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Golspie Golf Club,
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Club History - Chapter 1


In common with many places where golf clubs are found, golf was played on the Golspie Links prior to the formation of Golspie Golf Club. The Club itself grew out of the Sutherland Golfing Society.

The Field magazine of the time carried regular reports of the Society's golfing events. The edition of October 1878 refers to a competition for a silver medal presented by Dr Gunn of the Indian Army and the prizes of the President, the Marquis of Stafford. Despite the unfavourable weather on September 21st of that year, 17 competitors took part and:

"A number of spectators, including lady members and their friends, turned out to witness the play, which was reckoned to be the best made at any of the Society's competitions."

Two rounds of the nine hole course resulted in Alex McHardy of Dornoch winning with a score of 104, one shot clear of G Lunan, Dornoch, with GM Scott of Golspie a further two shots adrift.

By May 1879, the Field was reporting on a match between the married members of the Society and their bachelor counterparts, with the married members prevailing by 15 holes. It would seem that marital status was not a mitigating circumstance at that time!

The issue of November 1879 carried intimation of the Society having held a meeting at Golspie that October.

So it was that in the Spring of 1889, the members of the Sutherland Golf Society who lived in Golspie decided to form the Golspie Golf Club.

Having then taken the initial step, the Club's Constitution was revised three years later.

By 1895, The Gofer's Guide for the United Kingdom was publishing its description of Golspie in the following terms:

"There is an excellent course of nine holes, and with a little time and care and money, will no doubt be made still more worthy of its charming Highland situation."

The Golfing Annual of 1894-95 carried more detail. The Club's 34 members paid an annual subscription of 2/6d, while the best score for the nine holes was the 40 returned by H Gunn in May 1894. Club prizes included the Duke of Sutherland's Silver Cup and the Club Gold Medal, both of which were played for in October.

By the end of the 1890's, the Northern Times had come into being. Indeed, its first edition on 1st June 1899 reported that Golspie's Annual Handicap Tournament for members of the Golspie, Brora and Dornoch Clubs had been won by Archibald Argo, who returned a net 83 off a handicap of 2.

During the course of its early editions, the NT established a pattern of carrying regular reports on Club activities. On October 5th 1899, it reported that Wm. Chisholm, with a net 87, had won the Duke of Sutherland Cup for the third time. Perhaps the report of three weeks later has some attraction in that Golspie won an eleven man team match with Brora by 31 holes. That Golspie team included players such as Archibald Argo, Charles Stage and John Stewart.

By virtue of the NT, it is possible to glean a picture of the cycle of Club activity in those early days.

The AGM was held in March and the season opened in late April/early May with a match between teams representing the Captain and the Vice-President. The latter-day version of this traditional opening is of course, the Captain v Secretary fixture. Around the turn of the Century, there was a monthly medal, the Duke of Sutherland Cup and an Annual Open Tournament.

Reports of these fixtures were interspersed with coverage of occasional events such as that in June 1900 when the then Secretary and Treasurer, DW Munro, received a purse of sovereigns on the occasion of his marriage. One year later, the course record had been lowered to 39 shots by Wm. Chisholm. The edition of Boxing Day 1901 included a storm report which noted that:

"The fourth hole of the golf course was completely submerged and a large quantity of debris left on it."

The original Clubhouse at the turn of the Century
The original Clubhouse at the turn of the Century.

Add to that a fund raising concert in November 1902, following a report on a Special General Meeting which approved course improvements and a letter signed 'Putter' on the need for such course improvements. Include reports on competitions and matches and a pattern emerges which establishes threads throughout the life of the Club right up to the present day.

At that time, the Annual Tournament took place in September or October and attracted 20-25 entries. It seems to have been a child of the Sutherland Golfing Society's Autumn meeting at Golspie. In 1902, Wm. Chisholm won the Tournament for the fifth time in six years with a net score of 85, his dominance of the event being reflected in a handicap of +1.

In May 1903, Chisholm lowered his course record to 37 shots before he emigrated to South Africa. This was very much the time of colonial development in South Africa, following upon the Boer War. The Golspie Club not only lost Chisholm, then the Club Captain, but also a year later Alex McGaw, Head of Golspie School and a former Captain of the Club, set sail for Durban.

Chisholm's record for the nine holes lasted less than five months as the Annual Tournament of October 1903 saw it lowered to 36 strokes by Charles Stage. He also reduced the best score for a double round to 77 shots.

By 1904, reports in the Northern Times were indicating initial steps in the next major phase of the Club's development. On September 22nd of that year, it was stated that:

"A special meeting of this Club was held in the Public Library on the evening of Friday last. The meeting was called by requisition for the purpose of considering the advisability of extending the course to eighteen holes."

These works were to cost between £80 and £100, while the planned layout was to consist of sixteen holes on the links and two holes in the Recreation Park, which nowadays houses the village football pitches.

The bulk of the money towards the final cost of £69/ 15/- came from subscription and donation, the former providing £32 and the Duke of Sutherland donating £10, a sum matched from within the Club's own funds. A dance had raised £11 towards the works and the balance remaining was raised in the form of a loan from the British Linen Company.

The extension works employed a dozen men during the winter of 1904-05. Their daily wage rate ranged from the 3/4d which Charles Stage received as Greenkeeper to a basic labourer's rate of 2/6d. Progress was rapid and the Northern Times reported that the new course would be ready for the 1905 season.

In January 1905, the paper carried a lengthy report on the new course, describing the works in the following terms:

".... a large squad of men has been at work every day and the extended course is now all but completed. The grass has been cut, the moss raked out, and thousands of loads of sand spread The new greens, like the old ones, are all natural, and are in extent and smoothness all that can be desired."

The report gives the total length of the course as 5,433 yards with individual holes ranging from the 100 yard 4th to the 550 yard 13th.

This optimistic tone was reflected in the proceedings of the 1905 AGM and it agreed the purchase of a new mower. The formal opening ceremony was performed by the Duchess of Sutherland later in the year. The event was reported in appropriate detail by the NT, even to noting that the Duchess's opening drive was "slightly topped".

The thrust of fund raising towards further improvement of the course continued over the next few years. Plans for a major bazaar were formulated and then set aside in favour of other forms of fund raising. By the time of a Special General Meeting in October 1906, discussion on the location of greens was running parallel with initial steps in constructing a new clubhouse. The SGM appointed a Building Committee to pursue the latter goal.

The record of the first meeting of this new committee shows how the Club was, in a sense, pushing on with development despite cash limitations. Mr Home, the local architect, is minuted as having

".... intimated that he had approached several of the local tradesmen as to whether they would be willing to contribute in some measure to the erection of a Clubhouse and had received a hearty response to his application."

The estimated cost of the works was £100 and the committee opted for a site in the Recreation Park. This was set aside at a later date in favour of the shoreside location occupied by the then existing clubhouse. In April 1907 a further Special General Meeting approved plans for this site at an estimated cost of £34/16/-.

The original Clubhouse at the turn of the Century
Opening of New Club House 23rd July 1907.

The extent to which contributions obtained by Home reduced the estimated cost is shown by the copy statement in the Minute Book. The excavations, mason work and timber structure were all donated, the only cash outlays being for roofing and fittings.

The new clubhouse was erected in double quick time and formally opened by Mrs Simpson, wife of the Club President JB Simpson, on 25th July 1907.

All the while, the annual cycle of competitions was maintained. Other matters periodically exercised the mind of Committee as, for example, on March 23rd 1907 when a motion was passed stating the conditions under which a handicap could be obtained. Suspicions of banditry were abroad!

In June 1906, the committee considered a letter from Mr Wightman, Headmaster of Golspie Higher Grade Public School. His complaint was straightforward. On the afternoon of a match with Tam, six boys were absent from school but present on the links as caddies. It took a year for a set of rules for caddies to be adopted by the Club.

In 1909, caddy problems reappeared when, on July 23:

"The secretary submitted a letter from Mr Geo. Grant, Clerk to the Congregational Committee of the Free Church .... complaining of the action of caddies employed by the Club in entering the garden of their tenant in pursuit of golf balls and damaging same."

Caddies were duly prohibited from this practice.

Consideration of how the course might be developed remained a recurrent theme of the minute book. By June 1907 the Club had adopted a set of names for the holes, although there is no record of them in the Minute Book. One month later, negotiations were under way with the Brora Club towards the purchase of a horse-drawn mower. The Brora price of £17/10/- was knocked down to £15.

The condition of the course was a frequent subject of discussion. Sleepers for shoring up bunker faces were purchased from the Highland Railway Company in 1908 and the minute of 30th July in that year shows that the Secretary was instructed to write to the Manager of the Highland Railway, thanking him for granting passes to Mr Simpson, Golf Professional, while on his visit to report on the course.

The Mr Simpson in question was the Professional at Royal Aberdeen and he had been commissioned to survey the course. His report contains hole by hole detail, but it is difficult to decipher some of his terms. It refers to the "top of the 9th green" and "playing up the ladder" to an easterly extension of the ninth green.

Hole names such as Sahara, Fleet, Cup and Drum Brae do appear in the report but only give partial solutions to the puzzle of recreating the layout of the course.

Simpson's report for altering the course was broadly accepted, apart from one amendment. The two holes in the Recreation Park were replaced by two holes out into the whins beyond the Fleet hole. The Fleet is, nowadays, the 7th and it was the 8th and 12th holes on today's course which were established following Simpson's report.

The Club then resorted to further fund-raising efforts towards these alterations. A Special General Meeting took place on September 30th 1908 at which it was decided to hold a bazaar in the Autumn of 1909. Exactly one week later, another SGM was held, when the Club considered:

".... a letter from Mr D Maclean, Factor, Golspie, intimating that His Grace The Duke of Sutherland would be prepared to subscribe the sum of 200 towards the cost of proposed extension and improvement scheme on condition that no Bazaar be got up for that purpose, as proposed."

In the era of direct patronage, the meeting:

"... instructed the Secretary to write Mr Maclean thanking His Grace for his generous offer, which it was unanimously resolved they should accept"

and so the meeting set about the details of the alteration works.

Angus Macdonald was contracted to clear out the whins for the new holes beyond the Fleet, as well as preparing the fairways. Charles Stage had been instructed to procure turf for the new greens from elsewhere before starting to skin the disused greens. The works continued during 1909, with two temporary greens being played to keep 18 holes on the course after the abandonment of the two holes in the Recreation Park.

The new course extension was to be opened by Lord Stafford on the first Saturday of July 1910. In the event, Lord Stafford was unavailable and the Northern Times reported that on July 9th:

"Mrs Simpson gracefully drove the ball from the first tee, and declared the course open."

The new course measured just over 5,300 yards in length, some 100 yards shorter than the layout established in 1905. Work towards tidying up the new course continued for a further two years. The Greens staff were given occasional assistance from outside contractors, as in March 1911 when an offer of £2/ 12/- by Alex Mackay for work on bunkers and mounds was accepted by the Club.

The minutes of meetings held during 1910 combine to give us an impression of greenkeeping at that time. On March 17th, the Greens Committee decided that Charles Stage:

".... should start work on Monday 21st inst., to clear away all stones, rubbish, etc. from the putting greens to make ready for rolling."

One week later the General Committee set the terms of the Greenkeeper's engagement for that year:

"Hours - 7 to 12 and 1 to 5.30 except Saturday when the hours were fixed at from 7 to 1. Wages - 21/- per week. Duration of Engagement - for the period of the golfing season - till, say, the end of October and so long after that as the Club sees fit."

A task comprising long weekly hours of work with no motorised equipment, although there was the horse-drawn mower. Spring work consisted of preparing the greens through a combination of sanding and rolling, while the remainder of the season was given over to the laborious task of grass cutting.

By the first day of November in 1911, the General Committee considered a report from the Greens Committee, so that:

Course Map 1910

The "Saucer". One of the holes created when the course was extended to 18 holes in 1905.

"On the question of digging out weeds in greens, it was decided that Greenkeeper should himself dig out these for one square yard on 10th green in order that time required might be ascertained .... The purchase of lawn sand, seeds and artificial manure was approved if finance permitted of this .... The top dressing & sanding also recommended by the Greens Committee was approved .... It was then decided that Stage should be kept on during winter at pleasure of Committee at a wage of 41/2d per hour as from 1st November."

This, in effect, constitutes the earliest recorded recognition by the Committee of the important contribution which winter work makes to course condition, although it may well have been that the seasonal engagement of a Greenkeeper was limited by finance.

The drive to develop the Club continued to dominate proceedings and, by October 1912, the General Committee was considering a further course extension out beyond the holes established two years previously at the Littleferry end. In January 1913 an approach was made to Sutherland Estates for a grant towards the extension. The Autumn of 1913 saw more detailed planning towards increasing the number of bunkers on the course and relocating a number of tees to lengthen several holes, as well as adding three holes beyond the Wood hole. That December, the Club received an offer of £150 towards the scheme from the Duke of Sutherland. The first meeting of the New Year considered a quotation of £65/10/6 for the base works on the extension "..exclusive of work on the pond".

However, the onset of hostilities which presaged the Great War put a brake on development. The committee meeting of 19th May 1914 was the last minuted meeting before the 1915 AGM. Reference to the course works becomes patchy and, indeed, the accounts presented to the 1915 AGM contain no reference to a fund raising bazaar which had been mooted for August 1914. The record of the 1916 AGM does minute an income of £95/ 12/5 from the bazaar, but it seems to have been quite some time in being lodged.

The bazaar was a considerable undertaking, the event being carried on over two days. Relative to the offer from the Duke of Sutherland, however, it was a less effective fund-raiser than direct patronage.

During this era of development, the Club's finances were arranged into a series of separate funds, each directed to a particular purpose and the standing of each account being reported to the AGM. The Club's general account rarely showed a balance greater than +/- £10 from year to year, indicating stability in the general running of affairs.

Competitions were held each month during the season and interest in the playing of golf increased steadily. By August 1911, the Northern Times was able to reflect that:

"For some time past the Golspie Golf Course has been well patronised. Especially this was the case on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, when between fifty and sixty players played over it on each of these days. The officers belonging to the warships presently anchored in Golspie Bay and also a number of visitors from surrounding districts have swelled the patronage in no mean degree. With the addition of the local players who wend their way round the links daily, the course presents a lively appearance, and never in the history of the Club has the links been so well patronised and highly commented upon by visitors as it has been at the present time."

The reference to visitors highlights one of the lasting themes of the Club's existence. Recognition of the importance of the railway in bringing visitors to the area comes in the minutes of a Committee meeting in March 1910, when:

"It was felt impossible to spend money in advertising but the Secretary was instructed to write to Mr Whitelaw, Chairman of the Highland Railway Co and express to him the wish and hope that the Golspie Golf Course might be brought before the touring public by way of bills and mention in Railway Guides.......

Indeed, a most gentlemanly form of lobbying!

By the Autumn of 1911, doubtless encouraged by the success of the Dornoch Club, the Committee instructed the Secretary to:

".... bring before the notice of the Highland Company the great desirability of building a hotel at Golspie."

While the Highland Railway was able to gift the Club sleepers for bunker faces, it was:

Youthful golfers on the new Wood Hole Green
Youthful golfers on the new Wood Hole Green. DJ Macleod watches RF Sinclair putt out c. 1912.

".... not prepared to entertain the idea of building a hotel at Golspie in the meantime."

Certainly, income from green fees was on the increase. Between 1905 and 1911, when there was no change in charges, revenue from green fees increased fivefold, from £3/10/-to 18/1/6.

The Annual Tournament continued to be the high point of the year's golf and, in 1911, the winner on a day of ideal weather was RF Sinclair. His net score of 76 led the field by three shots, the runner-up being his close friend DJ Macleod. Both were to become integral figures in Club life during later years.

Contact with other clubs was primarily through matches. For example, in the Spring of 1913, the Secretary wrote to Brora, Wick, Lairg, Tain and Inverness in pursuit of fixtures.

Mixed foursomes were also a popular form of play, although the ladies had a separate organisational existence. This gave the minute book a particular flavour at times, such as in February 1912 when Committee:

".... decided to bring before the Annual General Meeting .... the question of match & competition play by Ladies on Saturday afternoons. It was thought this might be very easily got over by a little discussion between representatives from the Ladies Club and a small Committee representing our Club ...."

The Captain and Secretary were appointed emissaries and the issue did not reappear in the minutes.

Two years previously the question of Ladies being incorporated into the Club's constitution had been remitted by the AGM to the Committee "with full powers". Incorporation did not happen. Nevertheless, it was noticeable that funds from the bazaar held in 1914 had been ".... collected by the Ladies of the Club."

Individual donations were a regular feature of the Club's funds and, while the patronage of the Duke of Sutherland has already been noted, the minute books carry regular acknowledgement of gifts from a variety of sources. Dr. JB Simpson periodically donated a new set of flags to the Club, while organisations often received thanks. For example, the Fishermen's Welcome Institute was thanked for dinner supplied to two men "... while sanding the course..." in 1908. Trophies were a frequent object of donation and in September 1908:

"The Secretary submitted a letter from Mr AB Gunn, Buffalo, NY, dated 13th August, intimating presentation of a gold medal to be competed for this year ...."

Occasionally, someone would donate a shelter for the course, or some other form of assistance, such as in 1911, when Mr Stewart donated a horse ".... free for two or three days for rolling the course....", and Mr Sinclair offered ".... to pay the wages of one day's work of man rolling."

Aside from maintaining the course and clubhouse, discussions on expenditure often revolved round the posts of Professional and Caddymaster.

The Club's first Professional was DJ (Jimmy) Sinclair. In May 1909, the Committee detailed his conditions of employment as:

".... the monopoly of selling clubs and balls and the repairing of clubs at the Clubhouse to undertake the ordinary duties of a Professional to the Club without salary."

It was customary to grant the Professional an end of season Honorarium, and in that year Sinclair received 3 guineas. By 1911, this gratuity had increased to £10.

A year later, however, the honorarium was reduced to C5. Sinclair's duties as Caddymaster had been discontinued in favour of having a separate appointee to that post. This arrangement lasted for only one season.

The combination of Sinclair as Professional and Stage as Greenkeeper was very much a feature of Club life at that time. The onset of War disturbed the pattern, as indicated in the minute of March 26th 1915:

"In regard to the appointment of a Caddymaster and Professional, the Secretary was instructed to see Sinclair and explain to him that owing to the present unsettled state of affairs which equally affected the Club with others, the Committee could make no definite agreement with him ...."

Continue to Chapter 2