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History of Golf at Earlsferry

Part 3The Golf House Club

In Part 2 we learnt how the Earlsferry and Elie Golf Club became established over the Earlsferry course after the hiatus of the litigation with Malcolm and the Grange Estate.

The club was initially comprised of locals who lived in Earlsferry but as the arrival of the Railway opened up the villages to visitors, holiday makers and second home owners (even in 1870s) so the membership became rather more cosmopolitan with many members joining who lived in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It had ceased in many respects to be a local golf club and we suspect because Earlsferry lads had the right to play over the golfing tract there was no need for them to join a golf club.

At an extraordinary General Meeting of the club in 1872 the then Captain, W.R. Ketchen a local lawyer and banker who lived in the National Bank Building in Bank Street, resigned. There had been some friction between the Earlsferry Town Council and some of the members and it is probable that Ketchen, among others, thought the club too parochial and too dependent upon the Town Council of Earlsferry who owned the course. Whether his resignation was well signposted or not we do not know but in the background over the next couple of years it emerged that he had been creating a new golf club. At that time Earlsferry and Elie Golf Club did not have its own premisesit was not until 1885 or so that George Forrester offered that club accommodation in his house at Georgeville.

It seems that in 1875 Ketchen, along with Major General Briggs, a gentlemen called Raimes, Orr Paterson, Browning and Dewar had along with Thomas Currie, the builder and his son John Currie the architect met and formed the new club or rather had come out into the open as having leased from William Baird what was then known as Melon Park. This is the piece of ground lying to the east of the Ferry Road. Baird leased the ground to Rev. William Hillhouse, John Luke, Thomas Currie and W.R. Ketchen. At that stage they were not trustees for Golf House Club (GHC) but it became pretty clear that there was an intention to build a clubhouse for the GHC on part of the ground of the Melon Park.

And so it happened that by 1877 the following appeared in the newspapers of the time:

Of course, the consequence of this was that the influence of the Earlsferry Town Council and the Earlsferry and Elie Golf Club waned. No longer did the Town Council control all that happened on the golfing tract and the Town Council would have to give increasing precedence to the wealthier establishment on the east side of Ferry Road which, of all things, was in Elie. A lot of the kudos perhaps of the GHC was gained by the pedigree and financial clout of most of its members. Initially it was agreed that the management of the golf course (both east and west of Ferry Road) would be in the hands of a joint committee and indeed George Forrester – an Earlsferry man – was appointed first greenkeeper of the new course.

As a result of the second litigation between Earlsferry and Sir Robert Malcolm a lease was taken by Earlsferry town Council over the golfing tract thereby, as it were, giving golf rather than farming the priority over the area.

The map above shows the progression of title to the golfing tract. The light blue area was that proscribed by the golfers who reported to the court of session in relation to the litigation. Now whilst there was no doubt that this was the golfing area it was also part of the Malcolm estate so the farmer had certain continuing rights over it. Part of the agreed settlement of the action raised in 1875 was that the farmer/Malcolm would grant the Earlsferry Town Council a sub-lease over the area so there was no doubt that the golfers had precedence. The town council did not involve the GHC in this transaction – it was a mere £20 per annum and the Council was so happy to get this problem out of the way that they took it on.

Now, therefore, we have Earlsferry Town Council leasing the golfing tract and GHC leasing the Melon Park. There was aspiration at least in the GHC to have as much land as possible to try to get the course up to 18 holes standard and the GHC then negotiated with Sir Robert Malcolm and the estate for a lease of a further large area of land. In 1886 therefore the area coloured red became part of the golf course, but again the lease was in favour of Thomas Craigie Glover, The Captain of GHC, Ketchen, the Secretary, Rev. James Hillhouse again, John Curror [Currie?] of Ardross, James Waddell Town Clerk of Earlsferry, John Berwick of Liberty, Andrew Thomson of Craigforth, James Dunn and George Fortune of Muircambus the then committee and office bearers of GHC. This substantially increased the golf course but also the influence of the GHC.

The next move was a further lease by Malcolm in favour of the GHC of the bulk of the former farm of Grange taking the northern boundary almost up the present fence at the 14th hole and extending the breadth of the course nearer Ferry Road. This is the red portion lying to the north of the golfing tract. The GHC were now firmly in control and both Earlsferry Town Council and Earlsferry and Elie Golf Club had been effectively sidelined. Then there was a further lease of a smaller area at the bottom of the hill on which Grangehill farm is situated. This was leased in 1902 again to GHC.

The GHC had in effect by their greater financial and organisational clout managed to control the bulk of the golf course. Earlsferry was very much side-lined although it still did have a right to control what happened in the golfing tract. The list of office bearers and committee of the GHC, who were parties to the lease between Malcolm and the GHC, makes for interesting reading; the Captain was John Earnest Laidlay. He was one of the most important and successful amateur golfers of the era having won two British Amateur Golf championships and numerous (said to be over 130) medals of the various clubs he was a member of. He lived off private means. He was also a member of the committee in 1899, when the golf course was initially extended. Sir Ralph Anstruther of Balcaskie was on the committee on both occasions. We know his late father, Sir Robert, was patron of the Earlsferry and Elie Golf Club at one time. James Scott Davidson a charter accountant from Glasgow – again he was also on the committee in 1899. William Jamieson the factor of Elie Estate. James Nicholson Loden Kirkwood designed as being a colonel in the Indian staff corps who was also on the committee in 1899, Dr. Philip Grierson Borrowman who took over the medical practice of Dr. Macallum in Elie in 1891 but by 1899 he had moved to Crieff but he still retained his committee membership of GHC. If this committee was representative of the quality breeding and financial standing of the members of GHC the locals did not have a look in.