During the war years, from about 1940 onwards, everyone in the country was implored to do his or her bit to help in what was to become known as “The war effort”.
Most of the men went off to war - those who remained had an important job to do to help the war effort. Because food was scarce, rationing was introduced and people were encouraged to grow their own vegetables - hence the slogan “Digging for Victory”.
Golf clubs were not exempt. The Ministry of Agriculture decided that the vast acreage of land given over to playing golf could be much more profitably used. This would be done in one of three ways: firstly by ploughing up the land to grow cereal crops - corn, oats, wheat etc.; secondly by allowing the grass to grow on the fairways and in the rough, and then letting it to farmers for grazing for their livestock; and finally by making silage from the grass and selling it to farmers again for animal feed.
In order to comply with these directives many golf clubs ceased to operate during the war.
Eventually the McDonald Ellon golf club had to do likewise.
The Management Committee decided that the best option for the club would be to grow grass and let the grazing rights - the rental money would at least provide some much needed income during this difficult time.
Mr Alexander Davidson of Knockothie Farm, whose sons Sandy and Ron would play a major role in the development of the new nine holes in the 70s), got the first contract to graze sheep. However he soon fell foul of the Management Committee when it was discovered that he was grazing more than the agreed number of 100 sheep. He had to pay an extra £5 to retain the contract!
During this time play on the course continued, but the greens were fenced off to protect them from the sheep. Sir James made an annual donation of £100 towards the cost of the fencing. He also made frequent donations to the club to help with renovation and repairs to the clubhouse.
Mr James Lewis, of Waterside of Schivas Farm, Ythanbank was the next to get the grazing contract.
However the negotiating skills of the Management Committee, over the grazing rent perhaps left a little to be desired. The minutes of the day reveal that when the rent was due for renewal, a member of the committee would be sent to see Mr Lewis, having been instructed to ensure that he understood that the rent for the coming year would be increased. But if he refused to pay the increased rent, the club would happily accept the same rent as had been paid the year previously! Needless to say the rent remained unchanged.
By 1942 common sense prevailed and the letting of the grass for grazing was now advertised and a bid from a Mr J Davidson of Auchenten Farm, Hatton for £150 was accepted - a considerably higher sum than had previously been paid.
By late 1942 however, the Ministry of Agriculture informed the club that grazing alone was not sufficient and, in spite of protestations by the club, and especially by Sir James himself, the club was told that a portion of the land had to be ploughed up and given over to the cultivation of crops.
Holes number seven, eight and nine, (today’s 10-12 inclusive), were the ones chosen for cultivation. However before very long the club was ordered to allow the grass on the remaining six fairways to grow to make hay. Play was now impossible and so for three years from 1943 to 1945 the course was closed.
Because of this, the Committee decided that the club could no longer afford to employ the green -keeper Willie Buchan, on a full time basis, and so decided to cut his duties by half with a corresponding reduction in his salary, from £2:10/- to £1:5/- (from £2.50 to £1.25) per week.
Willie was not consulted on the matter! It was presented to him as a fait accompli, and not surprisingly, when told, he resigned on the spot. However within a few days, and after a meeting with Sir James, Willie withdrew his resignation.
No reason was ever given as to why he did so, but it seems very likely that Sir James had come to an arrangement with Willie, most likely paying part of his wage himself, thus ensuring that Willie stayed on at the club. He would have been difficult to replace. Another example of Sir James’ generosity was when he said he would pay for the cost of fencing off the greens and would make a donation of £100 per year for the duration of the war.
By the middle of 1945 however, when it was becoming clear that the war would soon be over, thought was given to re-establishing the course, and by early 1946, six holes were in play. The annual subscription was increased. Hitherto members had to pay a green fee of a shilling (5p) to play on a Sunday, but this was abandoned and the annual subscription was increased from £1/10 (£1.50) to £1//17/6 (£1.88) to cover the cost of Sunday play.
During this time, the club struggled financially. Membership levels varied a lot from year to year. Attempts were made to attract people to join the club, but without much success.
The rental from sheep grazing was still a major source of income, without which the club would have struggled financially, and that is why the practice was continued long after the war finished.
During the 2nd World War, many children were “evacuated” from large towns and cities deemed to be at risk from enemy bombing, to places of safety in rural areas. These children were known as “Evacuees”. On two occasions, two such children were billeted with Willie Buchan and his wife Mary.
The subject was discussed at several Management Committee Meetings attended by Sir James, who was vehemently opposed to the proposal. He instructed the secretary to contact the billeting officer in Aberdeen forthwith, to have the children removed from the Buchans and accommodated elsewhere.
When told this was not an option, he left the Buchans in no doubt that the children were never to be allowed anywhere near the golf course, and if they caused any damage to the trees or shrubs, they, the Buchans, would be held responsible and answerable to him!
One might deduce from the many examples of his autocratic behaviour, that Sir James must have been something of a control freak. But then he had spent his entire life in positions of power, getting things done, expecting his word to be obeyed. He was accustomed to being in charge and I am sure he believed that he was only doing what he thought was best for the golf club.
Equally however, I am certain that his overriding concern was always for .the interests of the people of Ellon. He was with justification, inordinately proud of the McDonald Park and Golf Course. After all they were his creation, and for that we owe him our gratitude.
A sound financial base is crucial to the success of any club and Ellon was no different. In spite of the course now being open for play, the club struggled.
Fewer people were playing golf, visitor numbers were down mainly due to the war and the cost of travel, many of the members were off on active war service, and although good money was got from the rent for the grazing, tax at 50% was levied on it by the Government. The club was always looking for ways to save money, both on and off the course, as the following anecdotes reveal.
Then, as now, the cost of machinery was a continual drain on the finances of the club. To save time and tractor fuel, the green-keeper was told to leave the fairways uncut, to a distance of thirty yards from the front of the greens. The rough was also left to grow. During the early years the fairways and greens were cut using a horse-drawn mower, with the horse wearing special leather shoes on the greens to avoid damage from its hooves. Later, a tractor was used to pull the mower, but in time, it came to the end of its useful life. A lot of money was being spent on ineffective repairs. The secretary was therefore dispatched to Neil Ross, the local agricultural engineers, to ask whether a recent bill for repairs might be reduced. The request was rejected and it seemed as if the only solution, was to buy a new one, at a cost of around £150, far in excess of what the club could afford.
The Captain of the day, Dr J H Wardrop, a local G.P., along with a committee member was delegated to try and find a second hand tractor.
Their search proved fruitless.
However, Dr Wardrop, a motoring enthusiast, thought it might be possible to convert the engine of a car to run on paraffin instead of petrol. He bought a second hand car for £10 and successfully converted the engine.
The converted car worked for many more years - in fact it would be ten more years before the club could afford a replacement tractor.
Savings had to be made off the course as well.
In the pre-war days, the annual prize-giving ceremony was quite an occasion. After the presentation of the trophies and cash vouchers, those present took part in a game of whist. Dinner followed, after which there was dancing, usually to the music of Jimmy Moir’s band - all organised by the ladies.
Jimmy, known locally as “Sooter Moir,” (a nickname he had inherited from his father who had a shoemaker’s business) was a “weel kent” character in and around the Ellon area. An insurance agent by profession, (known as “the man from the Pru”), Jimmy was an enthusiastic golfer, playing at both McDonald Ellon, and Cruden Bay.
His son Maurice, was to bring fame to Ellon when he won the Scottish Boys Championship in 1954.
All this would change during the war years. No formal prize giving took place. Instead, the prizewinners received their trophies at the AGM, early in the following year but without the vouchers, and the trophies were not engraved until the war was over.
On a happier note, the Greens Committee decided that all servicemen who had been members prior to being called up for war service, would be allowed to play for free when home on leave.
It was during the war years in 1941, that McDonald Ellon Golf Club took the remarkable step of appointing ladies to the posts of both club captain and secretary /treasurer.
Lady Captains were unheard of then. Indeed they are still a rarity in modern times.
The appointments came about because the captain of the day, Mr Arthur P Davidson who also acted as secretary, decided to resign. The majority of the male members were on active service, and those remaining showed little interest.
And so Mrs Jane Clubb was elected captain, a post she would hold until the start of the 1946 season.
Mrs Clubb - mother of ‘Bill the butcher” (her son ran a butchery business in Bridge Street Ellon for many years and was prominent in sporting circles in Ellon) - was at the time mine-hostess of the New Inn hotel.
During the Annual General Meeting of 1943, the Secretary gave out the sad news that Sir James had died on his way back to South Africa. The boat on which he and Henry Herrington were travelling had been torpedoed by a German submarine. Only one person survived.
Recognition of the great contribution that Sir James had made to the town of Ellon, in establishing and donating both the McDonald Parklands, and the McDonald Golf Club and his involvement in the management of both, was recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
In 1946, with the war over, the Committee decided that play should resume over the six holes, which had been let for grazing.
The green-keeper would once again be employed full time at an increased wage of £3 per week.