Friday, January 08, 2010

Robin Wilson's picture shows (left to right) Jim Fallon (sitting), who put the book together and donor of the Centenary Cup, next to him the cup winner,Mike Tate, then club captain Stuart Macdonald and vice-captain James Cameron. The picture was taken at the Centenary presentation of prizes in the Carnegie Hall.

Tarbat Golf Club: The first 100 years at Portmahomack

Club captain Stuart Macdonald and members of Tarbat Golf Club travelled back in time on Friday, November 6 to celebrate their Centenary Prizegiving occasion in Portmahomack's Carnegie Hall where, on a November night in 1908, the first steps were taken by their ancestors to establish a golf club for the village.
Eighty-eight members of all ages attended and while wining, dining, dancing and reminiscing they also raised funds to ensure the future of their club by way of raffles and auctions of donated gifts. In attendance was Jim Fallon, a club member and local historian who, for the previous 18 months, had painstakingly researched and published an attractive booklet recalling the first one hundred years of the Tarbat Golf Club, situated above the Easter Ross seaboard village of Portmahomack.'s North correspondent, Robin Wilson, received a copy of the Centenary Book and has taken a look back over the 100-year highlights of “The Port,” the name by which the golf course has become affectionately known by the locals, and where he has often played.
His first visit to Portmahomack was as a young boy on the Rosskeen Parish Church of Scotland (Alness) Sunday School Picnic, and very likely on a Dods Mackay bus!
His second a Sunday afternoon visit with parents to the prominent feature on the Tarbat Peninsula, Tarbatness Lighthouse. When golf became a prominent part of his life in Brora so to did the lighthouse - it is the line taken from Brora's 17th tee, the hole even given the name “Tarbatness.”
The lighthouse was built in 1830 by Robert Stevenson, its warning tower the third tallest in Scotland and distinguished by its two broad red bands, the lighthouse adopted as the Tarbat Club emblem, despite it being not visible from any hole on the course.
Many years after the visit to the beach and the lighthouse the Brora golfer, now accustomed to links golf in Sutherland and Ross-shire's Fortrose and Tain courses, went to play his first competition at Tarbat, forgetting that he had skirted past the golf course on his boyhood visit to the lighthouse.
Keeping an eye out for a course on the seaward side of the approach road to the village from Tain it was not until the harbour was arrived at he was directed uphill past the Castle Hotel to come upon the clubhouse and first tee. In all years since, it has been a mystery to him why Portmahomack's golf course was not built on the lower links.
The answer was discovered in the copy of the Tarbat Golf Club Centenary Book and to an even bigger surprise the person responsible for turning the village golfers away from the links was no other than the eminent John Sutherland of Dornoch, regarded during his 50-year reign as secretary of Royal Dornoch Golf Club as the North's expert in the field of course design, advice and all other matters relating to golf administration.
But Jim Fallon had to look back a further 15 years to find the beginnings of golf in Portmahomack. From the pages of the Ross-shire Journal and North Star, the historian read of an opening round on a new golf course in Portmahomack, played on December 15, 1894 on a “Common” area of land beside the school overlooking the village and harbour.
Seven holes had been created over this bit of ground where play of a fashion continued un-administered until 1908 when, in September of that year, the gentlemen golfers of the village who played on the Common met in the Carnegie Hall to consider organising themselves into a club with a view to calling themselves Tarbat Golf Club.
The village's two ministers, Church of Scotland and Free Church, the local doctor and surrounding tenant farmers were in attendance and Dr Pyle was elected to chair a sub-committee charged with finding a piece of land to build a proper golf course upon.
The sub-committee made their report to a second public meeting on February 26, 1909, suggesting a site west of the village along the Dornoch Firth shoreline and on the same evening Tarbat Golf Club was formally constituted with Free Church minister, the Rev. George Murray appointed the first president, George Philip of Edinburgh the captain and Dr Pyle accepting the duties of secretary and treasurer.
One of the first acts of the new Tarbat Golf Club committee was to seek the advice of John Sutherland of Dornoch, already credited with creating golf courses in the Sutherland villages of Brora, Berriedale, Lairg and the Skibo residence of Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist who had already provided Portmahomack with its village hall and library.
But Sutherland's report on the chosen beach site was a scathing one, branding it "unfavourable and with little character." However, when he turned to the raised links of Seafield above the village where the existing few holes had been played he remarked, “this slice of sunny links would provide a capital course providing a genuine attraction for both local and summer visiting golfers.”
The committee accepted Sutherland's recommendation, maybe influenced by the fact that the elected vice-president, George Douglas, was tenant of the Glebe Land and Seafield (adjacent to the old church) and was willing to give the new club free use of both areas for two years.
With the outline of the original holes from 1894 still visible, the new club was able to begin play soon afterwards and the opening of the newly established Tarbat golf course took place on Thursday, June 17, 1909.
The first ball was struck by Mr Gilroy of Edinburgh, a patron and regular summer visitor of many years, followed by a match over seven holes against invited visiting golfers from Tain and Nigg golf clubs.
As with every new venture, finance is always an early struggle but with a first year subscription of 7/6d for gentlemen and 3/6d for ladies and juniors the first year income amounted to £52 and one shilling.
Expenditure was £34 1s 3d, the main item being course wages (£5 15s) and purchase of mower (£5 19s 3d).
The resulting first year closing balance of £17 19s 9d encouraged the club to forge ahead and within two years John Sutherland was invited back to set out new holes when more bits of land became available from tenant owners, most of them already smitten by the game and eager to see the club flourish.
As the years rolled by the course became as we know it today, the last bit of ground, where sit the current third, fourth and fifth holes, purchased in 1990, this an area of Bindal Farm previously rented from the Gordon family.
Concentrating all their efforts on the golf course, it took the Tarbat committee a long time to turn their attention to clubhouse facilities. For the first 45 years, the Caledonian or Castle Hotels were used if catering or a refreshment was required and a humble shepherd's shed sometimes pressed into service as a shelter.
Even after World War II, when the course had to be knocked back into shape by volunteer labour with the help of a loan of a mechanical mower from the RAF aerodrome at Fearn, it was not until 1955 that the first custom-built clubhouse was erected and opened by Dr Jack Pyle, a descendant of the club's first secretary/treasurer, accompanied by the well known local golfer and bus company operator, Donald “Dods” Mackay.
Assisted by grant monies from the Ross & Cromarty Council, the present clubhouse was built and opened in 1989. It now serves the needs of both members and visiting golfers but also as a tearoom for passing trade to the lighthouse.
Many of the local members are also members of Tain Golf Club but their swings were fashioned over the short but testing Seafield links. The aforementioned Dods Mackay was the player after World War II who let his clubs do the talking outwith Portmahomack, especially at Tain where in 1952 he won the club championship for the first time and went on to triumph another four times in the years to 1971.
Dods always considered Tarbat as home and his life-long service to the club has been commemorated by a seat outside the clubhouse. He had two sons, Colin and David, who were also excellent golfers.
Before rising to the position of club captain in 2002 David set the first post-war course-record score, a 61 in 1961, playing the second nine holes in 29 blows. Colin was taken on as an assistant professional at Royal Troon in 1960 by Willie John Henderson of Brora, then moved on to become a successful player based in Holland. In 1983 he gained a European Tour card at La Manga.
After lengthening and alterations from 4,090yd in 1961 to the present course length of 4657yd, there have been two rounds of 67 recorded by Muir of Ord's Derek Gitsham and local Bindal farmer James Gordon.
The current course record was set at 64, four under par, by Jason Innes when playing in the Vice Captain's Prize competition on July 21, 2001.
For such a small club, to have such a wealth of excellent players in addition to Colin Mackay to have two others linked to the professional game is an enviable achievement. Now reinstated as an amateur, Bruce Fraser was just a teenager when he won the Port Open with a score of 66 in 1961 before setting out to train as a clubmaker with the renowned Scottish clubmakers, John Letters, and then assisting Dornoch-born professional Denis Bethune when at Haggs Castle.
On his reinstatement to amateur Bruce became a prominent player at Tain, winning four club championships and several Ross-shire open events, notably at Fortrose & Rosemarkie where the course is similar in design to Tarbat.
Much of the success of the Tarbat Golf Club over the past 100 years has been due to the members themselves and their time given freely to keep their golf course in trim. One such person was Don Barnard who, in recognition of his volunteer service, got the fifth hole, “Don's View,” named after him. How proud Old Don would have been if he had lived to see the Centenary Day celebrations with his grandson Mark Barnard (24) invited to raise the Centenary Flag and then join the members in the birthday competition.
Mark's summers were spent with his Portmahomack grandparents on the golf course where his swing was grounded into shape for him to become an asistant professional at Inchmarlo Golf Centre, Banchory.
The next 100 years for Tarbat Golf Club will no doubt bring more changes but for the last 100 years they are to be congratulated and admired for the enduring efforts and pleasure they have brought to this small Ross -shire village.
It's £5 well spent on a very good read:“Tarbat Golf Club – The First 100 Years.” A copy can be purchased in the local Portmahomack shop or from any committee member or contact



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