Ayton Golf Course
There’s little or no sign of it now but Ayton had its own golf club and course from 1891 until 1928. The golf course was in the haugh upstream from the Jubilee bridge. Andy Frost, who lives in Royal Bank House, has access to the minute books and has kindly made up these notes about the club. The club’s trophies still reside in the vault in the local RBS branch. Andy was granted permission to take photographs of these, which you can see here. More information and a plan of the course has been given by Mr Harry Ward of Lanark.
Formation of the Club
The original Minute Books for Ayton Golf Club, which still survive today, provide a fascinating insight into the formation of the club which was founded in 1891. On October 7th that year a public meeting was held in the Volunteer Hall, Ayton to hear the outcome of personal conversations by Mr George Wood with Mr Mitchell-Innes and Col Milne Home, regarding the use of the haughs at East Reston and Ayton Law as a golfing course.
Although the response from both gentlemen was favourable, there had been no discussion as to the potential rent. Consequently a formal committee was elected that night with the Rev J Aiken as Chairman and Mr G Wood as Interim Secretary after which the meeting was adjourned in order to seek further information from the proprietors of the land. Following a visit to Col Milne Home at Milne Graden by a “deputation” of the committee, the meeting was reconvened on October 9th to hear the outcome. Mr Wood reported that a nominal rent of 5/- or 10/- per annum would be required dependant upon the size of the membership and that the Golfing Course could be acquired in perpetuity if a proper rent was paid. Permission was granted to use the Haugh provided it did not interfere with the Rifle Range! Permission was also sought from the tenants of both properties, both of whom eventually acquiesced provided there was no noticeable damage to the pasture for grazing. A formal committee was then elected and over the next week or so a number of meetings were held at which a constitution for the Club was agreed and the rules for competitions designed.
The initial entrance fee was to be 7s 6d with 5/- per annum for membership and a visitors pass could be obtained for 1/- per day. James Cockburn was appointed green keeper at a remuneration of £5 a year. Outwith school hours, local children were to be employed as caddies but “in the interests of protecting the Tenants the employment of boys under the age of 12 was to be discouraged”! The only exception was on medal days when “the supply of those who have left school will not prove sufficient and that the charge be 3d per round”. The layout of the 9 hole course was designed and each hole given a name associated with either its position ie Hairy Crag being near the quarry itself or local benefactors eg Balabraes being the home of Sir W G Simpson who was a patron of the club, as well as being a successful competitor. Various plans were also put in place for the construction of a number of bridges, nets over the river opposite the quarry, draining the Caller Well marsh and re-turfing greens and tees. At this stage though there appear to be no plans for a clubhouse as such. As well as regular play there were a number of competitions and medals that were soon taking place with prizes ranging from a golf ball to the silver ink stand donated by Mr John Allan of East Reston and a gold medal presented by Mr Wood. Competitions consisted of two rounds of the course with those scoring over 90 being discarded after the first 9 holes. Consistent trophy winners of the early matches were James Livingstone, Andrew MacVie and David Hume.
In the Minutes for 15th April 1892 it is noted that a letter had been received from Mr White of Ayton Law complaining about the annoyance caused by boys searching for lost balls. In order to prevent such annoyance to the Tenants a bye-law was passed at the meeting that “ Members shall not purchase last balls from boys under penalty of being expelled from the Club”. Further more the members were to “use every endeavour to prevent boys following them round the course” – the green keeper being the only person authorised to collect and re-sell golf balls at a fixed maximum price of 3d each. However, there was possibly a backlash to this new byelaw since the Minutes of a Special Meeting convened on 26th April 1892, discuss the course of action to be taken following the “malicious mischief done to the links and Rifle Range” the previous night.
Captain Doughty provided a report regarding the damage to their property, before several members gave their accounts of finding bridges overturned, one thrown into the river and another having fixtures torn from it , as well as numerous flags being tossed into the river. Captain Doughty undertook to send a Special Requisition to the Chief Constable of Berwickshire, but the Committee resolved that should the Police be unsuccessful then a reward of £5 be offered for the discovery and conviction of the offenders! Subsequent Minutes are silent on whether the perpetrators were in fact apprehended.
Although the Club was obviously very busy during its first year the Committee must have realised early on that they were generating insufficient funds to cover their outgoings as the Minutes of 25th November 1892 reveal. A series of correspondence between the Club and the Tenants was discussed, regarding the admission of members from outwith the district. Obviously the Club were keen to increase membership revenues but the Tenants felt that too many members would mean greater damage to the grazing and suggested an increase in subscriptions would be more appropriate.
Mr White of Ayton Law had concluded his letter by stating …”I decidedly object to my Haugh being made an Open Golf Course”. At this, the Committee backed down although they do not appear to have made any changes to members’ subscriptions either. There is no further discussion on the matter but over coming months the membership does seem to increase with people joining from Berwick, Eyemouth, Chirnside and even Glasgow.
It is not until late 1893 that the club begin to consider building a clubhouse. On 14th December a meeting approves expenditure of £20 on the construction of a new building, but there appears to have been considerable debate about the actual site. A number of votes were held on the different proposals with Mr Cameron’s suggestion of placing the clubhouse “on the haugh behind the last green” being accepted. In April 1894 this was reviewed with a revised price of £32 19s being approved and the site changed to Mr White’s suggestion of being cut into the bank on the opposite side to the mill lade, which fed water to Bleachfield Mill. Unfortunately the minute books give no specific date for the completion or the opening of the “Golf House” – the only reference is a bye law leaving the keys in the possession of the secretary on a Sunday being rescinded on 11th October, as it caused too much inconvenience to members. However a newspaper report and photograph (see below) records the opening in 1894.
Thereafter the Club settled into the mundane routines of any Golf Club with competitions regularly taking place, various bye-laws being applied to the course, new members being approved and handicaps accredited. The one recurring theme is the constant cost of maintenance, in particular to the numerous bridges that criss-crossed the course. The Club seems to have been overdrawn from about 1897 with figures as high as £2 being due to the Royal Bank, although there does not appear to be any concerns at this state of affairs. The Club was subsequently back in credit to the tune of £2-6s by the 1900/01 season. For no apparent reason the Club seems to have ceased playing with there being no further Minutes until a meeting was held in March 1905. This meeting itself was adjourned “pending efforts by Mr Doughty to procure more members”. The following March 1906 shows the Club re-opening with the Committee unanimously agreeing to put the greens in order ready for play and by 1907 funds at the bank were standing at £9 17s 3d! However, membership appears to have fallen again and there is more than a 10 year gap (notwithstanding the possible effects of the Great War) until a public meeting is called in March 1920 to discuss re-opening the course. Subscriptions rose dramatically to 10s 6d but a family membership could be obtained for 25/-.
The club continued to prosper with funds reaching as much as £45 – although necessary repairs to the clubhouse roof were put off, the club continued with work on bridges and a tool shed. By now the ranks of the committee had greatly increased to include many of the lady members – no doubt to assist with fund-raising. There are records of whist drives, dances (not entirely successful having made a £5 loss) and Cakes & Candy stalls which produced a surplus of £23. Unfortunately none of these efforts seem to have been enough to contain the ongoing costs of repairs principally to bridges but also to the Clubhouse itself. The situation was exacerbated in early 1928 when heavy floods washed away the East Reston or “top” bridge and transformed the 6th green into a bog, along with other damage to the course. Consequently the Greens Committee recommended curtailing the course to only six holes, but did agree to replace the “top” bridge, raising it by up to 9 inches. The 1928 season appears to have got underway with various dates planned and confirmed for numerous competitions, but the last entry for a committee meeting is May 8th with no further minutes. The accounts show that the remaining balance at the bank was used to continue paying insurance premiums and making minor repairs, until all funds were finally exhausted in 1936.
We are indebted to the courtesy of the editor of the Edinburgh Evening News for the sketch of Ayton Golf Course. The course has been laid out along the haughs enclosed between the Eye Water and what is known as the “back road” to Reston. As the ground slopes on either side down to the river in the centre and, as the water is an ever present hazard, it may be assumed that the course is an exceedingly sporting one. Nine holes have been laid out. Starting from the first tee close beside the road, a stretch of gorse and the river are hazard enough to the first hole, over 250 yards in front. Immediately behind the hole is an expansive tract of bog known as “Collar Well”. The second hole is uphill 150 yards and the third, 200 yards along the brow of the slope where a ball not absolutely in line will roll a considerable distance. Facing the fourth hole, the player has to once more cross the river and the putting green, a very good one, is in front of Hairy Craig Quarry, the distance being 200 yards.
The fifth hole is back across the river 100 yards, the sixth uphill to the very corner of East Reston Haugh and the seventh back again to the water’s edge. Then comes the most peculiar and most sporting hole of the course, in which the river is crossed three times, as a very steep bank between the quarry and the mill lade prevents a straight course. From the teeing ground a good drive takes the ball to the green below the quarry, then, turning towards the river and, if a good lie has been secured, the ball is pretty well uphill, in order that the player turns toward the distant hole, the dangerous proximity of the large damhead pool on the left may be avoided. The length of the hole is 500 yards and the green is between the river and the mill lade. The home hole is easily negotiated, the distance being 300 yards. The length of the whole course is nearly a mile.
Footbridges will be erected at several places. The course has been laid out by Bob Ferguson of Musselburgh. Once the green has been brought into form by play, golfers may patronise with the assurance of getting a game to put them on their mettle. The club already has over 40 members, with a ladies’ section. The Office Bearers and Patrons. Partons: A H Mitchell Innes Esq of Ayton and Whithall; Sir Walter Grindlay Simpson, Baronet, of Balabraes; Colonel David Milne Home of Wedderburn; John Allan Esq of Peelwalls; Charles K Galbraith Esq, Ayton Castle; Major Grant, Stoneshiel House; Alexander Gibson Esq of Netherbyres. President: Mr K C White, Ayton Law; Vice President: Mr John Allan, East Reston; Captain: Sir Walter G Simpson, Baronet, of Balabraes; Vice Captain: The Rev J J Marshall I Aitken. Committee: Mr A Thomson, Dr Jeffrey, Messrs Geddes, Stothart, Morison, T P Doughty and Office Bearers. Secretary: G Wood, Postmaster, Ayton.
Plan of the course
The following article appeared in the Berwickshire News on 10th November 1891.
Opening of the Clubhouse
The following article about the opening of the “Ayton Club Golf-House” appeared in the Berwickshire News on 24th April 1894.
On Thursday last, an important event in connection with this club took place, when the Club House, which has been in the course of erection for some time past, was formally opened. It was on October last that the Club decided to build such a house, and in the following month a successful concert made a substantial beginning for the Club House Fund. After careful consideration, by a special committee appointed to carry out the work of building the house etc, on a site chosen on the bank of the mill lade, on the opposite side of the haugh and parallel with the “home” hole. Considerable expense was incurred in getting the bank excavated and built round by a substantial retaining wall, but the admirable situation amply repays the extra expenditure. The neat bridge spans the mill lade and along the front of the house runs a gangway where members can gather and watch the play. As now finished the house presents a very pretty appearance, and reflects great credit on the builder, Mr John Heron, joiner, Ayton, who has certainly spared no pains in the workmanship. The house is still to be furnished with lockers and other conveniences, and by the time it is fully equipped will cost upwards of £40.
Great thanks are due to those gentlemen both in the club, and outside of it, who have so generously subscribed to the fund and contributed so largely to the success of the undertaking. The ceremony of opening the House was performed by Sir W. G. Simpson, Bart., of Balabraes, the captain of the Club, who, in the course of his remarks, advised the clubs not the call it “The Club-House”, but “The Ayton Club Golf-House”. Three cheers were given as the Captain turned the key and declared the Golf-House open.
The opening of the Clubhouse in 1894. A note accompanying this photograph stated that it included The Rev J.J.M.L. Aitken, James Martin, Will Thomson, Dr and Mrs Taylor, John and Odo Taylor, Alan Doughty.
Sketch of the Clubhouse.
The report of the opening of the clubhouse in the Berwickshire News of 10th November 1891 continued with the following:-
AYTON CLUB AND THE “WOOD” MEDAL
Immediately after the above ceremony another important item in the Club’s programme began with the competition for the “Wood” medal. This Medal was presented to the Club by Mr Alex. Wood, formerly of Ayton, now in Dunbar, and is competed for annually, the winner on each occasion receiving a small charm.
The competition is a handicap one and therefore is largely taken part in by members of the Club. This medal has already been won by Mr W. Wilson in 1892 and Mr Joseph Stoddart in 1893, but neither of the gentlemen succeeded in carrying it off on this occasion. The winner this year was Mr Alex. Martin of Burnmouth, who won it with a nett score of 103. Some ten couples started and the weather was very favourable.
The scores were not quite so good as was expected, but probably the excitement connected with the competition would account for a few points. Quite a new departure was made by getting several lady members of the Club to act as special markers, and the result was so satisfactory that it is hoped that this will not be their last appearance in that capacity.
The following were the best cards returned:-
Alex. Martin.................................129 less 26 – 103
D. R. Cameron……………………….. 107 less 2 – 105
Andrew Mcvie…………………………105 plus 2 – 107
A. Nisbet…………………………………123 less 16 – 107
J. K Livingstone……………………….107 plus 2 – 109
Thos. Morrison……………………… 131 less 22 – 109
Ralph T. Smith……………………….. 129 less 18 – 111
Jas Walker………………………………136 less 22 – 114
G. A. Wilson…………………………….113 plus 2 – 115
Rev. J. J. M. L. Aitken…………....... 127 less 8 – 119
W. J. Wison……………………………. 117 plus 2 – 119
Jas. B. Sinclair………………………….132 less 10 – 122
David Hume……………………………135 less 12 – 123
Joseph Stothart………………………..135 less 10 – 125
George Wood…………………………..138 less 12 – 126
John Spratt………………………………141 less 12 – 129
AYTON CLUB “HERON” COMPETITION
The final of “Heron” Competition for the club was presented by Mr John Heron, was decided when Mr J.K. Livingstone beat Mr W. J. Wilson by 4 holes.
Mr Livingstone therefore carries off the first prize of a clock and a lofter, and Mr Wilson follows with putter
AYTON CLUB “CHARM” COMPETITION
On Saturday last, the fourth of the “Charm” Competitions was played.
The scores returned were very good, considering the high wind which prevailed; and the closeness of the figures shows that the Green Committee are very successful in their handicapping.
Joseph Stothart……………………… 114 less 10 – 104
George A. Wilson…………………….106 plus 2 – 108
Ralph T. Smith…………………....... 129 less 20 – 109
W. J. Wilson……………………………107 plus 4 – 111
Andrew Fairbairn……………………122 less 10 – 112
Andrew Macvie……………………….111 plus 2 – 113
Thanks to Harry Ward who send this report from "The Berwick News" of 26th January 1937.
AYTON GOLF CLUB’S DIFFICULTY
A meeting of Ayton Golf Club was held in the Volunteer Hall on Monday last. Mr D Sanderson (chairman) intimated apologies from Mr J.J. Rankin and Mr J. W. Gray and explained that the meeting had been called to hear the report of the acting committee.
The acting secretary, submitting the report, stated that at the previous meeting of the Club the acting committee had laid certain proposals before it, dealing with the raising of money and the restoring of the course to a playable condition. The proposals did not need to be repeated but three steps had been taken; 1. A considerable sum of money had been raised by loans; 2. The preliminary work had been done on four greens that lay on the East Reston part of the course; and, 3. A greenkeeper had been provisionally appointed.
Mainly as a matter of courtesy, intimation was sent to the trustees of the late Captain Liddell-Grainger informing them that the Club had been revived and asking for continuation of the facilities previously allowed to the Club. Pending a reply from the trustees work was begun on the East Reston part of the course and the appointment of a greenkeeper considered.
After a delay of three weeks the trustees replied but the reply was indefinite and laid down conditions which the acting committee considered unnecessary. Mr Gray kindly offered to put more land at the disposal of the Club so that the whole course would be on East Reston. The committee considered this very generous but could not accept, as the course would be too far from the village.
It was agreed to write again to the trustees, asking them to reconsider the position, pointing out that full permission had been obtained from the neighbouring proprietor for the part of the course on his estate and that a golf course would be an undoubted boon to the community of Ayton and district. Meanwhile all work on the course was suspended and the greenkeeper warned that the appointment might be cancelled.
The acting committee met again on January 4, six weeks after the despatch of the letter, but no reply had come to hand, and they very reluctantly decided to return all borrowed money, to sell the clubhouse, tools and equipment to pay the debt, and to disband the acting committee.
After the report had been framed a letter was received from the trustees, but its contents did not alter the circumstances in any way.
After many expressions of disappointment, the meeting agreed to the acting committee’s proposals. The meeting then decided that the Club should be kept in existence and that permission be obtained to play the Club competitions on neighbouring courses. Mr Willans was appointed president and Mr Duff secretary.