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  Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. (1871 - WW2)

The club was founded in 1871.

A nine-hole links course with natural hazards, burns etc. with holes varying in length from 126 yards to 468 yards (1871). There were good ladies’ and gentlemen’s clubhouses. The railway station called Banff Club Platform adjoined the clubhouse and course; in the early years there was a further station at Banff Harbour ½ mile away. Local hotels were the Fife Arms and Rose’s Temperance.

Thanks to Barry Bertram, Vice-Captain (2019), Duff House Royal Golf Club, for his help with compiling the history of the Banff Links Golf Club and its eventual amalgamation with the Duff House Royal Golf Club.

The Boyndie Burn was used as a boundary line for the Parishes of Boyndie and Banff and the fishermen of both Whitehills village and Banff Burgh were free to enjoy access to the long narrow strip of common land known initially as Boyndie Links but today as Banff Links. 

Although the land was covered largely with whins and coarse grass, sprinkled with stones and pitted with ruts and holes, the fishermen used the space for drying nets.  At the same time, the womenfolk hung their washing to dry on the whins and carried out net mending as was necessary.  Men also used the open space for bow and arrow practice and, in more modern times, for Volunteer Army weekend camps and various forms of military training. 

Any person seeking to kick a ball about or hit a ball with a stick had to go to the Links because there was nowhere else.  The business of knocking a ball about with a stick was at once pleasant and frustrating.  The constantly changing wind presented a different challenge with every stroke and added greatly to the variety in the game. 

Golf has been played in Banff from time immemorial, but the first official record relates to the year 1637.  This was when the Provost of the Burgh and his brother Magistrates visited the last penalty of the law on one Franceis Broun, son of a Wabster in the Burgh.  Among other offences, he had been guilty of stealing "sume golf ballis" from the booth of Patrick Shand, a Merchant-burgess in the town and he "Sauld two of the golf ballis to Thomas Urquhart, Servand".  The Merchant-burgess was apparently not only a seller but possibly a user of "golf ballis", because five years later in 1642, the same Patrick Shand was associated with three others, James Turnor, William Hay (both men of means, as each had a 'servitor') and Walter Sheroune, in obtaining a tack of the Links from the Provost, Bailies and Councillors. 

The ground was described as "all the commountie of the Burgh, fra the Droping Craig, to the burne of the mouth of Innerboyndie".

The term of the tack was for three years and only one condition was attached to it:  "That it shall not be "leisum to cast or carrie fail of diffets". 

Whether these gentlemen were golfers or not, the record suggests that the Town Council of that day took care of the Links. 

The learned historian, Dr. Cramond, tells us in his "Annals of Banff", that there are numerous references to clubmakers in the old records of the Burgh.   In addition to the sad tale of Franceis Brown, it is recorded that on 29 March 1733 the Head Court recommended to the Magistrates "to inclose that part of their common good called Lint Potts Quarter, adjoining to my Lord Findlater's lands of Coldholm, with a dyke, close by the King's highway, till it come to the first hole of the Links and thence run down to the Seaside" and that on October 17 1758 George Fordyce in Redstack and James Milne at Upper Milne of Boindie, were fined 20/- each for pasturing a large flock of sheep upon the Links of Banff on the East side of the Burn of Boindie". 

Golf has never been the exclusive preserve of one social class but the Royal seal of approval was stamped on the game by all the Stuart Kings, who enjoyed the challenge of hitting a ball with a stick.  The more democratic aspect of Scottish Golf was due more to economic reasons than to social enlightenment. 

The Links were "common land", the courses were "public property" and the cost therefore within the means of most people. 

When the Banff Golf Club was formed on Tuesday 9 May 1871 at a meeting of "a few gentlemen favourable to the formation of a Golf Club", the entrance fee was fixed at One Pound (£1.00) and the annual subscription at only five shillings (5/-).  Thus was created a state of affairs; Cheap golf - which continues to this day to a degree.  This is the envy of folk of every country but a thorn to those who seek to improve standards and amenities by way of annual subscriptions.

The Links were substantially reduced in recreation area, when the Banff, Portsoy and Strathisla Railway Line opened on Tuesday 2 August 1859, terminating on the Links.  The first train, goods with carriage attached for the Directors, steamed into Banff Harbour Station on 31 March 1860.  The last train left the Station on 31 August, 1965; the line was lifted in 1968 and all trace of the Golf Club Halt has long since disappeared.  Although bounded by the railway on the one side and the sea on the other, enough remained to play on but, in fact it was barely wide enough to accommodate a wood shot between the sea and the railway.  As Sheriff Grant observed in 1895, "The skill of the golfer is put to a higher test to avoid the hungry German Ocean:  for it is one of the geological peculiarities of Banff Bay that the greater part of the foreshore is composed of round white pebbles in obvious and fraudulent imitation of golf balls, to the great discomfort and loss of the erratic driver".  The good Sheriff could have added - and to say nothing of the possibility of a wayward drive landing in a passing train and being carried to Tillynaught or other Station, thereby providing the plot for a golf epic in the style favoured by the late P.G. Wodehouse.   Notice of the historic meeting held on 9th May, 1871 was sent only to "Those who seemed to take the liveliest interest in it".  (the proposal to form a Golf Club).  Provost Wood was in the Chair and it was formally resolved to establish a Club to be called "The Banff Golf Club". 

The twelve gentlemen present all agreed to become members and appointments were made as follows; President, Provost Wood; Captain, Mr Watt, Banker; Treasurer, Mr Auld Baker; Rev. Mr. Davidson, Mr. Hunter, Rector of the Academy and Mr. Murray, Engineer were added to the Office-bearers to form a Council or Committee.  Others present who joined the Club, were Mr. Allan, Solicitor; Mr. Longmuir, Artist; James Simpson and Mr. Wood, Brewery and Mr. Gordon, Castle Street.  Not present, but agreeing to become members were Mr. Hossack, Solicitor and Mr. Garrard, Engineer.  Thus the membership in the beginning was 14.  The Course was of 8 holes, later extended to 9. 

The Town Council and Mr. Longmore, Rettie (tenant of the grazing) raised no objection and the admission of members was devolved on the Committee and decided by ballot.  It was remitted to the Committee to make further rules and all necessary arrangements.  A week later, it was reported that "Rules for the regulation of this Club have been framed and adopted".  "Several new members have joined during the past week and as an inducement to young members, it has been agreed to admit such under twenty-one years of age for ten shillings (10/-) or half the entrance money. 

By 8 August 1871, workmen under the Burgh Surveyor, Mr. Mearns and Mr. James Simpson, South Colleonard, had combined to burn the whins: fill the ruts and holes; remove the stones; fill the bunkers and improve the Links to the extent of enabling the Club to think about "Matches" - Local competitions. 

Mr. Simpson promised further assistance when the distillery dams were cleaned, and the first of the competitions was played over 8 holes on 19 August 1871.  Six cards were returned; the winner being Mr. R. Gordon with 57.  The highest return came from Mr. G.W. Murray with 69 and "the day was most favourable". 

The next recorded event was that of yet another “Match" or Local Competition held on 23 September 1871.  "The day was fine and notwithstanding the heavy rainfall during the week, the ground from its sandy nature was in capital order".  The field included one Captain Gellie of the Bengal Staff Corps. and one Mr. Leitch "of the Factory" and "after a well contested match, Mr. Leitch came in as the winner at 41 strokes over 8 holes with Captain Gellie as second with 48 strokes.  The playing throughout was good but it was difficult to come up to the small scores of Mr. Leitch and Captain Gellie who have both had a large experience.  Amongst other honours, Captain Gellie took the cup of the Lucknow Golf Club in 1869, whilst Mr. Leitch is an experienced Fife player and previous to his removal to Banff, was a regular prize winner in the Weyness Club".

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Layout of the golf course in 1871.

Layout of the course in 1871.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. The Links Banff.

The Links Banff.

 

The first of a series of summer monthly medals was played on the last Saturday in May 1874. The first prize, a golf club, was won by R B Ferguson, the runner-up was Mr Spence. Only nine players took part.

The annual meeting was held in the office of Mr Watt, banker, on Tuesday 13th November 1877. The following were appointed to the committee for the ensuing year; James Wood, re-elected president; Sheriff Scott Moncrieff, captain; Mr Watt, secretary and treasurer; Rev Mr Chisholm, Mr Auld, Mr Spence and Mr Macfarlane. It was decided to play the annual medal on the links on Saturday 24th November. The holder of the trophy was Mr Ferguson, National Bank, who had won the trophy in 1874 and 1875 it was not played for in 1876. The club had a membership of 23.

The annual medal was won again by Mr Ferguson, just two couples took part.

The following members were elected at the annual meeting in October 1878; Sheriff Moncrieff, captain; Mr Spence, Boyndie House; Mr Macfarlane, collector of Her Majesty’s Customs; Mr Watt, banker.

A return six a side match against Cullen was played at Banff Golf Club on Wednesday 27th August 1879, teams as follows; Banff - Sheriff Moncrieff (captain); Rev. Mr Chisholm; Mr Watt, National Bank; Mr Spence (Boyndie House); James Simpson, jun., (Colleonard); Mr Watt (Boyndie House); Cullen - Mr Anderson, North of Scotland Bank, (captain); Mr Stewart, Merchant; Mr Cheyne, Inland Revenue; Charles Duffus; James Sinclair; Mr Forgan, St Andrews. The match was decided by holes, after two rounds of the links, Cullen were victorious by the large number of 40 holes. This was mainly due to the "inexperience" of the Banff players.

The competition for the annual medal was played on Saturday 11th October 1879 and was won by the Rev Mr Chisholm. The greens “were in very good condition.”

Sherriff Scott Moncrieff presided at a meeting held on Saturday 9th October 1880. The following members were admitted to the club; Mr Duff of Park; A O Morrison, banker; Herr Hoffman; Mr Ramsay, St Leonards; Mr Harper, writer; Mr Eyval, Boyndie House. The annual medal was played after the meeting and was won by Mr Eyval.

At the annual meeting held in November 1880 the balance sheet showed a debit of £7/14s/7d. The club membership was 23. Two sets of clubs and a number of balls were presented to the club by Sherriff Gordon, one of the founder members of the club.

The annual meeting was held in the National Bank on Tuesday 23rd November 1886. The balance sheet showed a balance in hand of £10/18/8. It was also stated that there had not been much playing during the year but it was hoped that this would improve in the coming year. The following officers were elected; William Coutts (solicitor), president; Sheriff Moncrieff, captain; James Watt, secretary and treasurer; Captain Ewart, John Allan, C W R Gordon and Mr Ramsay.

The following information was taken from the Golfing Annual of 1888/89, it appears that the club and course was on its last legs at this time; Instituted on May 5th 1871; Entrance Fee originally £1 now five shillings; Number of Members 7; Captain – Clement Gordon, Esq., Procurator Fiscal; Committee – Messrs. Ramsay, Simpson, Allan and Capt. Ewart; Secretary Rev Aeneas Chisholm, Mount Carmel, Banff. Club Prizes – there is only one Club Medal, intended to play for annually, but there has been no competition for some years as the club is practically defunct. The green is short and narrow (nine-holes), and having to return over the same holes makes play uninviting, hence little interest is taken in the game at Banff, and there is no prospect of the club being resuscitated. 

For a time, the progress of the Club was staid and orderly, but the threat of collapse was never far removed.  On no fewer than four occasions 12 April 1876; 17 November 1885; 18 December 1888 and 27 May 1890, proposals were made that the Club should be dissolved, but there were sufficient men of hope and courage left in the membership to defeat the proposals.  Sadly, however, apathy was to prevail; the Annual Meeting due in November, 1890 was held and the Club closed its doors. 

Happily, the break lasted little less than a year and the next meeting took place on 8 October 1891 when the occasion became known as the "re-opening day".

In a letter dated 27 August 1962, the late W.W. Walker (of whom more later) recalled his memories of the Old Banff Club.  "My first introduction to Golf was while the School team (cricket) was playing on a pitch between the entrance to the Links and the old Artillery Battery, three Priests appeared with what looked to us a bundle of walking sticks and were striking a little ball.   We immediately stopped playing cricket and went to watch the Priests who were making holes as they proceeded.  I think that this was about the time Lossiemouth Golf Club was laid out according to a plan devised by the late Bishop Chisholm who was pastor to the R.C. Church of Banff. The Banff Golf Club was then reformed and my Dad was one of the first members.  What we did not know was that he was a golfer on Aberdeen Links before moving to Banff"

The association between golf and the church was very strong in the early days.  W.W. Walker has recalled the three Priests engaged in a do-it-yourself dig-your-own-holes game at a time when the Club was in abeyance in the Season 1890/91, but the revival in the Club's fortunes stemmed directly from a visit paid to Banff in 1891 by the eminent Rev. Professor Blaikie, then Moderator Elect of the Free Church Assembly and a man whose reputation was not only ecclesiastical but, being a literary man, was known throughout the world.  Professor Blaikie was married to a daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Walter Biggar to whose memory was erected in 1878, the superbly constructed and extremely handsome drinking fountain which today occupies a prominent place in Low Street, Banff.  Professor Blaikie understood and appreciated the therapeutic value of golf and in preparation for the onerous talks ahead as Moderator, he applied for, and was granted, the use of the Course and the Clubhouse.  On being interviewed before returning to Edinburgh at the end of the summer of 1891, he was asked about golf and declared that he had not played at all. In reply to the question, "but why?"  there came the answer, "The Links are there; the Golf House and its boxes are there, but the holes are nowhere". 

This was greeted with a sense of shame and confusion and it was unthinkable that the eminent Professor could go back to Edinburgh and tell the doleful tale of the condition of the Banff Links.  

Arrangements were quickly made to re-open the Course.  A few enthusiasts were out to play; their example was followed by others and on 8 October 1891 the Club was reconstituted at a meeting called for that purpose.  Demand for membership was increased, as did appreciation of the value of the Links as an amenity for the Town and District.  Indeed, the upsurge in enthusiasm for golf caused the Town Council to investigate their rights as Landlords and, to the consternation of the Magistrates, discovered that the Links, though the then property of the Burgh, was in fact outside the Burgh boundary and that the Magistrates had no jurisdiction over their own ground.  It became necessary to invoke the aid of an Act of Parliament to extend the boundaries to include the Links and other parts of Burgh property and, in that way, the Magistrates recovered jurisdiction in their own territory.  Under the same Act, by-laws were made which separated the eastern portion for the recreation of ladies and juveniles and forbade the playing by adults of cricket and football.  The Golf Club concurred and where thereby required to seek fresh fields and pastures now in the western sector.  They had to cross the burn and through the generosity of the tenant of the Old Manse Farm secured a stretch of land which, together with the Links, provided a "charming little nine-hole course".

The “newly arranged course” of the Banff Golf Club was formally opened on Saturday 14th November 1891. Twenty golfers took part in a competition which commenced at 2pm, leading scores; B Haig, 85; Rev C McKenzie, 87William Simpson, 92; Chivas Simpson, 96.

In March 1892 Mr John Bennet, St Katharine Street, was appointed “keeper of the golf course” The club now had 36 members which included several ladies.

The ladies’ competition which had been running during the summer of 1894 was won by Miss Williamson, 136, presented with a gold bangle; Miss Anna Hossack, 136, gold brooch.

The need to build a wooden bridge across the Boyndie burn;  to develop the newly acquired ground and to provide improved Clubhouse facilities for the ever growing membership (70 in 1892, 105 in 1893 and 130 in 1894) required money and on 1 May 1895 there was held in St. Andrew's Hall, a bazaar of immense importance and social distinction. 

The large company present at the opening included such illustrious names as Sheriff Grant of Rothiemurchas; Mr. R.G. Shirrefs, Sheriff Clerk Depute; Mr. Gordon-Duff of Drummuir; Mrs. Gordon-Duff; Miss Gordon-Duff and Masters Gordon-Duff; Mr. Haig, Chief Constable; Rev. Bruce and Mrs. Bruce, St. Mary's Church and many others from Banff and District.  Provost Ramsay addressing the company, began by acknowledging his privilege in doing everything possible to assist in promoting any institution or organisation had as its object "the improvement of the amenities of the Burgh and the increase of opportunities for outdoor exercise.  Of all games which invite and occupy public attention, the game of golf is one which commends itself more and offers more attractions to all ages, to all conditions and to both sexes, than any other.  From being a merely Scottish game, golf has spread all through England and over large parts of the Continent, to America, to our own colonies, to India and Africa and indeed to every corner of the Globe.  Its line is gone out through all the earth and its word to the end of the world". 

The stalls were decorated in crimson, the Club colours; evergreens and artificial flowers were used with "good effect so as to make a neat and tasteful decorative effect".  There was a phonograph on exhibition and in the evening an official of the National Telegraph Company gave a lecture to a crowded audience describing the evolution and construction of the instrument.  "The lecture, which as a scientific treat, proved a great success". 

The bazaar of 1 May 1895 was commemorated by the publication of "The Book of the Banff Golf Club Bazaar" edited by John Peter Grant (the Sheriff) and printed by the “Banffshire Journal".  Copies have become valuable collectors pieces and the whole concept - book, material and printing - was long before its time. 

The contents included a Ballad of the Beginner, “Keep your ee on the Ba" by Lord Stormonth Darling;  "A Meeting of the Committee" by Mrs. Scott Moncrieff;  A Local sketch "The Men of Banff" by Mr. Rae and "The Golfer's Song", words and music by Jas MacKintosh, Banff.   The portraits of the various officials were lithographed and are extremely good, some of the illustrations were those used in the standard work, "Golf - A Royal and Ancient Game” by Clark published by MacMillan & Co.

Receipts for the day amounted to £134:13:6.   Over £50.00 was received in donations and the total receipts were £190.00.   A princely sum, allowing that the annual subscription was Five Shillings (25p) for men and two and sixpence (12.5p) for ladies, which made the Club financially open to everybody. 

The Club proceeded to build a new Clubhouse and thereafter to consolidate its popularity within the Community. 

Below are images from the Banff Golf Club Bazaar in May 1895.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Images from The Banff Golf Club Bazaar May 1895.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Images from the Banff Golf Club Bazaar May 1895.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Images from the Banff Golf Club Bazaar May 1895.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Images from the Banff Golf Club Bazaar May 1895.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Images from the Banff Golf Club Bazaar May 1895.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Images from the Banff Golf Club Bazaar May 1895.

 

The annual meeting was held in November 1895 Provost Ramsay, in the absence of Sherriff Grant, presided. The Provost congratulated the members on the flourishing state of the club and on the building of the new clubhouse. The following officers were elected; Sheriff Grant, president; Robert G Shirreffs captain; William Marshall, secretary.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Members and clubouse.

Members and the clubhouse

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Views of the Banff Links golf course.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Views of the Banff Links golf course.

Views of the course in the 1890s.

 

Article on the Banff Links in November 1896.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Article from The Sketch November 1896.

Article from The Sketch Wednesday November 18th 1896. Image © Illustrated London News Group. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

 

  Secretary Professional/Greenkeeper
1906 Captain T Barton, Seafield Street, Banff.  
1913/14 John Laing and George Ironside. G Milne (p)
1920's J C Rankine, 36 High Street, Banff. Geo Milne (p/g)

Result of a one sided match played on Wednesday 10th July 1899 against the Moray Club at Lossiemouth. Mr Baxter, the captain of the Banff Club, was not available for the match.

Moray Golf Club   Banff Golf Club  
L McIssac 0 C A Simpson 0
D West 0 H E Spence 3
D Cameron 8 A Bisset 0
R Coull 5 R W Williamson 0
J Forbes 5 R G Sheriffs 0
D Edwards 3 E H Jobberns 0
G Scott-Hunter 7 J McCulloch 0
Rev M Leishman 4 T S Adam 0
J P Cumming 9 Sheriff Grant 0
Rev Mr Newlands 3 J Ledingham 0
J Thomson 1 D Walker 0
  45   3

In October 1899 a new course record was set by Mr R G Sherriffe, Sherriff-Clerk, Depute. His first round score was 42 and the second 39; scores, 7,4,5,5,4,4,4,4,5=42. 5,4,5,4,4,4,3,4,6=39. The previous record for a single round was 40, set by J O Kemp the previous month.

Result of a club match played at Banff against Buckie in June 1900.

Banff Golf Club   Buckie Golf Club  
C A Simpson 0 W F Johnston 5
Rev A Bisset 0 W Macdonald 5
R G Sheriffs 2 J Yuill 0
R W Williamson 0 J G Macpherson 5
A Walker 4 R Johnston 0
W Marshall 0 J Kerr 5
W Ledingham 0 W Johnston 2
Sargeant Major Cooper 0 G Donald 2
  6   24

In 1906 the course record was still at 39. Visitors’ fees were 1/- a day and 2/6d a week. Also in 1906 Banff Ladies’ Golf Club is listed, whose secretary was Miss C M Simpson, Colleonare, Banff.

 

Banff Golf Club, Aberdeenshire. Layout of the nine-hole golf course.

Layout of the nine-hole golf course.

 

In 1913/4 there was a membership of 180. Entry fees for gents were 5/- and 2/6d for ladies and juveniles. Subs for gents were 10/-, ladies and juveniles 2/6d.

The annual meeting was held on Wednesday 11th March 1914. The balance sheet was submitted and showed a balance in hand. The following officers were elected; Patron, Mr W C Dawes, Swordanes; president, Provost Rankine; vice-president, Baillie Kerr; captain, A F Spence; secretary, George Ironside; treasurer, James Rankine; auditor, Baillie Watt. It was agreed to raise the annual subscription to 6/-. A wall was to be built at a cost of £100 to prevent the encroachment of the sea opposite the first tee. Mr Dawes donated £50 with the other £50 being given by the Town Council. 

Following WW1 club membership had dropped to 150.Visitors’ fees were 1/6d a day, 6/- a week, 12/- a month.

By 1952 the Banff Golf Club had closed and amalgamated with Duff House Royal Golf Club.

Banff Golf Club - The clubhose and course.

Postcard of the Banff clubhouse and course. Authors Collection.

 

Location of the Banff Golf Club links.

Location of the links at Banff. Grid reference NJ67245 64560, co-ordinates 367245 864560.