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Early History of New Galloway Golf Club

The full version of the Club history compiled by John Watson is available for £10. There are more than 110 pages of text plus 26 pages of photographs covering covering the complete period since 1902. Apart from being a detailed account of the club it gives a remarkable insight into golf over the years. Golf enthusiasts will find it a steal for a tenner.

The spread of golf in Galloway is seen to follow closely the expansion of the railway westward from Dumfries which became linked to the national network through the Nithsdale line in 1850. In 1880, golf came to the South of Scotland with the establishment in 1880 of the Dumfries Club (later the Dumfries and Galloway Golf Club), and followed by the Moffat and Crichton Royal Clubs in 1884.

The first recorded steps to establish a golf club at New Galloway is the first entry in the minute book of 1902 of a public meeting held in the Town Hall on the evening of 31st January 1902 to consider the question of forming a local golf course. Mr. J C Maitland Gordon of Kenmure occupied the chair and intimated that he would be willing to give the use of the Town Park and the "whinnie field" adjoining which he thought would make a good nine-hole course.

Mr. Maitland Gordon offered to communicate with Mr. George L. Baillie with whom he was acquainted and who had considerable experience in laying out golf courses. A steering committee was appointed with Mr. James Mitchell as Secretary and the following members: Messrs. J. C. M. Gordon, J. A. Courtenay, W. Corrie, Major Reed and Dr Cowan.

George Baillie was originally from Musselburgh and was one of the major influences in the development of golf in Ireland. He was a founder member of the club at Newcastle, County Down which later became the Royal County Down Golf Club. When Old Tom Morris was engaged to lay out the links there, he is reported to have said of Mr. Baillie's work on the course: "I wonder why they send for me; this Mr. Baillie kens mair aboot laying golf links than I dae."

Mr. Baillie arrived at New Galloway on April 1st 1902 and after inspecting the two fields proceeded to mark out the proposed course. That same evening he drew a plan of the projected layout and with the committee went carefully into the cost. He estimated that on the most economical lines it would take about £50 to start it and suggested an annual subscription of 10/6 (52.5p) for gentlemen and 5/- (25p) for ladies. Visitors should be charged 1/- (5p) per day, 3/- (15p) per week and 7/6 (37.5p) per month.

The steering committee wasted no time and at a public meeting on April 10th the Club was duly formed subject to the lease of the required land from Mr. Gordon being confirmed. The original committee was elected to draw up the rules of the Club and these were approved at the first General Meeting of the Club on 21st April 1902.

At the meeting Mr. J. C. M. Gordon was elected President and Mr. H. A. Timms, Captain. Mr. J. A. Courtenay, who had drawn up these original Rules, became Honorary Secretary and Mr. James Mitchell was elected Honorary Assistant Secretary, a post he was to occupy until his death in 1948. The committee was authorised to settle all matters relating to the Lease and to sign this when settled.

Over the following weeks work went ahead apace to prepare the course for play under the supervision of Mr. Thomas Duff. Despite using only hand tools and limited labour the course was ready for the formal opening on Saturday 17th May 1902.

The contrast between this very basic approach to the design and construction of a golf course and modem practice could hardly be greater. All work had to be done manually and yet the course was opened for play within weeks of work commencing with playing surfaces considered perfectly acceptable and attracting favourable comment in contemporary accounts. MrBaillie's expenses totalled £4 and there was expenditure of £17 11s. 9d. including labour on laying out the course.

Many of the holes laid out on golf courses at that time are still in play today with only minor changes. One can only admire the ability of George Baillie and his like in using the natural contours of the land and contrast it with the methods of some modern course designers whose layouts seem to depend on extensive earth-moving operations for any success achieved.

 There was considerable interest locally and the following is a report on the opening from the Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser, May 23, 1902.

OPENING OF NEW-GALLOWAY GOLF LINKS

On Saturday last, the 17th inst., these links were formally opened by the President (Mr. Gordon of Kenmure) in the presence of a large number of members and their friends. The Provost (Dr Cowan) in a few well chosen words, said that he considered the people of New Galloway had two distinct parties to thank - Mr. Gordon, who had so generously granted to the club a lease of the golf course at a nominal rent; and the many kind friends who had so handsomely come forward with donations towards the initial expenses of the club, without which it could not have been started. He then called open the President to open the course. The President said that he was very pleased indeed to see the golf club started, and then, remarking that it was a time for action rather than speech, drove off the first ball, and declared the course opened. Three hearty cheers were given for the New Galloway Golf Club, and the Union Jack was hoisted.

A match was subsequently played between the President and the Captain (Mr. Timms), all the company following round and watching with great interest the play, which terminated in a victory for the Captain. Afterwards tea was provided for all present, the arrangements for which were admirably carried by Mrs. Milligan of the Cross Keys, and the company soon after dispersed, all well pleased with the success of the afternoon's proceedings.

The New-Galloway Golf Course, upon which for some weeks much labour has been expended, under the skilful superintendence of Mr. Thomas Duff, was laid out by Mr. Baillie, of Musselburgh and Belfast, a gentleman well known in golfing circles, and an expert in laying-out links, more especially in Ireland.

Mr. Baillie, in writing recently of the links, says: - "Few nine-hole courses, not lying along the coast, will compare with the one at present being laid out close to the town of New Galloway. From start to finish nature has provided both teeing grounds and putting greens, and the rabbit has during many years - perhaps centuries - so nibbled and patted the intervening turf that it resembles that of a seaside links, rather than an inland one. The 'coney' is, however, as all golfers know, not an unmixed blessing, but his scrapes and holes are being dexterously dealt with under the superintendence of a local expert, and before a few weeks are over, only the wild driver will have cause for complaint on that score. The course, though desolate of yawning sand bunkers, has a great variety of hazard. The water ditch in front of the first tee, the dyke to be carried for the third flag, the knowe in approaching the fourth, the bracken at the sixth, the bunker at the eighth, and the gully to the ninth, will keep the golfer, if not elated or dejected, at least interested from the time he drives off his first ball till he holes out on the lovely sward of the final green."

The links, which are approached by a neat entrance from the road, are situated on the Town Park, new Galloway; and on the higher ground obtains views both extensive and beautiful of the whole of the Glenkens.

 By the date of the official opening there were already 66 members, including 23 ladies, which is a fair indication of the enthusiasm for the Club in its early days. By the time a clubhouse was built in September that year membership had risen to almost 100 and this figure was exceeded by the time of the Annual General Meeting in May 1903.

At their early meetings the Committee members were concerned mainly with such matters as the Rules of the Club, the question of who should pay entrance fees, and the organisation of local boys as caddies. Some of those employed as caddies subsequently became members in their own right and competent players in the years that followed.