Our guest blogger this month is, once again, Iain Macleod, who has been golfing here since the 1950s. Here, Iain covers the development of the second of Bute’s 3 fantastic Golf Courses: Rothesay.
In contrast with the flat, links-like Kingarth layout, Rothesay Golf Course climbs and winds round the slopes of Canada Hill, immediately south of the town. Various high vantage points give vistas to Arran and the lower Firth, while, at some 400 feet, the 12th hole includes the famous “£1,000 view” across Rothesay Bay to The Kyles of Bute and Loch Striven.
The title of Alan Thom’s history of the Club “From Westlands to Eastlands”, published in its centenary year of 1992, reflects the change of location which resulted in the present course. A 9-hole course on the farmlands of Westlands had been opened in 1892, but the Town Council increasingly believed that a course nearer the town would be more advantageous to the needs of the developing resort.
An approach to Ben Sayers, the eminent North Berwick and club-maker resulted in him laying out a new Municipal Golf Course on the ground at Eastlands, Ardbrannan and the field occupied by the Glenburn Hotel’s 9 hole course., the land being almost entirely owned by the Bute Estate and the Burgh. The opening of the new course on 20th May 1908 featured a exhibition matches between four of the leading professionals of the age, attracting 2,000 spectators. James Braid and Harry Vardon, both multiple winners of the Open Championship, were opposed by Frenchman Arnaud Massy, the first overseas winner of the Open, and Ben Sayers. A substantial clubhouse was a key element of the new Canada Hill course.
By 1922 the Town Council, increasingly concerned about year-on-year losses on the course, and beset by complaints of overcrowding and congestion, dating back to pre WW1, approached James Braid to survey the course and suggest alterations and improvements. His plan saw 3 new holes laid out in the Council-owned “Bush” field, allowing scope for increasing length on the Ben Sayers layout.
The implementation of Braid’s plans were put in the hands of newly appointed professional Duncan Barr, a returning native of Rothesay and appointed from 59 applicants. A winter of hard work by Duncan Barr and his staff saw the reconstructed course ready for a low-key formal opening on 3rd May 1924.
For many years the Council had responsibility for staffing and maintaining the course, while Rohesay Golf Club took over the lease of the clubhouse in 1965, soon obtaining a licence for the 19th hole. The income from this saw the club carry out widespread improvements to the building and the construction of an extension to provide a dance floor and indoor bowling area.
Over the years there had been several proposals that the Golf Club should take over and manage the course, but none came to fruition. This all changed, however, in 1987. For several years Argyll and Bute District Council had been concerned about the operating deficit on Rothesay Golf Club. Agreement was reached that with the Council offering aid with equipment, charging a peppercorn rent and a 5-year period of grant aid, the Golf Club would take over all responsibilities regarding the Golf Club. From a municipal facility Rothesay Golf Club effectively became a private club, with a course measuring 5429 yards, with an SSS of 67.
Now you know the history, experience the reality – come on over to Rothesay Golf Club.