The 1970s was a period of great activity for the golf club. During this time the golf course was extended to 18 holes and new clubhouse premises were found, even though it was less than 10 years since the previous clubhouse had opened.
Let’s look at the course extension first.
The question of extending the course was first raised by Captain Sandy Thomson at a Management Committee meeting in 1968. Membership numbers were steady, visitor numbers continued to rise, and it was clear that play on the nine hole course was reaching saturation point. Players were becoming increasingly frustrated at the time needed to complete a round of golf. The representatives from the Town Council on the Management Committee approved the suggestion of extending the course, and encouraged the club to look into the possibilities of doing so. The club identified two areas of land that might be suitable.
The first and preferred option was a triangular area of two fields on land farmed by Mr John Ross - bordered by the Auchnagatt road to the east, Hospital Road, and the disused Ellon to Fraserburgh railway line to the west.
A potential stumbling block might be the price asked for the ground - agricultural land at the time was valued at around £1000 per acre - but it was hoped that a grant from the Scottish Education Department and a loan from the King George VI Playing Fields Association might be forthcoming to help in the cost.
When Mr Ross was initially approached, his reply was not exactly what the club was hoping for. He said he would be willing to sell about 28 acres at £300 per acre, but before doing so, he would need to get the approval of Trustees of Auchterellon Estates, who owned the land.
The club had hoped to buy nearer 40 acres. Mr George Raeburn the club’s solicitor was asked to negotiate with the Estate Trustees, but they refused even to discuss the matter saying that to sell off that amount of land would significantly reduce the re-sale price they could expect to get for the farm in the future.
The Land Commission for Scotland did have the authority to place a compulsory purchase order on the land, but it was thought most unlikely that they would do so. The club had to consider other options. The only other possibility was an area of land lying behind Caroline’s Well in the McDonald Park (over the road from the original three holes) and adjacent to the boundary of Ellon castle. An approach to the owners to sell, was turned down flat without any discussion.
There was nothing more the club could do. That was the situation until a few years later, when, in 1975, the Ellon Town Council got involved on behalf of the club. By this time the farmland had been re-zoned for development and a local builder had prepared plans for a housing scheme.
The Town Council proposed that representation should be made to the Aberdeenshire County Council Planning Department, asking that a “change of use” should be applied to the land in question and that it be given over to leisure and recreation instead of development. If the Council’s recommendations were accepted by the Planning Department, then it, and not the golf club or Town Council, would conduct negotiations over the sale of the land with the owners. This would all take place before applying for a Compulsory Purchase Order - perhaps the owners might be persuaded that a better price could be got by negotiation than by compulsion.
However the wheels of government - even at local level - move exceedingly slowly and several years had now passed since the club first considered extending the course to 18 holes.
In 1975, with the question of the land still unresolved, the Ellon Town Council ceased to exist and its duties were taken over by the Gordon District Council.
R O Duncan (Bob), although not a golfer, had served on both the now defunct Ellon Town Council, and its successor the Gordon District Council, for many years. He had represented both on the Management Committee. Always a staunch supporter of the golf club, he lobbied vigorously on behalf of the club and was largely instrumental in persuading Leisure and Recreation Committee of the Gordon District Council, eventually to re-zone the land, changing its use from development to leisure. The land could now only be used for recreational purposes.
The golf club owes a huge debt to Bob Duncan - his hard work, expertise and advice have been invaluable to the club.
The golf club could now re-open negotiations with the owners who accepted an offer of £17,500 for 41.748 acres.
Soon after, the golf club bought the line and embankment of the old narrow gauge railway line that used to run along Hospital Road from Ellon to Cruden Bay. Material from the embankment would be used in the construction of the new nine holes. There would be a spin-off from the purchase which would be of huge significance for the club in years to come, and will be looked at later.
Having acquired the land, consideration now turned to getting a design layout for the nine holes and financing the project. The cost of employing a golf architect to design a layout would have been prohibitive, so the captain W J (Ian) Roberts, a former club champion produced a plan that appealed to the club council as having potential. Harry Bannerman, the Cruden Bay professional and former Ryder Cup player and Sandy Pirie, head green-keeper at Hazlehead Golf Course and former Walker Cup player, were invited to assess the plan, and when both expressed their approval, the council decided to implement it.
Financing the project was obviously going to be a major undertaking, so in order to get at least some idea of the potential costs, it was decided to get at least one quote. Sports Works Ltd., a specialist golf course construction company, quoted a figure in excess of £31,000 to do the entire job, preparing fairways, tees and greens, as well as building bunkers, pathways, bridges and so on - a figure immediately rejected as being far beyond what the club could afford.
After much debate it was decided to split the operation into two parts - a contractor would be employed to build the tees and greens while the rest of the work would be undertaken by the club’s green-keeping staff.
The area to be developed was a large featureless field, sloping gently downwards from the Mains of Auchterellon farm road to the clubhouse. Most of the land had been cropped over the years and on the whole was of a reasonable standard. Only one area would be a bit of a problem. The area in the vicinity of the present seventh tee was particularly wet and marshy, overgrown with reeds and even with adequate drainage might be troublesome in years to come - and so it has proved to be.
The council was faced with something of a dilemma: would it be better to start from scratch, plough the whole area, sow it out with grass seed, and hope that the turf so produced would be of better quality than what was already there, or hope that by careful management the existing grass would improve over time?
Three local farmers - Sandy Davidson of Knockothie Farm; Sandy Low of Mossneuk Farm and Michael Keith of Mains of Tarty Farm - very generously offered to plough and sow out the entire area, charging only for the cost of materials used. The club Council was hugely grateful for their generosity - only Sandy Davidson was a member - but decided that the time needed for new grass to mature sufficiently to allow play to take place, would be unacceptably long and delay the opening date.
Ian Roberts’ plan fitted into the land very well but there were no naturally occurring features to help demarcate the fairways, so it was decided that the planting of trees might best achieve this. The unique character of the existing nine holes was due in no small measure to the abundance of trees - the legacy of Sir James - and it was to be hoped that same effect might be achieved on the new nine.
However, a club member, Dick Greig of the Forestry Commission, advised that the areas earmarked for tree planting should first be ploughed, rotovated and cleared of all loose stones, as this would enable the trees to become established more quickly. Sandy Davidson ploughed the designated areas (at no cost to the club) turning up large quantities of stones in the process, all of which had to be removed.
It was hoped that money could be saved if members could be persuaded to volunteer their services to remove the stones. A few did and spent several evenings in hard backbreaking work, which some said brought back memories of school holidays spent “tattie picking” - only this time they weren’t paid! However their enthusiasm soon waned and a firm using specialist equipment was called in and quickly finished the job.
Trees were then planted, but for a variety of reasons - they were not sufficiently mature, spells of frost, periods of drought, rabbits with an appetite - many were lost and it took a very long time for those that survived to become established. Replacements were expensive. The ploughed areas became known as “the plooins,” were fenced off in a futile attempt to keep out the rabbits, and classified as “Ground under repair”.
They were, for a long time, a considerable source of annoyance to the golfers, who found that retrieving golf balls from them - if indeed the balls were found - could be a very messy business! Trees continued to be added over the years, and years later, in 1985, Ken Gill, greens’ convener at the time and a future captain, introduced a highly successful “buy a tree” campaign.
A member would buy a mature, well-established tree for £10 which was then planted with his or her name tag on it. The trees have now matured, and give the course a definition and shape that complement perfectly; the long established front nine holes.
Smith and Sons Horticulturalists from Aberdeen built the tees and greens. In accordance with the practice of the day, the tees were small and the greens shaped like up-turned saucers. Within a few years it became obvious that the tees were too small and the greens were causing problems too, as it was difficult to keep the ball on them because of their shape. Putting on them was not easy. The result was that, for years, the green-keeping staff’s winter programme was given over to enlarging the tees and reshaping and re-building the greens. Mind you one local gentleman was not at all unhappy at the size of the tees. Smiths had laid the second tee one day, only to find on their return the next day, the tee had been completely stripped of its turf. The police didn’t take long to track down the culprit and persuade him to return the turf!
Drainage of the new nine holes also presented problems. The ground had always drained poorly and while Souters from Stirling promised that all the drains they put in would run water, financial constraints meant that the number of drains laid was limited. More drains have been put in year on year, but drainage remains a problem.
The cost of buying the land and building the new nine holes was approximately £40,000. At the time the club was in a reasonably good financial state. Over the previous few years, there had been a steady increase in membership numbers, and the income from visitors’ green fees had also gone up. With careful budgeting, the club now had a bank balance of nearly £7000. Loans and grants were got from Ellon Town Council, the Aberdeen County Council, and the Sports Council. The recently formed Gordon District council also made a loan, but it was conditional upon the club rescinding a rule made some years previously, which restricted membership of the club to those living within five miles of the town square. This rule was introduced to limit the numbers joining the club, as there was a lengthy waiting list. The loans and grants totalled around £32,000.
The club’s Social Committee, under the enthusiastic leadership of Arthur Fry and George Thom, then drew up a list of social activities, in which they hoped the membership would participate and so raise funds - premium bond type draws, social mixed fours, raffles, target golf, new members evenings and so on. Their efforts were optimistic but eventually futile and had to be abandoned due to lack of support. Credit to them for trying!
Further revenue was needed however and the Club Council, after considering several possibilities, came up with the idea of inviting commercial companies, businesses and so on, or even individuals to sponsor a hole on the new course. The cost of sponsoring a hole would be £1000. In return the sponsors would be entitled to hold a yearly outing for 40 players for a period of 10 years. The golf club would also benefit from the sale of food and drink at the outings.
It took almost a year of hard work by the Council before eight of the nine holes were sold off.
The holes were sponsored as follows:
Hole No 1.
Mr Bill Bruce (Senior) of Bruce and Sons Builders bought this hole and named it after his house, “Westwinds.” Bill had been an Ellon Town Councillor for many years, and had also served on the Committee of Management. He was a staunch supporter of the golf club, and always ready to help out in any way he could. His company provided work for large numbers of Ellon people.
Hole No 2.
Pat and Bob McArthur, an elderly couple who had not lived long in Ellon, sponsored this hole. Although neither played golf, they had joined the club as social members. They supported most social functions with great enthusiasm. However the functions they attended were often enlivened by their occasionally quite intense disagreements and rows. Peace was usually re-established however. They were great fun and were held in high regard by the membership who appreciated their generosity in sponsoring a hole. They named their hole, “Par-Mac”.
Hole No 3.
The Caledonian Golf Club from the Kings Links Aberdeen, sponsored this hole and named it “Caledonian”.
Hole No 4.
The hole was sponsored by the local branch of the Royal British Legion. Several club members, including Alec Gray, Billy Gordon, Albert Low and others, who were members of the Legion, played a significant part in persuading that organisation to agree to the sponsorship. The Legion enjoyed similar terms to those given to the private golf clubs. The hole is named “The Legion”.
Hole No 5.
In spite of the best efforts of the Club Council, this hole remained unsold. This turned out to be fortuitous because it gave the Club Council the opportunity to gift it to A. Davidson and Sons, of Knockothie Farm, as an acknowledgement of the debt owed by the club to the Davidson family over many years. As noted earlier, Mr Alex Davidson (Senior) had been involved with the club during the war years. His wife, Mrs Jean Davidson, a keen golfer, had been an enthusiastic member of the ladies’ section for many years. However the club was particularly indebted to their sons Sandy and Ron for their help and support during the construction of the new nine holes. The club at the time had limited resources with little in the way of plant and machinery, but the Davidsons were always ready and willing to loan a tractor, a cart, or any other piece of equipment, whenever asked, and always free of charge.
The supermarket “Costcutters” owned then by the Davidsons has been a generous sponsor of the Ladies’ Open. Sandy spent several years as Greens Convener supervising the development of the new nine. Ron was also a long-standing committee member, eventually holding the post of Club Captain from 1985-1987. Sandy and Ron asked that the hole be named “Knockie.”
Hole No 6.
Nigg Bay Golf Club, Torry, Aberdeen sponsored the 6th hole and named it Nigg Bay.
Hole No 7.
Barratt Construction, a national building firm who some years earlier had taken over the firm of Bruce and Sons and who now had a base in Ellon, sponsored this hole. They were given the same rights as the Golf clubs mentioned above. Their business motif being an oak tree, they decided to name the hole “The Oaks”.
Hole No 8.
Sammy Hardie had been an enthusiastic member of the golf club for many years. He truly was “a character”! His golfing ability may have been modest, but there was no greater supporter of the 19th hole than Sammy. He had a fund of stories and to spend a couple of hours with him in full flow, was an experience not to be missed. He asked that the hole be named “Sam and Bess Hardie”.
The reason Sammy and Bess sponsored a hole was because they had a son Dick who was in the army at the time, but whose intention upon retirement was to return to live in the Ellon area. McDonald Ellon golf club had a waiting list in the 1970s and the club agreed with Sammy, that in return for his sponsorship, Dick would be allowed to join the club without having to go on the waiting list - he would of course pay the subscription being charged at the time.
To the club’s shame it reneged on the deal and in spite of repeated lobbying by the author, refused to change its position.
The situation is even more regrettable when one considers that the Hardie family had had links to the club since its inception in 1927. Dick was the great-nephew of the first green-keeper John Buchan who served the club from 1927 until 1937.
Hole No 9.
The Bon Accord Golf Club, Golf Road, Kings Links, Aberdeen sponsored this hole, and called it “Bon Accord”.
Opening of the new nine holes
The new nine holes were opened for play, for members only on 17 June 1978, the opening being marked by a mixed foursomes competition.
However all club competitions that year were played over the back nine.
The new nine holes were officially opened for general play on 20 May 1979 when an 18 hole open tournament, sponsored by the Wood Group Aberdeen, was held to celebrate the occasion. The competition was won by Alan Middleton (Senior), from Cruden Bay golf club. However the highlight of the day was a hole-in-one on the seventh, achieved by Bill Carr managing director of the Wood Group, which had been generous sponsors of the club for several years.
There have, of course, been many holes-in-one over the years at the McDonald golf club. The honour of the first ever hole-in-one belongs to Mr David Milne from Ellon, one of the earliest members of the club, who holed out in one at the 8th hole as it was then. (today's 11th)
Born with an abnormality of his hips, he walked with a waddling gait and was known as “Hoppy”! Of the many holes-in-one recorded over the years, one of the most unusual was in fact a double hole-in-one. Playing together on 1 July 2002, Trevor Ironside and Martin Pucci both holed in one at the same hole, the 11th. Naturally, this attracted a lot of press attention and they were asked to repeat their performance for the cameras. Not surprisingly, they didn't succeed!
Wood Group’s sponsorship of the competition was the start of this form of backing for the club. A long list of companies have since given their financial support over the years - among them Telemech, The County Garage, V.G., Costcutter, Thomson Motors, Ellon Fitting and Flanges, John Bell Pipelines, Norco-Robinson, Schlumberger, Lawerence Milne, Presto, Ellonhall Valves, Key ‘n Edge, Joss Engineering, Graeme Mackie Dales Engineering, Jack Nixon Enterprises, N D Testing, The Buchan Hotel, Asset Management, Container Company, Tennents Caledonian, The Bank of Scotland and the Rotary Club of Ellon. Their contributions have been greatly appreciated.
However the extension of the course to 18 holes was not the only project undertaken by the McDonald Golf Club during the 70s.