At 3pm on the afternoon of Wednesday June 1 1927, a dreich, wet, miserable day, Miss Catherine Scott drove a ball from the first tee to mark the official opening of the McDonald Ellon Golf Club. In spite of the weather, a sizeable crowd, suitably attired to withstand the elements, turned out to watch this historic event.
And historic it was, as the occasion was the culmination of a remarkable eight months for the small Aberdeenshire village.
Indeed, as the Aberdeen Press and Journal, the local newspaper, reported the following day, “it was the attainment of a cherished ambition of the people of the village and district, to have their own golf course”. Other towns and villages in the area had built their golf courses much earlier - for example, Peterhead in 1841, Fraserburgh 1881, Oldmeldrum 1885, Newburgh 1888, and Cruden Bay 1899 - all had well established golf courses by the time Ellon had its course.
Most of these early golf courses were 'links courses' - courses that were built on the areas of coastal sand dunes that lay between the seashore and the more fertile ground further inland. This ground was unsuitable for cultivation or for the feeding of animals, but proved to be ideal for golf courses.
And so, compared to the surrounding towns and villages, Ellon was relatively late in getting its course, and the main reason for this would almost certainly have been because Ellon was situated in a rich agricultural area. Land prices would undoubtedly have been very high and the cost of buying land on which to build a golf course would have been prohibitive.
That was the situation in 1919, and while there is no doubt that in the fullness of time Ellon would have got its golf course, the reason it happened when it did, was due entirely to one man.
That man was James Gordon McDonald - he would be knighted in 1929 to become Sir James Gordon McDonald K.C.G. O.B.E.
Sir James was a very generous man, with a great love for his native village. In 1919 he bought a large area of land, on which he would build a golf course and a recreational park, both of which he would donate to the people of Ellon. Throughout his life he played a significant role in the affairs of the golf club and we shall look at this in more detail later.
Let us return to the opening ceremony on which the Aberdeen Press and Journal reported at considerable length - the quotes in brackets are taken from the newspaper report.
The recently appointed Club President Provost A H Milne opened the ceremony by addressing the spectators saying that, “the occasion was one, which in the future, would be looked back upon as constituting a red letter day in the history of our town and neighbourhood." (Applause). Continuing, Provost Milne said “unfortunately Mr McDonald was unable to arrive in this country in time for the opening of the course, but he had sent as his substitute his niece Miss Scott from Aberdeen who would drive the first ball”. (Applause)”.
And so, Miss Scott duly drove the first ball, officially opening the McDonald Ellon Golf course.
Mr A H Reid, the captain of the club, then presented the driver to Miss Scott as a memento of the occasion, and said, that “as a golf course in Ellon is now an accomplished fact, I hope the local people will encourage the venture by joining the club in large numbers”. At the end of the formal proceedings a cablegram was sent to Sir James in Rhodesia, which read as follows: “course successfully opened by Miss Scott amid cheers for the donor”.
The club and ball used by Miss Scott to open the course were presented to the club by her brother in 2008, along with a donation of £50, and are displayed in the clubhouse lounge.
The spectators were then entertained to an exhibition match between a Mr W Matheson and a Mr C M MacEwing from the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, Balgownie Aberdeen. The next day, the Aberdeen Press and Journal carried this report on the match: “the players were followed by a large and interested crowd all the way round. Both played a steady game and finished Matheson 39 shots and MacEwing 40. A number of local golfers had a round over the course in the evening”.
The course was reported as being “in excellent condition” which seems remarkable as it had only been nine months in preparation and so was a testimony to the efforts of John Buchan, who had left farm work at Savoch near Auchnagatt, to become the first green keeper of the McDonald Ellon Golf Club.
Granted, the fields had never been cultivated and had lain fallow in grass prior to the course being built, but it must be remembered that machinery then was basic compared to the sophisticated equipment in use today, and that there had been only a very short time between laying out the course and its opening.