Early in 1889 a group of Lamlash businessmen who were attracted by the sport of golf decided to establish a golf course in the village. They included James Allan of Clauchlands, James Montgomery (joiner), J.B.Sweet (banker) and John Bannatyne, owner of the Pier Head Tavern. The first Treasurer was J.R.Thomson of Monawillne and A. Davids was the first Secretary. T. Robertson became the first Captain.
James Allan and his son, who had formerly farmed Balnacoole in the Shiskine valley, leased the Clauchlands Farm from Arran Estate, and negotiated recognition of Blairmore and the lands of Margnaheglish also as a farm, which enabled him to allow Blairmore to be developed into a golf course. The Arran Estate Trustees, with support from the 12th Duke of Hamilton, agreed to this and adjusted the ground-rent of Blairmore, with the committee paying £2.00 per year. Funding to construct the proposed course was essential, so in the early summer Captain Buchanan of the P.S. Scotia organised a cruise on the Clyde between the steamer’s scheduled sailings. The sum of £40.00 was realised, which was the equivalent of an average year’s wage in the late 1800’s.
Blairmore was arable farmland at the time, divided by hedges. It had mainly been used to graze sheep and cattle, so the ground was naturally manured and already consisted largely of cropped grass. This easy start enabling the Lamlash men to create a few teeing areas and greens quite quickly, so that golfing could begin, though the fairways had yet to be planned.
In 1890 the committee contacted Willie Fernie, a professional golfer at Royal Troon Golf Club from 1887 until 1924, to design a 9-hole layout. Willie had completed some improvements at Troon, but this venture at Lamlash was his first design of a new golf course. He is in the record books as having designed a number of courses in Scotland as well as some in France. On Arran, he designed the Shiskine course in 1896, and Machrie in 1900. He was a very able player, and won the British Open in 1883 at Musselburgh with a set of clubs he made himself.
The Lamlash layout began with the first tee near the cemetery road playing to the first hole adjacent to the Brodick Road. Though Willie was the architect of the course, local men carried out the work, using simple tools and hauling stone and earth with horses and carts and making use of the natural terrain. The course had a yardage of 2180 with a bogey score of 33. Over the years the course has changed and evolved, and the only green remaining from the original 1890 course, is the present 14th. In 1891 Willie returned to Lamlash playing an exhibition match and set a course record of 31.
In 1894 the Allans terminated the lease of Blairmore and the tenancy was taken over by Mr A.Spiers, on the understanding that the golf course remained. The new tenancy led to further changes of the course, because so many people wanted to play golf that the nine-hole layout simply wasn’t big enough.
Willie Fernie was in France, designing a golf course at Golf Du Touquet, so in 1896 the committee contacted Willie Auchterlonie of St Andrews with a request to design an enlarged, 18-hole course. The new layout had some of the holes surrounding the farmhouse, with the first tee adjacent to the Brodick Road. This can still be seen today, and the 11th hole, too, is as Auchterlonie designed it.
The following year, the two designers, Fernie & Auchterlonie, played an exhibition match to celebrate the opening of the new course on Saturday 12th June. James Auld Jamieson, commissioner of the Hamilton ducal estate, performed the opening drive, and Lord Shand (1828-190), who was a friend of James Jamieson and happened to be on holiday on Arran, gave the opening speech. Lord Shand was born in Aberdeen and was a member of the Judicial Committee and Privy Council. He became Deputy Advocate, Judge of the court of sessions and was made a Baron in 1892.
On Saturday 14th August 1897 eight professional golfers came to compete on the new layout of Lamlash Golf Club. They were: Willie Fernie (1857-1924) of Troon and Willie Auchterlonie(1872-1963) of St Andrews, and also Andrew Kirkaldy (1860-1934), Ben Sayers (1856-1924) of North Berwick, Kinnell of Prestwick, Scott of Elie, Douglas of Polloe and Herd, the cousin of Sandy Herd, from Huddersfield. Kinnell won the prize purse of £8.00 (the equivalent of the average wage for 2 months) with a 36-hole score of 136 and set a course record of 64.
From 1898 the clubhouse in use was a ship’s cabin from a sailing ship of the era. After the building of the new clubhouse in 1903 it was re-positioned and remained in use until 1967 as a green-keepers’ shed storing the staff equipment. The Duchess of Montrose opened the new, smart clubhouse, built by local tradesmen, in August 1904 and Willie Fernie played an exhibition game at the age of 47.
That was by no means the end of it. 4 years later the committee contacted Willie once more, seeking his advice on a further extension of the course. He suggested taking it towards Brodick as far as the stane dyke incorporating the Blairmore sheep fanks. This new ground was unbroken, covered with gorse, heather and bracken, and the only drainage was the existing ditches and burns, but members of the club, with the assistance of some labourers, cleared the ground and installed drainage tiles. In June 1908 a Mr Gilmour of Kilchattan in Bute delivered the clay tiles on a fishing smack to Lamlash stone pier and from there they were transported to the club by horse and cart. The new area included the present 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th holes, but the present 5th hole did not come into use until some years later when the 1st was extended to create a bogey 5, today a par 4.
There was now a much increased area of grass to be cut, so in 1910 a new horse-drawn reaper was purchased from London for the sum of £12.00. The holes surrounding the farmhouse were abandoned and the new course was opened for play in June. The North Atlantic Fleet often anchored in the safety of Lamlash Bay, and naval personnel were frequent visitors to the golf club. Mr. John Martin, Staff Surgeon serving on H.M.S. Magnificent, presented the club with a silver bowl named the ‘Fleet Cup’, and approoriately, the first winner of it was Liet.Bridger of the H.M.S. Bulwark. In 1913 Midshipman Thomas Cruickshank serving on H.M.S.Neptune won the Gold medal, and this was later found in a relative’s attic and became the prize for an annual competition held by ratings stationed at Gairloch.
In the summer of 1911 a national paper noted that more golf balls were sold at Lamlash than any other club in Scotland. This was hardly surprising, since countless ships of the North Atlantic Fleet 3rd Division were now using Lamlash Bay. Whether this was for strategic purposes or for the delights of Lamlash Golf Club must remain conjectural, but the roll-call of ships remains evocative. Aurora, Bulwark, Majestic, Bellerphon, Temperaire, Vanguard, Neptune, Collingwood, St.Vincent, Magnificent, Mars, Prince George, Resolution, Jupiter, Hannibal, Repulse, Crescent, Arrogant, Isis, Furious, Perilous, Bristol, Falmouth, Hercules, Orion, Lord Nelson, Monarch, Colossus, Agamemnon, Superb, Ironduke and Dreadnought.
A roll-call to conjure with, and golfers to a man.