Gowff - Golf
The Boys Fae The Dale
researched and written by Andy Anderson
Andy and Sadie
In 2007, we met Andy and Sadie Anderson to hear about his painstaking research on Armadale golf courses. After a little arm-twisting, we managed to persuade Andy to pose for a photo!
Please note: The following account is based on Andy Anderson's research into Armadale's golf clubs and courses. Where necessary, the text has been adapted by paraphrase and summary, but the spirit of the document still reflects the original text. I would like to thank Andy for his generosity in offering his research for publication on the site so that a wider audience benefit from the fruit of his interest.
If any reader has photographs and / or information about golf, or any other sports, in the Armadale area,
Searching for information requires help from many sources, and so to the West Lothian Courier, The West Lothian Library Historian, Sybil Cavanagh, and various others, my sincere thanks to all the parties for their kindness and support. Andy Anderson.
Scotland, The Home of Golf
History tells us that the game of Gowff / Golf was born in Scotland around the year 1300 and has since progressed through the centuries to become the game we know and love today.
Although banned by successive monarchies, during the 1400s, because of its interference with archery practice, golf was soon back on course and gaining royal (and archers') approval, with King James IV of Scotland buying 'gowff clubbes' from a bowmaker in Perth.
In 1600, James I gave royal approval for the enjoyment of the sport on Sundays, providing that golfers had completed their religious duties!
In the late 1600s, golf's popularity in Scotland was growing considerably with both St Andrews and Leith playing a prominent part. In fact the world's first golf club was the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith (later to become The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers) and it was they who, in 1774, drew up the first rules of golf (thirteen of them) to coincide with the first competition for the City of Edinburgh's Silver Club. Other golf clubs soon sprang up, imitating their Leith counterparts, and they became known for their often excessive indulgence in food and drink (nothing much changes, does it?).
By the early 1830s, recognised leadership of the game had passed to the Society of St Andrews Golfers (formed in 1754), who, in 1834, were granted the title of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. The last quarter of the century brought a dramatic expansion of the game and both North Berwick and St Andrews quickly became popular holiday destinations for the nouveau-riche middle class families who flocked in to play the game. Mind you, given that some of the courses only had three or four holes, course maintenance could not have been that intense, although there were the exceptions whose twenty two or more holes could have been more than a handful. It wasn't until the 1890s, when golf caught on in England and America, that eighteen became the standard for all courses.
Although a small nation, Scotland has marked well in its discovery contribution to the world in general.
Armadale's Golf Courses
Over the last century, golfers within the Armadale community have tried on four occasions to create a local golf course. The members, with their own endeavour and funding, found it very difficult and, because of various circumstances, they all fell by the wayside. The courses were:
1907 - 1915 Tarrareoch 9 holes
1919 - 1920 Cowdenhead 9 holes
1921 - 1927 Muirhall 9 holes
1976 - 1977 Bridgecastle Masonic 4 holes
The fifth, 'Bridgecastle Golf Club', opened in 1998 and has been running for five seasons; it is a difficult and testing nine holes. The layout and the design were created by Kevin Keane, a well-known player within the local golfing community.
The course was founded and funded by one man whose 'dream had come alive' (his quote to the local press). The members, 'The Boys Fae The Dale', are quietly confident that they will have a swinging time in the years that lie ahead.
We wish them all well.
Yours in sport
The Golf Courses of Armadale - Location Plan
1907 - 1915
Proposed Golf Club for Armadale
For some time, a feeling had been growing among several of the townspeople that a golf course should be secured for the benefit of the people in the town. As a result of a series of private meetings of those who had the project at heart, a meeting was called, by postcard and signed by Provost Smith and Dr Anderson, to consider the feasibility of forming a Golf Club. It was decided that if there was agreement that a club should be formed, a small Sub-committee would be appointed to consider the question of securing a suitable site. A number of Armadalians were members of the Bathgate Club and it was apparent that their enthusiasm in the game was gradually becoming infectious. It was believed that if a good response was made to the invitation issued by Provost Smith and Dr Anderson, the future of golf in the town would be assured.
On the invitation of Provost Smith and Dr Anderson, a large meeting was held in Forsyth's Hall on a Friday evening to consider the advisability of forming a golf club in Armadale.
The idea of Armadale having a golf course of its own had been in the air the last two years, but no definite shape was assumed until that Friday's meeting, when ladies and gentlemen interested in golf met to consider the practicability of the idea.
Provost Smith was appointed Chairman. He explained what they had met for, and invited discussion. It was eventually decided to start a club as they had about 30 names to commence with, and had hopes of a larger number, consisting of those who could not attend the meeting.
Dr Anderson was elected President, Mr Farquhar Vice-president and Mr J.P. Mccallum Secretary of the club. The election of further officers was left over until a further date.
A Sub-committee was formed, composed of Dr Anderson, Provost Smith, Messrs Farquhar, E.Calder, and J.P. Mccallum, to inspect the surrounding fields for a suitable site, and also to interview the Greenkeeper of Bathgate course about the laying out of the ground selected, and the initial cost etc. The meeting was adjourned until the following Friday when the Sub-committee's report would be considered.
On the previous Saturday, Provost Smith, Dr Anderson, Messrs Mccallum and E. Calder visited several probable sites for a course and, ultimately, they decided to get particulars with regard to two which were thought the most suitable. One commenced at the end of East Main Street, owned by Mr Drake, Middlerigg, and the other at Harthill fell, belonging to the Armadale Co-operative Society. It was understood that either of these two sites could easily be made into a nine-hole golf course.
Armadale Golf Club - The New Course
On the following Friday evening, a meeting of all those interested in the Armadale Golf Club was held in Forsyth's Hall. Dr Anderson presided over about twenty members, the inclement weather no doubt keeping many away.
Dr Anderson explained that the Sub-committee appointed to consider several sites had visited several likely fields. They had narrowed their choice down to two - one owned by Mr Drake, and the other by the Armadale Co-operative Society. On further investigation, however, both these sites were found to be unsuitable, and so they were forced to look for more suitable ground. They had been very fortunate in finding a more suitable course quite near to the station. The ground was owned by Mr Smith and was known as Tarrareoch. After being consulted, Mr Smith agreed to impose a nominal rental, special rolling to be paid for extra. The meeting unanimously agreed to homologate the action of the Sub-committee, and it was agreed to close with Mr Smith's offer.
The Sub-committee were thanked for their work.
Mr John Shearer was deputed to see Mr Martin, Bathgate Greenkeeper, and to get him to come out and lay out the course. It was intimated that the membership stood at about fifty.
It was decided that the course was to be opened with an exhibition game between the Brothers Martin, Bathgate.
Description of the Course
On Tuesday, Mr James Martin of
Bathgate visited the Tarrareoch Course and staked out the ground, making it
suitable for a nine-hole course. Mr Martin said that, when properly laid out, the course should prove one of the best nine hole courses in Linlithgowshire. The
ground was clayey, and, in consequence, the grass was short, and, being well grazed,
would not require much manual labour to keep it playable. The greens should also
be easily kept in good order by rolling.
The course possessed a large number of natural hazards, which would obviate the necessity for artificial ones, and would give a further zest to the game. The total length of the course worked out at 2210 yards and should be done in 37 strokes. The course occupied about 36 acres of land.
14 June 1907 - Tarrareoch
Opening of Armadale Golf Course - Successful Function
On Wednesday afternoon, the members of Armadale Golf Club opened their new nine-hole golf course, under delightful weather auspices, bright sunshine being experienced all through the ceremony.
Unfortunately, the heavy rains, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, made the course rather sodden in parts and, while the state of the ground did not prove annoying to sightseers, it made it very difficult for those giving an exhibition game. At parts, the balls ran rather too easily, while at others they stopped almost dead. This was found to be the case especially on the greens where putting was particularly difficult. It was believed that this would be prevented in the near future by a plentiful dressing of the greens with sand.
These difficulties, however, only added further zest to the golfers and were further additions to the natural hazards of the course. Indeed, it was safe to say that no other nine-hole course could prove so interesting. It was picturesquely situated and every hole was set with particular difficulties, which would, in time, make Armadale Club very difficult to beat on their own heath. Rows of trees, ditches, burns, hills, all in turn had to be negotiated and woe betide the unthinking golfer. Every drive and putt required most careful judgement, and, once the local golfers had completely mastered the intricacies of the game on their own course, they would be capable of going further a-field with assured success.
There was a large
gathering at the opening ceremony. Among those present were: Provost Smith
and Mrs Smith, Dr Anderson and Mrs Anderson, Dr Paton, Councillor Graham, Mr and
Mrs Greig, Crown Hotel; Mr and Mrs John Love, Mr Culbert, Mr and Mrs Smith,
Tarrareoch; Mr and Mrs D.H. Young, Mr and Mrs Farquhar, Mrs M. Moffat, Mrs Gibb,
Mr R. Blair, Miss M. Ara, Cuthbert Shaw Simpson, and G. Wilson, Mr and Mrs
Provost Smith said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I have a very pleasing duty to perform this afternoon, namely to introduce to you the President of the new Club to declare the green formally opened. (Applause) Dr Anderson has taken part in many public functions in Armadale. He has declared bazaars open, bowling greens open; today he is about to perform a unique ceremony for him. He has never yet declared a golf course open. Dr Anderson looks after the physical weaknesses of the people of Armadale. He is the enemy of fevers and kindred ailments. But, today, his hope, he believes, was that the people might take the fever of golf, and take it very badly. If they did, it would not matter how they might lie, they would not be helped by the doctor. (Great laughter). I am sure today we are all proud to have a course and be in the running with our neighbours. It is, I am assured on good authority, the finest course of its kind in Linlithgowshire and after the exhibition by our friends from Bathgate, I am sure the people will have become so interested in the game that soon our membership will be at the maximum for the course.' (Applause)
Dr Anderson referred to the great benefits that were derived from golf, especially by those who were closely confined at work during the day. Golf was one of the most health-giving pursuits that could be followed. They had, at that time, a membership of nearly 30 and there was still room for more. He hoped the course would prove a great attraction. He had pleasure in declaring the course open.
COWDENHEAD GOLF COURSE
1919 to 1920
Opening of New Golf Course
On Wednesday evening, the members of Armadale Golf Club, who had been without a golf course of their own since May 1915, opened a new course at Cowdenhead.
The weather was good and there was a muster of some forty ladies and gentlemen. Rev W. G. Kirk performed the opening ceremony. Thereafter, a mixed foursomes match was engaged in, President v. Vice-president. The officials that year were: President Rev W. G. Kirk, Vice-president Mr D. Macfarlane, Secretary Mr A. Wallace, Treasurer Miss M. Garrity.
There are no records on the Cowdenhead Course and no archive facilities available to conduct a search. The word of mouth from an Armadale senior citizen is that the farmer who rented the ground to the golfers insisted from time to time in grazing his animals on the course. The golfers terminated the lease after just over one year.
1921 to 1927
Armadale Golf Club
Armadale golfers were forging ahead and they hoped to have the Muirhall course ready for play by the middle of April. Mr Neil Young, North Berwick, a professional, had been engaged as Greenkeeper, and he would superintend the laying out of the course, which was a nine-hole one. In order to secure the necessary finances to meet expense, a whist drive had been arranged to be held in March. In the same month, a concert would be arranged. Other means whereby money could be raised would be fixed up in due course. In the meantime, members were helping and had agreed to meet a double subscription. Everything pointed to Armadale Golf Club being launched on quite a solid financial base in the near future.
Armadale Golf Club
Opening of the Muirhall Course
On Wednesday evening, under delightful weather auspices, Armadale's new golf course, situated about a mile to the north-east of Armadale, was officially opened. The course was pleasantly situated, being surrounded by hill and fresh scenery, while the course itself, a nine-hole one, was one that called out a great variety of play. In all the total ground covered ere the round was completed ran to 2139 yards, made up thus: No.1 hole, 218 yards; No.2, 114; No.3, 275; No.4, 172; No.5, 356; No.6, 270; No.7, 218; No.8, 183; No.9, 303.
At the opening ceremony there were nearly 100 ladies and gentlemen present.
Mr G. Scott, President, said that it was a great pleasure to see such a large attendance at their opening function. Thanks to the work of their professional, Mr Neil Young, and his assistants, and also to splendid help given by individual members, the course was in good condition. They already had a good membership and he believed that before many weeks were over the most sanguine expectation of their most optimistic member would be more than realised. He had pleasure in asking Provost Greig to perform the opening function.
Provost Greig said, 'I need hardly assure you that it gives one great pleasure indeed to be here and to perform the opening ceremony. I am sure that we are all pleased that we have, in this our third course, at last secured one which is as pleasantly situated and which is one that will attract players and help them to be good golfers.' He said that thanks to their professional, Mr Young, in an especial degree, and also to his assistants, to the members of the Committee and those other members who, true sportsmen, had given given such excellent help, the course, in the short time at their disposal, had been splendidly laid out. Every week would see further improvements, and very soon they would have a course that would be worthy of the best traditions of Armadale. Applause greeted this. 'Now that we have a course that is so desirable I hope we will soon have a large membership and that every member will be benefited physically and mentally by taking full advantage of the course.' (Applause) 'I have pleasure in formally declaring the course open and wish the club every success.' (Applause)
On the call of Mr Scott, Provost Greig was awarded a hearty vote of thanks. Rev J. Drew said they were delighted that at last they had a course so admirably situated, and one which would bring out good play. They were indebted to Provost Greig for having been able to get a lease of the ground. It was Provost Greig who first suggested this site, and it was through his assiduity and tactfulness that they secured it. ' My duty now is a pleasant one, and that is to ask Mrs Greig to drive off the first ball.'
Mr Scott intimated that the new clubhouse, situated near the old ruins, would be erected in the course of the next week or two. A start would be made with the erection on the following Monday.
The golf house would consist of two rooms, one for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. Each would be well lighted. There would also be an ornamental veranda. The cost is estimated at £360.
A foursome match, President v. Vice-president was then engaged in, and it resulted in a draw - all square.
Miss Gladys Murray proved the most successful among the pairs, and she was presented with a little token to mark the fact.
After the match, the members adjourned to the Town Hall where, after tea, a dance was held.
The evening was voted a great success.
Lease of Course to be Cancelled
At the Annual General Meeting of the Armadale Golf Club, held in the Co-operative Hall on that Friday evening, with Mr John McNicoll, President in the chair, the principal item of business was a recommendation by the Committee that the lease of the Muirhall course be cancelled. It was explained that for a considerable time the members had been inconvenienced by cattle grazing in the course, and that the greens had been damaged. The Committee and the farmer from whom the ground was leased had been in negotiation in connection with this matter and the farmers had intimated that they could not see their way to discontinue the practice of allowing cattle to graze on the course, and also, the ground nearer Armadale could not be granted. The farmers, it was stated, offered no objection to the cancellation of the lease.
After consideration, the meeting agreed to give up the lease.
It was agreed to carry on the Club and to take steps to secure suitable ground for a new course.
The financial statement was submitted and adopted. Office-bearers were appointed as follows: President, John McNicoll; Vice-president, James McGarrity; Secretary, James Smail; Treasurer, John Pringle; Committee, Misses M. Stein and E. Chalmers, Messrs A. McEwan, J. Thomson, W. Falconer, A. Mungall, D. Stein, D. Wilkinson, H. McNeil.
1976 - 1977
Golf Club who always play away from home - the Davie Kerr Trophy
Back in the late 1970s, Bridge Castle golfers came close to re-establishing a course in Armadale. For a short time they were able to play four holes on a slice of land closest to Bridge Castle Road, after reaching an agreement with a local farmer and securing grant aid for the upkeep.
They even had a trophy to play for. Armadale man, David Kerr whose Whitockbrae home lay on the northern edge of the proposed course site, discovered the ideal award for the Bridge Castle members when he was rooting around in a local junk shop. For, in the shop in the nearby village of Torphichen, Mr Kerr uncovered a silver- plated desk tray trophy, which had been created especially for the Armadale Golf Club years before.
'It was the shape and the small statuette of an older golfer in his plus fours that attracted me to the trophy in the shop. When I realised it was a trophy from the old Armadale Golf Club, I knew I had to buy it.'
When he heard that the Bridge Castle Club had just been formed, he realised it was the perfect home for his 'find'. Davie had it silver-plated and asked if the Club would like to have it. The Club was delighted and, although it had originally started out as the Lady Baillie Trophy, awarded by Lady Baillie of Polkemmet Estate to Armadale Golf Club in 1908, the Bridge Castle Club always referred to it as the Davie Kerr Trophy.
When the Bridge Castle Club finished up, the Trophy was then returned to David Kerr, its former owner.
Bridgecastle Four Hole Golf Course
Members of the 'Lodge Hope Bridgecastle' decided among themselves to set up a golf section, the purpose of which was to visit other golf courses within a thirty-mile radius once a month. It became so popular that it was decided to make it open to non-Masonic members and thereafter the membership increased to approximately forty.
Many discussions had centred on having a local course so the following members: Andy Maxwell, Kevin Keane, Hiram Ford, Dan Sanderson, Willie Sanderson, and Andy Anderson as Secretary, all volunteered to form a Committee to look into the project.
On 6 July 1976, Andy Anderson wrote to the Scottish Sports Council for advice about creating a golf course for the newly established Bridgecastle Golf Club, which had an active membership of 40. He pointed out that all golf clubs within a 15-mile radius had long waiting lists and it was expensive to attend as a 'visitor only'. He stated that investigations had shown there was land available to create a nine-hole course (land estimated to cost about £16,000, or rented at £1,200 annually). Armadale Council land adjoining the land would suffice to create a 18-hole course. Local councillors King and McNeill were said to be in favour of the project.
On 9 July 1976, Mrs C. Douglas, Assistant Grants Officer, replied sending a copy of Notes on the Council's Scheme of Capital Grants and Loans to Local Voluntary Organisations. She advised Andy Anderson that his letter would be passed on the Facilities Planning Division who would contact him shortly.
No contact followed, and so a further letter of enquiry was sent by Andy Anderson. On 18 November 1976, Kit Campbell from Facilities Planning Division offered to come and discuss the project and to see the land proposed as a golf course.
One of the team, Kevin Keane, was a golfer of very high standard and, as he had worked on various golf courses, he drew up the layout for the proposed four holes. With a good team effort, the project became a reality.
The Scottish Sports Council provided a grant of £1,800, enabling the purchase of a gang mower for maintenance of the fairways. The members then worked on a rota basis, cutting the greens and tees using their faithful garden lawn mowers. When approached, a local farmer, Harvey Marshall of Birkenshaw Farm kindly lent his tractor on a free basis to pull the gang mower, thereby enabling the fairways to be cut. So far the Club members' efforts had come to fruition and everyone was enjoying the extra practice on their new venture.
Alas, the farmer advised the Club that harvest time had arrived and therefore he would be unable to lend his tractor for some time. This was fully understandable, but nonetheless a big setback.
The Council was then approached for the use of its tractor on two separate occasions, but, unfortunately, both requests were refused.
The Club members were stunned after all their efforts, but soon Mother Nature took over and it became impossible to find a golf ball on the overgrown fairways. The gang mower was sold to Strathclyde Country Park and the cheque received was returned to the Scottish Sports Council along with a letter explaining the situation.
Once again, and not through lack of endeavour but finances, the vision of having an Armadale Golf Course was lost.
However, the Bridgecastle Club continued going strong, even though the members had to play their games on visited courses.
Bridgecastle Golf Club
1996 - 1999
'Driving Ambition' - Lottery winner plans to turn 53-acre park into golf course
After scooping £2.8 million on the Lottery in 1995, Armadale local, John Slattery, his wife and children were still living in their ex-council house in Armadale, waiting to fulfil a big ambition. Since the town had a strong association with the golf, having enjoyed four golf courses in its time, John wanted to bring the sport of golf back to his home town after 30 years without an Armadale course. 'Dunhaulin' was the name he gave the new company to progress his golf course plan. His plan for a nine-hole golf course on the outskirts of Armadale was dependent on the approval of planners.
He planned to create the course right on the eastern edge of Armadale, taking in 53 acres of undulating rough grazing land, . The surroundings, with their wonderful views, already seemed tailor-made for a challenging course, which was not surprising as the proposed golf course is well within chipping distance of a previous course enjoyed by the people of Armadale.
'I feel there is a real need for a new course in the area and my plan has already created quite a bit of interest locally.'
John had earmarked the acreage needed just off the town's Bridge Castle Road. Nine of those acres closest to the houses were owned by West Lothian Council and he stated that the remainder of the 53 acres were in the control of Donald Young who had plans for a lowland crofting development there.
He said that the project was a genuine attempt to give Armadale its own golf course again and that he wanted to meet as many councillors, officials and locals as possible to discuss the project. It would be a great way to spend some of the lottery money won the previous year, by bringing something really worthwhile to Armadale from which everyone could benefit. He also wanted to tie in with the local schools so that golf could be offered to the town's youngsters, and he also wanted to involve other organisations and special groups in the course.
With the granting of the necessary planning permission, he wanted to get the course laid by the back end of the year. He thought the first balls could be played on it in less than two years.
Schedule of Development:
Formation of golf course, landscaping and associated works: 4 Oct 1996 granted conditional permission
Extension to golf course:10 Jun 1997 granted conditional permission
Erection of temporary locker room accommodation and tea room facility: 6 Oct 1998 granted conditional permission
Change of use from tea room & locker room to licensed clubhouse: 2 Jun 1999 granted conditional permission
Bridgecastle Opening Day
9 April 1999
The first major golf tournament of the season took place on the weekend of the 9 April when William O'Hara won at Bridgecastle. John Slattery was proud to host the first ever tournament at his newly opened golf course on the fringe of Armadale.
Armadale councillor Jim Sibbald cut a red ribbon to declare Bridgecastle Golf Club officially open and said, 'It is great that the people of Armadale have a golf club again'.
The 9-hole course opened briefly a season earlier, but that April weekend saw its first tournament. Already, there were 90 full members and 30 junior members. John Slattery built a small clubhouse and changing area just yards from the luxury home he then shared with his family.
John commented, 'I know a lot of people don't realise the club is open to the public. I hope more will join shortly, once they know it is here.'
One of John's team, Kevin Keane, a golfer of high standard within the local community was the architect and designer of the layout of the course. It took John nearly three years to complete the building of the course.
Bridgecastle Course Layout
The 3029yd, par 34 course, was popular with golfers. Membership rose to 168 within five years.
Bridgecastle Golf Club Photo taken 13 May 2006
The Golf Course is not open to the public at present.
Additional Information from Rosie:
Since Andy Anderson allowed me to see his research, I have established a few key dates and details, which I have added to the text that appears on the site.
Armadalians are aware that the Bridgecastle golf course has been the subject of controversy in recent years, as shown by the Daily Record article of 13 September 2004 , which I discovered recently.
If any visitor to these pages is interested to find out more about the discussions surrounding the golf course's proposed development, a Web search will produce useful background documentation about planning issues and the views of local people, including those of John Slattery.