Bid to rediscover long-lost golf courses

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THEY were the biggest golfing names of the day, superstars of the sport drawn to Scotland to hit a tiny ball over 18 holes in a display of power, pinpoint accuracy and skill.

The year was 1912, and the pick of golf’s best players gathered at a small course on the edge of Edinburgh to compete for the top prize – a princely £50.

Never mind golf’s most glittering prize, the Ryder Cup, soon to be contested for the second time in its history on Scottish soil. For 102 years ago the eyes of golf fans the length and breadth of the land were fixed on tiny Cramond Brig Golf Course.

It was there that almost every professional player of note, from home as well as abroad, was preparing to flex their golfing muscles in preparation for the Open Championship at Muirfield in Gullane, and get in some vital tournament practice.

Today, however, there is little left to show of Cramond Brig’s once smooth greens and sandy bunkers. While its striking clubhouse – a fine example of arts and crafts design – remains, it is a crumbling wreck devastated by fire and years of neglect.

For by 1929, the once lively club was no more, the turf from its pristine greens moved to Dalmahoy and its grounds turned over first to farmland and later left to grow wild.

The lost club is one of about 15 golf courses around Edinburgh which once thrived, but ultimately faced a slow death as player numbers fell.

They may have disappeared, however the mark they left on the land often remained, their boundary lines and course features still visible from above and on the ground. Now the long-gone courses are being remembered as part of a nationwide project by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) to create a comprehensive record of Scotland’s landscape.

Edinburgh-based researchers have used aerial photographs, maps, old documents and modern images to create a fascinating record of courses past and present, from some of the country’s best-known venues – including Ryder Cup host Gleneagles – to courses that were relocated, closed down or drastically redesigned.

Among them are some that sprung up to provide sporting relaxation for groups of professionals or military personnel, while some were founded to serve new homes in developing suburbs. Others, like Cramond Brig, featured impressive clubhouse buildings and thriving tournaments which attracted the star players of the day.

According to Richard Craig, historic land-use assessment officer at RCAHMS, who has been working on charting the lost courses, at their peak, many of the courses would have played a key role in community life.

“They would have been very well known to local people,” he says. “The start of the 20th century saw many new golf clubs spring up.

“So they provide an interesting insight into the changing social history of Scotland.”

The research has identified remains or “course footprints” of nearly 15 long lost golf courses in and around the Capital, including the original location of holes and features at Bruntsfield Links and Leith Links. Both sites survive as recreation areas, with part of Bruntsfield Links still used.

Other courses, however, became overgrown stretches of wasteland or, in at least two cases, were built over so no evidence of them remains. Edinburgh’s expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, along with the creation of new suburbs and manufacturing techniques which made golf balls and clubs cheaper and more effective, had fuelled demand for new places to play, adds Mr Craig.

Some still survive while others lasted for an average of around 30 years.

One course with a short lifespan was alongside Fettes College, and its outline can be seen in aerial photographs of the area taken between 1919 and 1953. The course, a private facility for the school’s staff and pupils, appears to have had four rectangular greens and a central circular green with conventional fairways.

By 1947, it had been converted to recreation land and all that remains is a trace of its external boundary.

Others survived longer, such as Lothianburn Golf Club near Swanston Village, which was founded in 1893 and closed in 2013 due to falling membership levels and financial problems, and nearby Torphin Hill, which opened in 1905 but also closed earlier this year. Some of the courses’ former bunkers and tees can still be seen.

Among the sites pinpointed by the research – which also looks at how golf courses have changed over the years – is at Wester Craiglockhart Hill, the site of the short-lived Craiglockhart Hydropathic golf course which was founded in about 1892. Interest in the club waned until 1907 when it was taken over by the present club, The Merchants of Edinburgh, which set out its own 18-hole golf course. However, the Merchants of Edinburgh Golf Club was forced to realign one of its holes to accommodate a new trend for motor car travel in the early 1930s.

“If you climb up to Wester Craiglockhart Hill, there’s a former hole up there.

“Golfers used to hit the ball over Glencorse Road, which was a private road.

“But in 1931 it became a public road and the club had to redesign the course,” explains Mr Craig.

Cramond Brig, however, was perhaps Edinburgh’s best known abandoned golf club. It was founded on March 12, 1907 and its 18-hole golf course, on part of land attached to Cammo House owned by the Maitland-Tennent family, was an instant hit. Within a year it had 350 members and by the early 1920s the membership had grown to more than 700.

However, the club began to fall behind with rent payments and when the lease expired in 1929 it moved to a new location at Dalmahoy. Turf from its greens was removed to help create the new course and its once manicured fairways were allowed to grow wild.

The Arts and Crafts designed clubhouse, with its club master’s quarters, dining, smoking and changing rooms, became the home of Mrs Maitland-Tennent and her son, Percival, in 1940 when Cammo House was requisitioned by the Air Ministry.

The building was later converted into a dairy farm in 1953 and Percival moved back in 1955 to live with the tenant farmers until his death in 1975.

Since then the listed building has deteriorated, and a fire in June caused further damage.

The RCAHMS researchers are now appealing for help in tracking down more detail on other courses to create an even more comprehensive picture of how Scotland’s love of golf impacted on the natural ­landscape.

RCAHMS curator Clare Sorensen said: “Golf is an important part of many people’s lives in Scotland whether they play for fun or gain their living from it.

“We’re hoping that people will help us build up the national record in the Canmore or Britain from Above websites sharing information about their own golf clubs and clubhouses, and any historic and modern photographs that they might have.”

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Game was big business

GOLF was a booming business in Edinburgh in the early 20th century, with courses springing up around the city.

Some were linked to professions, among them the Civil Service Golf Club, which went on to become Glencorse Golf Club, Leith Corporation and the Insurance and Banking Golf Club, which became Duddingston Golf Club.

Clubs in the city’s new suburbs were easily reached by a quick train or tram journey from the centre of town. In 1902 a nine-hole course opened at Corstorphine. However, by the 1920s it had gone and its grounds taken over by Edinburgh Zoo.

Craigiehall was built on land owned by Lord Rosebery in the early 1930s. It was run as the Riverside Hotel and Country Club, but became a military facility during the Second World War and remained in Ministry of Defence hands for decades.

Edinburgh Ladies Golf Club played on land which is now part of Astley Ainslie Hospital, while Forth Valley Golf Club at Pathhead survived for just a few years between the wars. Ingliston Golf Club opened in the 1930s and survived until the 1960s when it became the site of the Royal Highland Showground.

Some courses being recorded by the research changed their layout but left a lasting mark on the landscape, such as Craigmillar Golf Course. Others, such as Leith Links, which had historic ties with the game dating back to the 19th century, are no longer used for golf, ­although some features can be seen in aerial photographs and old plans.

Murrayfield Golf Club, a 12-hole course, was founded in 1896 on a site around Campbell Road and Lennel Avenue. It is now covered by housing.

And at Saughton, the golf club founded in 1905 next to the public park later moved to become Carrick Knowe.

n For more about Scotland’s lost courses, visit