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Antique Golf Clubs from Scotland
Scottish Golf History


(Source: © 1999, Douglas MacKenzie)

The first golf played at Carnoustie was on the Barry Links in the 16th century as described in the article on the Panmure club. The town of Carnoustie is, itself, not very old dating from the end of the 18th century when Thomas Lowson, the 'father and founder of Carnoustie' built a dwelling house on a piece of ground obtained from Major Philips of the Carnoustie estate.

The name is something of a mystery. Malcolm Campbell, in the Encyclopaedia of Golf, attributes it to 'Craw's Nestie' because of a plague of crows which once infested the area. A good story but the name is much older. Take your pick from carn hosta, the rock of the hosts, after the dead buried following the Battle of Barry; 'rock of the feast', again from Gaelic - cathair, carr, or carn na fheusta (J B Johnston, 1903) [the lenited 'f' makes the 'fh' silent; or 'rock of the pinewood' (Gaelic, giuthas, pinewood or firewood), Chambers.

A club was formed here in 1839 (some say 1842) and the great Allan Robertson came from St Andrews to lay out the first ten holes. Another golfing giant, Old Tom Morris, crossed the Tay to extend the course to 18 holes in 1867. His son, Young Tommy, won one of the first competitions on the new course, open to all-comers, in the same year, aged only 16, in a playoff against triple Open Champion Willie Park Senior and Bob Andrew ("The Rook") of Perth. Another legend, James Braid, bestrode the fairways in 1926 to add his touch to the course. The remodelled par 3 16th, the 'Barry Burn' was his work (although then a par 4). Braid filled in 80 bunkers on the course but he left them alone on this hole.

Looking at the £4 million pound hotel development built for the 1999 Open Championship one might be forgiven for thinking that Carnoustie was always a rich golfing Mecca. Far from it. The image of the poster from 1891 shows a fund-raising bazaar to be held to pay off the purchase costs of the links in the following year (Lord Panmure was a generous patron but not that generous). Similarly, many golf writers describe the large numbers of golfers who left Carnoustie for the United States, and other destinations, as if this was some generous gift of the town. It was not. As with other Angus towns, it was the result of poverty and lack of opportunity and, occasionally, particularly with emigaration to Australia, an attempt to find a kinder climate for consumptives. In 1858, George Morris, the official greenkeeper to both the Carnoustie and Monifieth courses, had to give up his job as he could not make a living on the salary he was given. Unlike Arbroath, where the greenkeeper was dismissed without even a mention of his name in the minutes, Morris, at least, received £6 in a subscription raised for him. From Carnoustie came the Smith Brothers: Alex who won the US Open twice, Willie who won it once and Macdonald "Mac" Smith who lost the last Open at Prestwick in 1925 to Jim Barnes, as a result of being jostled to the point of being unable to play a shot by a crowd of 15,000 so anxious to see him win. Stewart Maiden left Carnoustie and became the pro at the East Lake club in Atlanta. He was followed around this course on many occasions by a youthful Bobby Jones. Apparently the young Jones never bought a lesson from him: another Angus skill learnt by osmosis ! For all this, emigration did not lack humourous aspects either. The 10th at Carnoustie is known as 'South America'. A young caddie, rather full of whisky, set off one evening to make his fortune in this continent. He woke up in the morning on the 10th green.

The golfing photograph (courtesy of The Arbroath Herald) shows the clubhouse of the Dalhousie Club in Links Parade around 1905. The club was formed by Dundee businessmen in 1868 and named for the Earl of Dalhousie (Fox Maule MP, Lord Panmure), its first patron.

(Sources include: J Lindsay Henderson, The Records of the Panmure Golf Club, Barry (1926); Hay, History of Arbroath (1876); Malcolm Campbell, The Encyclopedia of Golf (1991))


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