On 1 January 1810, a golfing society was instituted in Montrose, Scotland, entitled “The Montrose Golf Club”. History tells us it is the ninth oldest golf club in the world.
The name of the Club was altered to the “Montrose Royal Albert Golf Club” in 1845 when His Royal Highness, Prince Albert, became the Club’s Patron. The Club’s present Patron is His Royal Highness, Prince Andrew, The Duke of York.
In 1864 another golf club was founded in Montrose called “The Montrose Victoria Golf Club”, and in February 1986 The Montrose Royal Albert Golf Club and The Montrose Victoria Golf Club amalgamated to form the Royal Montrose Golf Club. Later that year in June the North Links Ladies Golf Club (originally founded in 1927) merged with the Royal Montrose Golf Club.
In 1879 another golf club was founded in Montrose called “The Montrose Mercantile Golf Club”, and on 1st November 2019 the Royal Montrose Golf Club and the Montrose Mercantile Golf Club merged to form the Royal Montrose Mercantile Golf Club.
Before the Rules of Golf became controlled and administered by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the United States Golf Association, Rules were formulated at Montrose and at other early Scottish Golf Clubs and indeed form the basis for some of the present-day Rules of Golf.
Over the years Montrose has produced many excellent golfers and one of the earliest was Charles (Chay) Burgess, Club keeper of The Montrose Royal Albert Golf Club from 1903 to 1908 who left these shores in 1909 and became professional at the Woodlands Golf Club in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, USA.
At Woodlands Burgess became coach and mentor to Francis Ouimet, who became US Open Champion in 1913 at the age of nineteen. Chay Burgess also became the first ever coach of soccer at Harvard University!
In the late nineteenth century, various Open Golf Tournaments were played at Montrose, one of the most notable being that of 3 October 1888. The names of the players and the results are recorded in the first Minute Book of the Club in neat precise handwriting.
The players included: –
Tom Morris (Professional, St Andrews)
Ben Sayers (Professional, North Berwick)
Willie Fernie (Professional, Troon)
Willie Park Jr (Professional, Musselburgh)
The prize winners were as follows: –
1st W Fernie (Troon) – £12
2nd A Kirkcaldy (St. Andrews) – £6
3rd A Simpson (Carnoustie) – £4
The first Minute Book of the Club also contains handwritten details of the card of the Montrose Golf Course in 1849 which was 17 holes long and measured some 6120 yards.
The present standard of 18 holes was introduced sometime later and no doubt caused a little consternation at Montrose.
More History of Golf at Montrose
It is known that golf has been played on the links of Montrose for more than four hundred years making it one of the very earliest and important venues in the history of the Royal and Ancient game.
To a young Montrose lad by the name of James Melville goes the credit for recording the existence of golf at Montrose as early as 1562, more than twenty years before Mary Queen of Scots, golf’s first lady player, met her unfortunate demise. James Melville was a gifted lad who entered St Andrews University when only 15 with not only academic gifts but a keen interest in golf.
His diary records that while he was a boy in Montrose he was taught from the age of 6 to play many different sports including archery “and how to use the glubb for goff”. James was born in 1556 so it is established that the game was being played in the town on, and very probably well before, 1562.
It was not until 1810, however, that the golfers of Montrose formed themselves into a club.
Early records show that they might not have bothered even then had it not been for the threat by the Town Council to build a school not only on their course but almost on the 1st tee. The golfers had been under threat from encroachments on their links on a number of occasions. As early as 1785 a Petition was sent to the Sheriff Depute complaining about the ploughing up of part of the common links by a tenant and it is possible to argue that in fact by so banding together in defence of their golf facilities they constituted a club. The 1785 date can be verified and this would move the club up the “league table” of the world’s oldest clubs by a couple of places.
The Royal Albert Golf Club, founded in 1810, ranks among the top ten oldest clubs in the world and had a close association with Royal Blackheath, which according to tradition was formed in 1608, although no documentary evidence is available before 1787.
What Montrose can claim uniquely, however, is to have had at one stage in its history the course with the greatest number of holes.
At a time when Musselburgh had 5 holes, Montrose had 25 and although they were not all played on every occasion they were used for a unique event in 1866.
Two Open Champions entered following an advertisement in the national press for a “Open Championship to be held on Montrose Links. Over 25 holes, being One Round of the Golf Course”. Willie Park of Musselburgh, winner of the first Open Championship, finished second with a score of 115. Andrew Strath from Prestwick, the reigning Open Champion, finished on 119 as did the young Jamie Anderson of St Andrews who was to win The Open three times in a row from 1875.
The winner was T Doleman from Glasgow who played the 25-hole course in 112 strokes and won the first prize of £10.
Like many others later the Montrose golfers suffered at the hands of the Industrial Revolution and had to adapt to changes on their beloved links. With Parliamentary permission, the Town Council confiscated the Mid end and East Links for industrial and housing development and made ground available on the North Links by way of compensation.
While Montrose cannot boast the permanency of the Old Course at St Andrews, for instance, there are still parts of the Medal Course which have been played for more than 350 years.
Until the middle of the 19th century, the Montrose golfers had to share their links with other sports including football, cricket, archery and horse racing. The right of the citizens to use the links for leisure activities was and still is, enshrined in law and for more than three centuries golf was free to them.
With the development of the game and the arrival of such refinements as iron cups for the holes, flagsticks to mark their position and even cutting of the grass around the holes, the Town Council and the non-golfers began to insist on charging the players.
By the beginning of last century, there was a proliferation of clubs and clubhouses but as a result of amalgamation over the years two now remain – The Royal Montrose Mercantile Golf Club and the Caledonia Golf Club.
Until 1st April 2004 the courses were run by a Links Trust but as from this date transferred to being run by a company limited by guarantee named Montrose Golf Links Limited. This new company will continue to administer the ‘1562’ Course and the 18-hole auxiliary Broomfield Course which was laid out in the 1920s.
The present ‘1562’ Course owes much to a design by Willie Park Jnr. in 1903. He had made alterations to a layout by the Mercantile Club two years earlier in which Old Tom Morris had advised.
The ‘1562’ Course at Montrose is a majestic layout in the true traditions of Scottish links golf and has hosted many important events in its history including the Scottish Professional Championship in 1967 and 1970, the Scottish Amateur Championship in 1975,the British Boys Championship and Internationals in 1991 and was a Final Qualifying Course for the Open Championship held at Carnoustie in 1999.