A H Findlay
A H Findlay and his brother Fred were two of Scotland’s (and specifically Montrose’s most famous) golfing exports) yet interestingly neither of them were born in Scotland.
The Findlays’ father, Alexander, was a gunner in the Royal Regiment of Artillery and Alexander Hamburg Findlay was, according to later records and his grave) born at sea to Mary Ann Alexander née Milne on 21 April 1866 (the army record says 20 April 1865 and, despite the proliferation of later mentions of 1866, I tend to believe the earlier date as Alexander’s younger brother was born in October 1866). A later passport application in the US is more specific about the location of birth stating ‘English Channel’. It probably accounts for the middle name but there is no obvious reason why the family would be sailing to or from Hamburg at this time as Alexander snr was serving with the Coastal Battery from 1865 having signed on again with the Army in Woolwich in 1863 (but with two children including Alexander baptised in Bradford about as far from the coast as is possible in England) before joining the battery at Padstow on the north Cornish coast. (He had served 5 years in Gibraltar but as none of his children were born there this was presumably before he was married.)
In any event Alexander snr retired from the army in 1873 and the family moved to Montrose where the young A H Findlay apparently immediately took to golf. Looking at the results of the Monthly Medal (or Badge as they called it) of the Mercantile Club in late 1885 and 1886 he was always there or thereabouts.
In 1887 young Alexander emigrated to the United States. Fred later told the story that he was heartbroken when his brother sailed because he wanted to go as his caddy. Now this tale was told almost fifty years later so the story was no doubt polished over time but Alexander did not go as a professional golfer. He had started work at 15 as a shipping clerk in Montrose and it was as a clerk he first worked in America. An invitation from a friend took him to Nebraska where he worked at Kelly, Stiger & Co in Omaha, Nebraska (he is listed there in the city directory in at least 1891, 1892 and 1894).
Despite that, it was in Nebraska he made his most notable contribution to the game in the USA and truly earned the “Father of Golf in America” tag even if many sources are still unaware of this. He designed, and played over, the first course in the United States created in the 19th century, probably the first since independence as golf was played in Charleston in the early 1770s based on Scottish export records. This six hole course, which he played with his long-time friend from home and now Nebraska rancher, Edward Millar, was at the Merchiston Ranch, Nance County, Nebraska. It’s not great news in American golf history circles: golf starting in Nebraska is a bit like the proverbial ginger-haired son-in-law.
As golf caught on in the USA he was first hired by Henry Flagler who had lost a fortune in the salt business at the end of the American Civil War then rebuilt his fortune as a founder of Standard Oil with John D Rockefeller and with his own business of building railways serving his hotels in southern Florida. It was for these hotels that he commissioned Findlay to build golf courses. This created an excellent supply chain with Montrose golfers coming out to serve the instructional needs of the courses.
This was boosted by an agreement he began with Wright & Ditson in 1899, both to design his own range of clubs for them and to design courses from New York up through New England. There was still time to play in the US Opens of 1898 and 1899 where he finished 13th and 11th respectively.
He still remembered his roots in Montrose and gifted a gold medal for competition among the members of the Mercantile club in 1900 and a silver medal for the Half-Day holiday club.
I have seen articles where Richard B Findlay argues his grandfather remained an amateur. Sorry, don’t buy this: he derived an income from golf so he was a professional. For example, he was considered a professional when he entered the US Open in 1901 at Myopia as the pro at the Vesper CC in Tyngsborough, MA, and earlier when he played A H Fenn at Lexington in 1897. Furthermore, in 1897 when he lowered the course records at Longmeadow in Lowell, MA and Beaver Meadow in Concord, NH, the Boston Evening Transcript described him as ‘the leading professional player in this part of the country’. Indeed, it took a meeting of the USGA Executive in May 1910 to reinstate him as an amateur.
Pete Georgiady has his association with Wright & Ditson ending in 1904 but the company was still advertising ‘A H Findlay drivers, brassies, cleeks, mid irons and putters’ in 1909.
Sometime afterwards he joined Wanamakers and his designs were advertised by them in 1915 with Ben Sayers, Braid, Vardon and Ray models. He remained with Wanamakers through the 1920s with his immigration records after trips home to Scotland giving the company’s Philadelphia address as his destination.
In his lifetime he designed around 130 courses in the United States. I will leave it to the golf architecture fanboys as to whether he was a good architect or a bad one. I accept he did span the design eras divide from the Old Tom Morris approach of, ‘no finer ground exists … hole here, hole there, lunch please, £1 for my services’ to detailed blueprints (though welcome his brother’s breezy approach to this). But even today, or yesterday (I think it was the 1980s), a case can be made for the former approach when Ben Crenshaw, arguing against golf courses where they simply do not fit, said, ‘I'd love to have a piece of ground where you can just set the holes into the landscape’.
A H Findlay died in Boston on 16 April 1942.
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