expect the impossible. The advent of winter time has caused a certain amount of re-adjustment of the hours of play; there are no longer the evening games; but during the autumn there are usually periods when a bright period can be snatched and a healthful game indulged in.” (GNG October 1924)




        A smaller category, but nonetheless significant was that of courses attached to military installations. These fall into two types. First, those attached to major, permanent installations, such as the Glasgow 1st Lanark (RV), and Fort George, originally the depot for the Seaforth Highlanders. In the case of the former, in addition to providing recreation to the permanent staff and recruits, there was also a clear ulterior motive, namely maintaining the numbers of volunteers, viz:- “There can be no doubt that the formation of the golf club will add still more to the popularity of this favourite West End regiment, and may retain in its ranks at least some of those who had a thought of leaving them.”  At Fort George the sharing of the Ardesier course helped the financial stability of the club and thus cemented relations with the local community. 

        The second category covers those military units located in remote areas where recreational activities were considered important means of maintaining moral, These tended to appear during war-time when posts had to be continuously manned, and travel to local alternatives was not always easy. The course at Roan Head, Scapa Flow is striking example. With the Home Fleet based there during two World Wars, recreation was vital, and while the course laid out in 1915 was of limited length and confined to officers, in WW2 it was a full length course open to all ranks. The course attached to RAF Saxa Vord on the northern-most island of Unst in Shetland, existed in the 1960/70’s and was opened for recreational purposes.

        I have recorded two courses on airfields, one RAF and one RNAS, It is on record that the RAF was particularly keen on golf, creating courses on airfields to provide additional recreation for the station personnel, and had the large unused tracts of land surrounding the operational facilities on which to lay out courses. There were undoubtedly more such courses although, with the lack of existing records, it is unlikely that many will ever be recorded. One possible source lies in aerial photography, with the hope that features of old courses will show up.



        A most interesting grouping, particularly for the diminutive size of the “courses”, is of those attached to Lighthouses. Being located, generally, on rocky headlands with little available ground, the keepers nevertheless managed to lay down two or three holes which would help them while away their time on duty. The Isle of May, however, had enough ground to lay out a 9-hole course, and ran a championship from 1899 to 1924, when the light was automated. One can only wonder at their love of golf.



        There are only seven clubs in this category, but I believe that a number of the ‘general’ courses were actually work-related, although i have yet to confirm this. The Civil Service, the Post Office and Insurance and Banking all had clubs with their own course, and four mining sponsored clubs. It is here that i believe that more will emerge, particularly from Fife and Lanarkshire.



        The final grouping consists of the Private Courses. It could be argued that by their vary nature, apparently exclusive, they could be omitted. But this would belie the very significant part they played in spreading the game across the country, particularly, though not solely, in the more remote localities. These courses were established primarily for the benefit of the owners and their friends. However, many were also opened to estate workers and local residents. Often clubs were formed and were allowed the use of the private course for their activities. Further, many of the owners were ardent golfers who, when local villagers tried to form their own clubs and courses, supported and sponsored their activities, thus giving them a sounder financial base than might otherwise have been the case. There are many cases of local Lairds inviting neighbouring clubs to play on their course, even sponsoring competitions for more than one club. So over the piece, private clubs did much to bring the game to a wider audience. One surprise here is the number of private courses in Perth and Kinross – 15. – many of which were near to Perth itself, the earliest of which being the Delvine House Golf Society, formed in 1842, whose members were “the elite of the Royal Perth Golfing Society.” It is interesting that in 1930, the then-owner relaid a course in the grounds, inviting Societies from Perth to use the facilities.

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