19th Century Agitation
It is significant that the earliest proposals to form a new golf club in the town occurred in the early 1880s. At this time the popularity of golf and its spread throughout the country was such that the game started to attract developers and entrepreneurs. Clubs with fine clubhouses providing facilities comparable with the finest gentlemen’s clubs in the city were becoming commonplace, all more or less modelled on the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews.
It is also significant that the development of golf had brought a new popularity to the ancient town. St Andrews had become one of the county’s principal resorts for the health conscious Victorians and the town experienced something of an economic boom in consequence.
Although there were twelve golf clubs, the town's golfers had no clubhouse. Clubs met in bars or church halls, according to affiliation and inclination. Medals were played on fixed days in the month known to all: cards collected at fixed times and places and the annual dinner and presentation of prizes was often the only time in the year that the members came together.
There can be little doubt that the success of the Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club in acquiring not only its own course but also in building a clubhouse, was an inspiration to the movement gathering in St Andrews to erect a clubhouse. Tom Morris had been instrumental in the formation of the St Nicholas Club and his son-in-law, James Hunter, had been club champion. When Hunter came to reside in St Andrews his friends and regular playing partners emerged as the principal promoters of a clubhouse for the townspeople. Hunter, Pirie, Stenhouse and Bethune played regularly in St Andrews and Prestwick. Bethune was a member of the R&A but Pirie and Stenhouse were not. They would doubtless be dissatisfied with the after-golf facilities available to them in the town, especially compared with what was on offer in Prestwick. Old Tom Morris, ‘the Nester of golf’, himself also agitated about the fact that the town had no golf clubhouse applied himself to pressuring the Thistle Club to find premises.
Although there was much local talk there was little local action. It took almost thirty years and an in-comer to the town to start concerted action.
Herbert Montague Singer was a man of action. He had come to the town a butler and ended up a property owner with a flourishing boarding house enterprise. He was a popular energetic figure known affectionately as "Monkey Brand’ due to his apparent resemblance to the bewhiskered monkey that adorned the lid of a brand of patent polish. Although not a golfer of any standing (he played off 25), he was an inveterate organiser. He founded the cycling club as well as the cricket club, ran the fife Golf Association and the Telegraph Cup (precursor of the Scottish Amateur Championship) and was the prime mover in the formation of the Scottish Golf Union. He also found time to design golf clubs and balls with mixed success.
It was this energetic little man who finally managed to get the hotchpotch of golf clubs in St Andrews together in the Royal Hotel early in 1901.
Despite the Odds – The Formation of the Club
The meeting that was held in the Royal Hotel took place against a background of rapid change and rampant optimism in the town. Not only had the New Memorial Cottage Hospital been built, but also the Step Rock swimming pool was opened for sea bathing. Forgan’s clubmaking factory was extended and Tom Stewart opened his cleekmaking works. Rapid expansion of the town warranted the building of St Leonards Church as well as a new Baptist Church. The Episcopalians started their expansion in North Castle Street and the Church of Scotland also set about the restoration of Holy Trinity, a seminal kirk of the Scottish Reformation. St Andrews was on the move.
Robert Officer, physical education instructor to the University and Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, chaired the Royal Hotel meeting. It achieved little more than accord in the need for a clubhouse, but there was sufficient resolve to form a sub-committee to progress the matter. This committee comprised Herbert Singer, Arthur Aikman (grocer), James Pirie (china merchant), and Colin Donaldson (hatter). Driven by Singer they were active in their endeavour although disagreement between the clubs made for difficulties. Courageously, they took the decision to form a new club.
This ad hoc committee was joined by Edward King (teacher), James Smart (confectioner), and George Fisher (fish merchant), and they set about looking for a property suitable for a clubhouse.
Not surprisingly, it was Herbert Singer who found the premises. Mrs Margaret Sang - whose family had the feu of 3 Gibson Place since the 1820 roupe of the Pilmuir links land - was prepared to sell her house for £1300. Mrs Sang gave the committee two weeks to come up with the money or the offer would be withdrawn. Eschewing the proposal to form a Limited Liability Company, a public appeal for funds was made and endorsed by ex-Provost John MacGregor, James Gillespie (architect), Henry Henderson (stationer), and Andrew Aikman (grocer). The Appeal raised £1600 in ten days and 3 Gibson Place was secured. Immediately, a meeting was called of the 100 citizens who had indicated their intention to subscribe to the new club. This meeting took place in the Council Chambers on Thursday, 16th February 1902.
Ex-Provost Macgregor chaired the meeting but it was James Gillespie who moved that those who had applied for membership should form themselves into a new club (for the promotion inter alia of the game of golf and the friendly intercourse of all interested therein.) William Grieg (plasterer) seconded the motion which was carried unanimously.
A heated discussion about naming the new club followed. The majority were Thistle Club members who wanted to retain the Thistle name. A proposal was made for The Tom Morris Golf Club, which the great man himself modestly insisted against. Other proposals were shouted down.
It is simply not known who provided the rationale that just as the R&A was always referred to as the Old Club, it was inevitable that the new club would always be referred to as the New Club. The motion was put and with reluctant but unanimous accord the new club was named The New Golf Club of St Andrews.
Reflecting the optimism of the times, the objective was set to officially open The New Club to coincide with the Coronation of the new Monarch. Whether for reasons of humour or in recognition of his service to the cause of the Club, the founding Captain of the Club in the Coronation year of King Edward was Edward King.
The Early Years
It astonishes that, having only acquired 3 Gibson Place and constituted the Club in February and March, it was officially opened on 17 July 1902. King Edward failed to co-operate with The New Club’s planning: his coronation day was postponed until August after he withdrew with appendicitis. Edward King, however, was on schedule and after the inaugural competition for the Coronation Cup, he presided over a grand dinner in the evening.
It was fitting that Arthur Aikman should win the Cup and that Fred Mackenzie return the best scratch score. It was even more fitting that in the course of his proposing the toast to The New Club at the evening dinner, ex-Provost MacGregor should touch upon the need for another golf course. He was particular in describing the land to the south of the Old Course between Pilmuir Cottage and the estuary of the Eden. The Club never ceased to agitate the Town Council about this and with all of the Council club members and many on the committee it is not surprising that the Eden Course came into being in July 1914.
The town not only had a new and vigorous club, it had nine clubs less; these had disbanded, settling to come under one New Club flag. What they got for their money was impressive. The garden of 3 Gibson place had been built over to make the big members lounge with its lockers and bay windows overlooking the Old Course; a fine dining room, billiards room and offices completed the facilities. But more importantly, the St Andrews golfers had a place to meet and talk about their game.
There was much to talk about. Willie Greig won the Freddie Tait Medal (the St Andrews Links Matchplay Championship) before the clubhouse was opened and Arthur Aikman and Fred Mackenzie went off to play in the Amateur Championship that year. These were the main men of the links. Although Willie had declined to represent Scotland against England, Fred had gone to Hoylake and trounced Bernard Darwin. Fred’s record was remarkable: he won the Telegraph Cup (the precursor of the Scottish Amateur Championship) three times, was awarded two International caps and won the R&A Gold Medal (Strokeplay championship of the links) eight times. A selection of his medals is on display in the club, as well as the card with which he recorded the first sub-seventy strokes round on the Old Course.
But Fred’s story is really one of what might have been. In April 1904, Fred went to Chicago to take up a seasonal coaching appointment, principally for health reasons. Provost and club Past Captain George Murray, together with the then Captain Robert Stenhouse and hundreds of townspeople gave Fred a royal send-off from the railway station and an even greater reception on his return in December. Naively, perhaps, Fred failed to appreciate that he was forfeiting his amateur status. His application for reinstatement was refused when the rules were changed in 1920. Fred played out his days as a club golfer happy in the companionship of his friends on the links.
If Fred Mackenzie brought the Club into the columns of the press, the death of Tom Morris brought it into the headlines. Old Tom had been made an Honourary Member at the March meeting in 1902 when the constitution was adopted. Tom attended the Club daily with his close friend George Murray, with whom he had his regular ‘black strap’ tipple in the afternoon. On Sunday, 24 May 1908, after carrying out his elders’ duties in the Holy Trinity Church he joined his cronies in the Club. Soon after settling in his window seat he rose to go to the toilet, the door of which was next to the cellar stairs. His friends heard a cry and when they rushed to investigate they found that Tom had fallen down the cellar stairs. He had injured the base of his skull and was almost certainly dead before the horse ambulance reached the Cottage Hospital. At the age of 87, Tom had long since become an international golfing celebrity and his death and the scale of his funeral was reported worldwide.
The club had not recovered from the shock of Tom’s death when, in June, Provost George Murray, Club Past Captain and Postmaster in the town since 1864, was found dead. George was returning from executing his postal duties in Peat Inn when he fell off his bicycle on Feddinch Brae and broke his neck.
Prior to the First World War, the Club struggled with an at best static membership and a deficit at the bank. All this changed in the post war years, due mainly to the adoption in Parliament of the 1913 St Andrews Links Act.
After the town’s re-acquisition of the links with the Links Bill of 1894, no charge was made to play golf on the links. It took a further Bill to empower the Town Council to charge for play. It also granted the right to grant certain concessions for certain categories of golfers. One category embraced bonna fida members of local golf clubs. Not surprising, the non-resident category of the Club membership burgeoned to the extent that the constitution was altered from the original limit of 500 members to 750. The rapid increase in membership brought welcome revenue and respite from the bank but it also posed problems of accommodation. The Club embarked on a development programme with the acquisition of 4 Gibson Place, and no decade since has passed without expansion and improvement.
This, the first major development, laid the basis of all that has followed. Numbers 3 and 4 Gibson Place were combined and the Club expanded upwards. A billiard room with two tables was set on the first floor with a card room and reading room. On the ground floor, as well as an improved dining room and kitchen facility, the new links frontage gave rise to the "Blue Room’ to accommodate lady visitors. New entrances to Gibson Place and the Links Road finished off the re-vamped Club, which was opened with a celebratory dinner on 27 September 1929.
Although this was a time of rapid expansion and change it was also a time of golfing renown. In 1922, Capes and Murray won the Evening Times Trophy for the Scottish Foursomes Championship at Wester Gailles. Another duo, Boumphry and King, did it again in 1924 at Gleneagles and retained it at Troon. George Killey won the Eden Tournament, then one of the principal Matchplay events in the country, in 1926 and again in 1927. But it was Ken Greig who won the top honours in 1930 when he won the Scottish Amateur Championship at Carnoustie.
Post War Crisis
Ten years after the 1929 development, which was financed out of revenue, the Club was lumbered with a heavy overdraft at the bank. The guarantors proved understanding and patient. The War Office, on the other hand, was avaricious and inconsiderate.
In May 1941, the clubhouse was taken over as the administrative headquarters for the RAF Initial Training Wing. All of the hotels in town were requisitioned as dormitories and living quarters for the staff and cadets. Short notice was given; James Ramsey, the Club Secretary and local Head Postmaster, received a telegram one Sunday afternoon informing him that the Air Ministry would occupy The New Golf Club at noon the following day.
RAF occupation would cost the Club dear. Rental and post-war compensation fell a long way short of the costs of restoration and undoing the green paint job of an Air Ministry painter who had left no surface untouched.
The clubhouse was formally reopened in September 1944, but the Club was left financially crippled. However, with post war property price inflation, the Club was able to issue debentures at 4% to provide the cash flow required to put it back on its feet. All the debentures were repaid within five years.
Post War social habits dictated that a place had to be found for mixed social gatherings in the Club. The Blue Room on the ground floor was clearly not big enough and this prompted Gilmour Armit, during his Captaincy in 1957, to propose that a mixed lounge be constructed above the main lounge. His proposal was shelved but its objective remained high on the Committee’s agenda.
When 5 Gibson Place came on the market in 1959, the Club quickly purchased it. Its garden on the Links Road enabled extension of the downstairs locker and shower area and constructing a side entrance meant that the draughty door off the road could be shut up and the Blue Room joined onto the main lounge. It also made possible the construction of a new ladies lounge at the back of the new property upstairs.
With the clubhouse in a constant state of change, the members continued as normal on the links. Andrew Dowie and Bill Mitchell won the Evening Times Trophy at North Berwick in 1946. In 1947, Alex Taylor won the Eden and Andrew Dowie won the Craw’s Nest Tassie at Carnoustie. Andrew won the Eden in 1952 but, overall, the fifties would prove to be the decade of Ian Reid. Ian was talented in every game with a ball. He excelled at billiards but he was indisputably the dean of the links. Ian won the Eden in 1952 and the Fife Championship in 1954. He won the Eden again in 1957, the year that his friend and fellow Club member, George Will, won the Fife Championship and the British Youths Championship before turning professional.
Mixed social events were becoming increasingly popular in the Club. Also, when major tournaments were played on the links and when, annually, the Eden Sweepstake was held in the Club, facilities were stretched. There was also constant discussion about building upwards to better enjoy the view, not only of the Links but also of the West Sands and the sea that the site offered.
It was not until 1967, that the Committee was allowed to install a gaming machine - the ‘bandit’ as it came to be known. Resistance to it was vociferous, but it was the income generated from the bandit that enabled the construction of an upstairs mixed lounge fronting the links. This was built over the Reading Room, what had once been the Blue Room, and its frontage over the Links Road remains to this day. It was opened without ceremony on 6 September 1969 and was an immediate success. It was of an L shape and although not spacious or easily accessed it brought a new life into the Club. As well as monthly dances and bridge evenings, inter-club quizzes and other social gatherings were held there. The mixed lounge timeously satisfied a social need of the times. Mixed foursomes golf became possible in the town with the mixed lounge providing a place for reception and prize giving.
1974 saw still further expansion with the purchase of 6 Gibson Place. This enabled the construction of a new Committee Room, with accommodation for the Secretary and his assistant. The Steward’s quarters were relocated to the third floor of the numbers 5 and 6 properties and his old quarters were turned into a TV room and a meeting room, with new toilets for both sexes built on the same level as the upstairs mixed lounge.
Change was also endemic on the links. Alistair Low brought honours by winning the British Youths Championship and the British Universities Championship in 1963. Gordon Russell won the Fife Championship in 1968 and the Eden in 1971. In that year, John Kinnear, Jim Hepburn and Donald Macrae joined with David Ingram of Dalmahoy to win the Sunday Express Pro- Am at Haggs Castle.
In the seventies, Murray Mitchell and Stan Reith dominated the Champions board. Murray won the Eden in 1975 and retained the title in ’76. Stan made one sojourn to the Fife Championship in ’78 and came back the Champion.
If the changes in the Club were major, changes on the links were momentous. With the reform of local government, Town and County Councils were abolished and replaced with District and Regional Councils. There was an imminent danger that control of the St Andrews Links would pass from the people of St Andrews to the new Fife Regional Council.
In 1971, largely through pressure from The New Club with the power and influence of the R&A, the Town Council were persuaded to appeal the Links Act with a view to vesting control of the courses in an independent Links Trust. The St Andrews Links Act of 1974 kept control of the links in the town, although the townspeople no longer had a say in the appointment of the trustees or members of the Management Committee.
A Century's End
Securing the links under the Links Trust brought optimism as well as relief to the Club. Golf had become a major TV sport, and attendance at major championships on the links had exploded beyond the wildest estimates. At the Open or the annual Dunhill event, the upstairs L-shaped mixed lounge was literally overflowing. Carpet bowls was also becoming popular and mixed evenings were habitually well attended. In keeping with the times there was a powerful movement to change the constitution to include a women’s membership. Although this was resisted it became clear that greater provision would have to be made to accommodate mixed events and provide more extensive dining facilities.
Planning approval was gained in 1992 for the biggest redevelopment of all. The L-shaped upstairs lounge was to be replaced by a large square lounge that would accommodate a dance floor with two carpet bowling rinks. Sited above the big downstairs lounge, a dining room with extensive kitchens at the rear would be accessed from the new mixed lounge. All of this would be reached from a broad staircase from an Entrance Hall at the Gibson Place entrance to the Club. The old downstairs Dining Room would become a Committee Room and what had been the kitchen would be turned into a Player’s Bar, with a relaxed dress code. The Secretary’s office would be re-cited off the Entrance Hall and the old office and Committee Room reconstructed as a Junior’s Room.
To finance the development, loans were raised and the membership levied. Work began in September 1993 and was completed in Spring 1994. Introduced by the Club Captain Dr Duncan Lawrie, five times Open Champion Peter Thomson formally opened the new facility and the Club entered a new era.
In terms of ongoing social change, the Club has lived up to its motto ‘Semper Nova’, Always New. In golf, it has remained stolidly and placidly consistent. The Champion’s board of the last twenty years has been dominated by the names of Stan Reith, Davie Wilkie and Duncan Lawrie, all multiple winners of the Links Match and Strokeplay Championships and Fife County Champions all. Gordon Kidd, Club Captain in 1995, and Ian Logie won Senior County honours and Duncan Lawrie national honours, when he won the Scottish Seniors Championship in 1995. The junior section also brought distinction in 1993, when James Bunch made up a nine-stroke deficit entering the final round of the Scottish Boys Strokeplay Championship to take the title by one stroke.
2002 - 2012
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