The History of Rothesay Golf Club

"Most extensive and enhancing views are to be had, embracing elevated ground in no less than seven Scottish counties. The Bays of Rothesay and Port Bannatyne, with the Kyles of Bute and Loch Striven, lie spread out like an extensive lake, which, with on the one hand the sound of Bute and on the other the majestic sweep of the Firth of Clyde from the Cloch to the Cumbrae and Garroch Head present a sea vista unsurpassed for variety and beauty.But only half the tale of loveliness has been told, for on the one hand, there are the grandly rugged peaks of Arran, and, on the other, the tamer but still magnificent hills of Dumbarton and Argyllshire with Ben Lomond crowning the lofty and picturesque range. Then at our feet are the lovely and peaceful Lochs Fad and Ascog - The town of Rothesay with its ancient castle, tapering spires and well-wooded hillsides; and smiling across the bay, the castles of Toward - old and new, with their rich background of pine-clad hill."

A history of Rothesay Golf Club was published in 1992 to celebrate the centenary of the foundation of the club. The history was called "From Westlands to Eastlands" to mark the fact that the club had come into existence on Burgh land to the west of the town, and had, in 1908, transferred to burgh land to the east.

The driving force behind the formation of the club was Mr John Windsor Stuart, factor to the Marquess of Bute, who pointed out the importance of "having a golf course adjacent to a holiday resort like Rothesay."

The ground chosen for a nine hole course was described as "rough uncultured hill ground" behind Westland farmhouse, yet the professional engaged to "lay out" the course, William Campbell, gave his opinion that "the course could be prepared for play in about three weeks time." The pampered golfers of today are entitled to wonder what sort of course could be constructed in such a short space of time, but play on the course was soon in full swing. The "green was opened" by Mr A Graham Murray, MP, captain of the club, on 27th August 1892. Mr Murray, QC, MP, was at the same time captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. There is no record as to which he regarded the greater honour.

In September that same year, Mr Murray gifted a "Challenge Silver Club" (cleek) to be played for by Millport (on the nearby island of Cumbrae) and Rothesay Golf Clubs in annual matches. That cleek has now been competed for between the clubs for a 110 years - probably a record.

The course record for 18 holes on the Westlands nine hole course was to be held by F G or Freddie Tait who in 1894, had established a new course record for St.Andrews, and who was to go on to win the British Amateur championship in 1896 and 1898. In 1895 the Westlands course was new, the greens had not had time to settle, and hazards such as rushes, whins, rocks, muddy ground, dykes, quarries, fences around greens (to keep out cattle), hedges and goodness knows what else had to be negotiated, so Mr Tait probably thought St. Andrews a "dawdle".

Despite the "difficulties" the Westland golfers obviously enjoyed their games, and, unlike the boring vouchers of today, they competed for such interesting prizes as "a handsome dressing-case; a silver cruet-stand of a special golfing design; a three guinea portrait of the winner".

However all good things must come to an end, and, in 1908, the club, being unable to acquire the necessary land to extend to 18 holes, moved to the present Eastands site, with the blessing of the rate payers, one of whom observed "Let the gutty-whackers pay for their sport".

Nevertheless the Council pressed ahead assisted by Lord Bute, and the professional from North Berwick, Ben Sayers was engaged to peg out the new course, some of which was to take in tees and greens belonging to the Glenburn Hydropathic golf course.

Mr.Sayers said (unlike Mr. Campbell at Westlands) that "If work were to begin about December, the ground would be in first class condition by Easter" slow going.

The new course was formally opened on Saturday 30th May 1908, the Town Council having invited James Braid, Harry Vardon, Arnaud Massy and Ben Sayers to play an exhibition match.

James Braid and Harry Vardon were two of the "Triumvirate" (the third being J H Taylor) which dominated British professional golf for 20 years before the First World War.Braid was to win the Open Championship 5 and Vardon 6 times. Arnaud Massy was the first overseas player to win the open and was in fact the holder having won the title at Hoylake in 1907. Braid was to win it in 1908. Ben Sayers took a leading position in the game, both as an exponent and as club maker for over 40 years.It is no wonder that their exhibition match attracted over 2,000 spectators (Imaging what the engaging of such a quartet would cost today?)