Monday, January 10, 2011


Picture of Dornoch contemporaries of the 1930s. Left  to right: Professional Danny McCulloch, James Macrae, unknown, unknown, Duncan Fraser and Bert Sinclair. Picture was supplied by Hamish Macrae, present club captain of Royal Dornoch and son of James Macrae.

Having previously reflected upon James Braid's Open championship success of 1910, when he became the first five-time winner of the Claret Jug, I decided to look ahead a further 25 years through the archives of the "Northern Times" in search of a significant golfing event from 1935.
To my surprise I found that over the golf course Braid had designed for Brora in 1924 a professional golf tournament had been held.
There was scant reference to the tournament in the minute books of the Brora club other than recognition of the event being held on the Brora course and that the club would contribute £25 to the prize fund.
But there was a comprehensive coverage in the "Northern Times" of May 2, 1935.
The North and Midland Professional Golfers Association had seized upon the opportunity of having many of their members in the county at the end of April 1935 taking part in the Northern Open professional and amateur championship at Royal Dornoch to stage the Midland Association's first 36-hole competition of the year at Brora at the end of the Northern Open week.
The Northern Open Championship was inaugurated at Royal Aberdeen some four years earlier by a committee of North and North-east entrepreneurs on the idea of Inverness golfer Jack Bookless, the Scottish amateur champion of 1929.
Mr Bookless was the championship's first secretary and he had managed to raise a sum of £60 prize money for the professionals taking part at Royal Aberdeen. This had risen to £100 when the event came to Royal Dornoch for the first time.
The Dornoch competition had begun on Wednesday, April 24 with the first of two 36-hole days followed up by another 36 holes on Thursday.
By the time the field moved on to Brora on Friday and the Northern Open extending into a third day for an 18-hole play-off, just seventeen competitors stayed on to play at Brora.
The professionals at Brora competed for a silver bowl put up by the North British Rubber Company. Older readers will recall with affection playing with a North British golf ball produced in their Edinburgh factory at Fountainbridge up until 1966 when the company changed its name to Uniroyal.
In their existence the Edinburgh-based company were generous supporters of golf and donated “North British Cups” to many golf clubs throughout Scotland. Their gift to Brora Golf Club in 1939 is still one of the prized cups played for by the members.
Winner of the Midland Silver Bowl at Brora in 1935 was the professional from Cruden Bay, James Forrester, who returned two cards of 72 to finish three shots ahead of James Lawson (Forfar), both these golfers finishing in the top ten the previous day at Royal Dornoch.
The first day's play in the Northern Open at Dornoch attracted a field of 54, amongst them the defending champion, James Forrester, following his win at Inverness the previous year. The county was well represented by the local professional Danny McCulloch and three other local amateurs, James Macrae, John Alec Thomson and Neil Murray.
The Brora professional Tom Ainslie was accompanied by Brora amateurs, Tommy Ross, John George Sutherland and Willie G Sutherland. R F “Bert” Sinclair was the only amateur entry from Golspie.
Lanark professional William Spark led at the end of the first day with with a two-round tally 147 (71-76) with the holder in second place on 149 (73-76). Danny McCulloch scored 78 and 74, five off the pace and just below him came the leading amateur, R S “Dick” Walker (Cruden Bay), who, on Day 2 would storm through the field to be involved in Friday's play-off.
Brora professional Tom Ainslie (77-81) was well of the pace and other than the Dornoch amateur James Macrae (77-80) none of the remaining county players came close to the top of the leader.
Overnight leader Spark saw his chance of an outright 72-hole win disappear in a three-putt-cluttered third round of 80 and getting within striking distance of the leader was Brora's Ainslie with a third round 75.
The best of the third-round scores was a 72 from William Anderson (Murcar)which would see him eventually finish as the third placed professional.
Spark's final round 71, a repeat of his first round, got him back on top of the leader board to win the professionals winning cheque of £100.
But, saving his best to the last, amateur Dick Walker carded the tournament's lowest score of the week, a 70, that tied his 72-hole total of 298 with Spark, forcing a play-off for the title and championship cup.
This took place the following day and Walker, pictured right in the 1930s, emulated the feat of the first amateur winner in 1933, Jack MacLean (Hayston), with a score of 75 to Spark's 76. Walker was an Aberdeen University student who had become the Scottish Universities champion for the first time in 1934. Then, after his rise to prominence in the Northern Open championship, Walker represented Scotland in the Home Internationals of 1935 and 1936.
MacLean and Walker are not the only amateurs to have won the Northern Open but Walker, who died in 1992 at the age of 81, remains the only amateur to have beaten the professionals two years in a row by retaining the title at Deeside the following year.
Walker missed out on the G B and I Walker Cup selection of 1936, maybe afterwards reflecting with a wry smile that the players who were selected were on the receiving end of a 9-0 thrashing by the United States that year.
Selected final totals in the 1935 Northern Open at Royal Dornoch.
298 W Spark (Lanark) 71 76 80 71, R S Walker (Cruden Bay) (am) 78 76 74 70 (Walker won 18-hole stroke-play play-off the following day).
300 W Anderson (Murcar) 74 76 72 78.
302 A Jamieson (Poloc) (am) 75 75 74 78, J Forrester (Cruden Bay) 73 76 78 75, T Ainslie (Brora) 77 76 75 74.
Selected Local Scores;
307 D G McCulloch (Royal Dornoch) 78 74 77 78.
310 J Macrae (Royal Dornoch) (am) 77 80 77 76.
322 J A Thomson (Royal Dornoch) (am) 82 78 86 76.
325 T Ross (Brora) (am) 80 85 78 82.
329 J G Sutherland (Brora) (am) 89 77 77 86.
339 W G Sutherland (Brora) (am) 89 83 87 80.
345 R F Sinclair (Golspie) (am) 86 88 81 90.
353 N Murray (Royal Dornoch) (am) 90 88 89 86.

James Forrester, the Sam Torrance of the
1930s, died tragically at age of 30

James Forrester, Cruden Bay GC professional from 1932 to 1936 - mentioned above in Robin Wilson's article, died tragically at the age of only 30 in Belgium.
Following his victories in the 1934 Northern Open and the 1936 Scottish professional championship at Lossiemouth,the Glasgow-born Forrester, pictured right, was invited to succeed Henry Cotton as professional at the Royal Waterloo Golf Club, Belgium.
These tournaments were much more highly regarded in the 1930s than they are now perhaps because there was no British or European Tour. In fact, there were not nearly so many professional tournaments.
The modern-day "tour pro" did not exist in the 1930s. All the professionals were professionals at clubs which is why even the Open championship used to be played from Wednesday to Friday (36 holes on the final day) so that the professionals could get back to base to look after their members' needs in the Saturday competions.
So James Forrester had been the Sam Torrance of his day. He would have peaked in his 30s and might well have been a contender for the Open championship but he was operated on for appendicitis in June 1938.
Complications set in and after another operation, for an ulcer on the brain, James Forrester died in a Brussels hospital on June 23, 1938.
His younger brother Bill Forrester had gone with him to Belgium and he returned to the North-east to win the 1946 Northern Open at Murcar, the first Northern Open after World War II. He was listed as playing out of Royal
Club de Belgique. Bill Forrester later went to Portugal to become club pro at Estoril.

James Forrester's son, James junior, was only 18 months only when his father died. His widowed mother emigrated to the United States within months and the son went on to become a US Air Force hero - he was awarded the Legion of Merit - in the evactuation of the US army from Vietnam. James Forrester, junior, qualified as a doctor and has been a senator in the North Carolina legislative chamber for many years. Dr Forrester is pictured on right.
His dad would have been proud of him.



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