McDonald Golf Club, Ellon is set in the heart of Aberdeenshire countryside, 16 miles north of Aberdeen, this scenic eighteen hole golf course provides a memorable golfing experience for all standards of golfer. 

The parkland course is named after its benefactor Sir James McDonald who, in 1926, gifted the old woodlands to the people of Ellon. The original nine hole course winds its way through this magnificent forest with its stately trees and beautiful rhododendron bushes. The well established first nine has a natural stream that twists and turns across the course and features on almost every hole.

History of the McDonald Ellon Golf Club

1927 - 2016

By Dr Jim Morrison - Captain 1979-1981

This is the history of the McDonald Ellon Golf Club, from its inception in 1927 to the present day. During this time the club has grown from the original nine holes, to the full eighteen in the mid 1970s and to having a modern, purpose built clubhouse in the mid 1990s

On the playing side the considerable success of its members, at both local and national levels, are recorded in the ‘Roll of Honour’ - achievements of which the club, and indeed the town of Ellon, can be justifiably proud.

So let us start on that Wednesday in June 1927, when the McDonald Ellon Golf Club first came into being.

Chapter One: The Opening Ceremony

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. 

alt text

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.

Chapter Two:  Acquisition and development of the land

So how did Sir James come to acquire this land?

The answer lies in the history of the Ellon Castle Estates and the story begins in 1752, when George, the third Earl of Aberdeen, who already owned vast amounts of land in the area, bought Ellon castle and its estates for £17,000 - well over £500,000 in today's terms. He had a reputation for buying vast amounts of land, and at one time, his estates included not only Ellon but also Kinmuck, Ardgrain, Waterton, Fechil, and Auchterellon – a huge area.

Now on buying the castle, he immediately enlarged it, adding on two wings, and set up home there with his mistress, Miss Penelope Dering, a young lady from Sussex, with whom he had two children, Alexander and Penelope.

When he died, in 1801, (in the castle at Ellon), his only legitimate son, the Hon. William Gordon, inherited the castle and estates.  By the terms of the will, should he (William) die without heirs, and then the properties would revert to his half-brother Alexander. However William’s succession to the properties heralded the start of a disastrous period for the Ellon Castle Estates, which would culminate, more than a century later, in their being broken up and sold. 

William was, for a time, MP for Aberdeenshire, but he never lived in Ellon, had no interest in the estates or castle, and by the time of his death in 1845, the estates had become run down and the castle was in disrepair.

Alexander, (William’s half-brother), inherited the estates and the castle. Now Alexander was a wholly different character compared to his half-brother. He had spent his childhood in Ellon and loved the place. When William died, Alexander was in the army, but he bought out his commission and returned to live in Ellon. And although he had been left £25,000 by his father, Alexander, because of a somewhat excessive life-style, was £4000 in debt when the castle and estates eventually became his. However, he hoped that the annual rental income from the estates – something in the order of £11,000 – would eliminate his debt and enable him to restore the properties to their original condition.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of ill-conceived spending and the severe agricultural depression of the mid-1860s, he was unable to do either.  

Among many costly building projects undertaken by him, were the building of a new castle (he reckoned the castle he had inherited was beyond repair) and the construction of a wall (some 10 feet in height) known as “the Deer dykes”, which still stretches along the Peterhead road from the town of Ellon. Apparently, he had the dykes built to help provide employment for the masons, who had been left without work, following the completion of the castle! With such a philanthropic outlook it was little wonder that he was unable to sort out the financial mess he had inherited!

Alexander died in 1873. The castle remained unoccupied until his grandson, Arthur John Lewis Gordon, became the owner, in the early 1880s. But by this time the estates were heavily mortgaged. Arthur Gordon also failed in his efforts to resolve the situation and clear the debts, and in 1913 he was forced to put the properties into administration. He died in 1918.

Soon after, in 1919, the estates were broken up and sold off and it was at this time, that Sir James McDonald bought the land that would in time become the McDonald Park and golf course. Besides the land for these projects, Sir James also bought many other properties and sites, in and around Ellon, including the areas of the old curling pond, for a time the site of what was known as the 'trim-track', Gordon Terrace, Gordon Place, and Ythan Terrace. 

Development of the land.

Having bought the land, the first thing Sir James did was to build a retirement house for his parents, so that, as he himself said, “they would forever be able to look out across the pleasant fields of the McDonald Parklands”. It should be remembered, that at this time there were no trees on the land that would become the golf course and park, so the view from the house would have been very different to that today.

He decreed that the Park would be known for all time as the “McDonald Park”, as a tribute to, and in memory of, his parents.

The house Sir James built for his parents was only recently demolished as it had fallen into disrepair, but after his death in 1942, it had been occupied by the green-keepers John Buchan, his son Willie, as well as club stewards and latterly by green-keeper Bill Shepherd.

Sir James himself took sole responsibility for deciding how the land should be divided up between the park and the golf course. It was he who decided where trees should be planted: how many, which varieties, which shrubs and bushes should be put in and where, and he determined where the pathways through the park should be. But the feature of which he was proudest was what he termed “The Avenue”. This was the pathway, which runs from the entrance to the park on Hospital Road, bisecting the present day 18th and 17th holes, running behind the 16th, 15th, 14th, and 13th, to where it exits on the Auchnagatt Road just across from the now demolished Ellon Academy building.

To get some idea as to how it might have looked in Sir James' day, it is necessary to imagine the golf course with no trees whatsoever: the verges of the Avenue, now overgrown with weeds and rough grass, were planted out in shrubs, mostly rhododendrons, bushes and lovely flowering plants of all varieties. Together they formed a stunning walkway of which Sir James was inordinately proud. The Avenue was about 40 yards wide at some points, bordered on both sides by dry-stone dykes running its entire length, so the whole area must have been of outstanding beauty. 

Woe betide anyone caught dropping so much as a sweetie paper!

Only the remnants of the dykes remain. And for as long as he was associated with the golf club Sir James made it his responsibility to ensure that the park was kept in pristine condition, making sure that damaged trees, shrubs, or flowers were promptly replaced. In all, it took Sir James the best part of seven years to lay out the park exactly as he wanted it. 

Having completed the recreational park, he the then turned his attention to the golf course.

Sir James decided to employ Mr Stewart Burns, the professional at nearby Cruden Bay Golf Club, to design and supervise the laying out of the proposed course.

Stewart Burns was born in Stirling in 1899, the son of a gardener, who himself was an accomplished player. He had his introduction to golf at the Kings Park Golf Club, Stirling, where the local professional, a Mr Duncan, gave him his first lessons.

While still a boy, he enlisted in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and saw service in the Great War of 1914-18. After the war he took up golf as a profession and, following a spell at Falkirk Tryst Golf Club, he moved to Cruden Bay (1924-1925) and from there went to Hendon Golf Club near London.

It is not known if Burns had any previous experience of golf course design, but he certainly was a player of some considerable repute. He had been the Scottish Professional Champion in 1925 and 1927 and won again for a third time at Balgownie, Aberdeen in 1928, by the huge margin of 11 shots. With a final round 68 (a course record at the time) he won outright “the handsome silver trophy (presented by the late Sir Peter J Mackie), a gold badge and a cheque for £35” - as the Stirling Observer newspaper reported - justifiably proud of the achievement of one of its own.

Burns played for Scotland against England in 1932, but the high point of his career should have been in 1929 when he was selected for the Great Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup team to play against the USA – on the second occasion the match was played. Ten players were selected for each team and while it was agreed, in the inaugural match two years earlier, that only eight of the 10 would take part in the contest, the Americans departed from this arrangement in 1929, and used all 10 over the two days of the competition.

However the Great Britain and Irish team captain George Duncan (Open Champion 1920), who was born in Methlick, and who turned down the opportunity to join Aberdeen F.C. opting instead to play golf, stuck by the procedure agreed two years previously and played only eight of his squad. The unfortunate two left out were Burns and Percy Alliss (father of Peter Alliss). As an aside, the British team avenged its defeat in the first match, with Captain Duncan beating the legendary Walter Hagen by 10 and 8 in their singles match.

Stewart Burns had three fields at his disposal, on which to lay out the golf course. The first was the site of today's 13th, 14th, and 15th holes. The second field is where today's 16th, 17th and 18th holes are and the third contains holes 10, 11, and 12 of the present day layout.

He put the opening three holes into the first field, but instead of running lengthwise as they do today, they criss-crossed today's fairways.

The first tee was situated near the old iron gate that can still be seen at the edge of the Auchnagatt road and the hole ran up to a green approximately where the present 14th green is. The green was not built up as today’s 14th is, but simply followed the natural contours of the ground resulting in a green that was on a very severe slope, making putting fiendishly difficult. As Adam Robbie, a former club captain and champion said, no putts were ever conceded on that green.

The second hole ran from a tee adjacent to the first green back down across the present 14th fairway towards the Auchnagatt road, to a green situated approximately where the present 13th is.

The third hole ran from there back up to the present 15th green.

It would appear that the direction of the first three holes was changed quite soon after they were laid out, due almost certainly, to the fact that putting on the first green was virtually impossible. This is confirmed by Norval Dawson - the first Junior convenor - who said that he joined the club in 1946 and although he remembers the course being closed during the war years, he cannot ever recall holes one, two and three running in any direction, other than that which they follow today.

Club records are available from 1937 onwards, but there is no mention in them of any alterations being made to the first three holes and it would therefore be reasonable to assume, that the changes were made during the first ten years of the club's existence.

Norval also recalls seeing Sir James on a few occasions and describes him as being a small dapper man, with his trademark moustache and always dressed in a tweed jacket and plus fours. He also remembers Sir James having to reprimand the late Norman Smith for sneaking through a hedge on to the course telling him if he was caught doing so again his membership would be cancelled.

Remarkably the other six holes, apart from minor changes, have remained much as Burns designed them.

In the second field Burns laid out his fourth and fifth holes. Access to the fourth tee (the present 16th) was gained then, as now, by the path through the trees - although when the course was laid out there were no trees of any consequence. The trees that had been planted were in their infancy and the course, therefore, had a completely different appearance to what it is today.

The fourth tee has since been extended of course, but the original was in much the same area as the present 16th. The green however was situated well to the right of the present green much nearer the woods.

The fifth hole crossed the “Avenue”. Its tee position is virtually unchanged, but the green was well to the right of the present one, making the hole almost straight from tee to green. The short walk from the fifth green to the sixth tee (today’s 18th) remains unchanged, except that in those days there were no trees bordering the path.

The construction of Burns' sixth hole posed a problem. The land bought by Sir James extended only as far as the Avenue. The ground beyond the Avenue belonged to Mr A J Raeburn, a local solicitor whose son George would succeed him in the business and who would become clerk to the Ellon town Council for many years. Sir James bought Mr Raeburn's field thus getting access to the third field by way of a path, which ran behind the hospital, the site of the present day clubhouse.

Hole number seven (today's 10th),virtually unchanged since then, measured 225 yards, about 100 yards shorter than today, and had four bunkers across the fairway at its mid-point.

Apart from both being a little shorter than they are today, the eighth and the ninth, (today’s 11th and 12th) are virtually as Stewart Burns designed them, although both greens have been developed and enlarged over the years.

By and large, Stewart Burns’ design plan has stood the test of time and for that he deserves great credit. “The back nine”, as it is now known remains a delightful nine holes, scenically beautiful, but not easy to score on - many a good card has been ruined by these final two holes.

Chapter Three:  The Founding of the Club

As has been said, the people of Ellon had wanted a golf course for a long time, but now they had both a golf course and a recreational park.

When the park and golf course were completed, Sir James offered to lease both to the Town Council - an offer that was readily accepted. However the lease was conditional upon the council maintaining both the golf course and the park, to standards set by him. 

The enthusiasm of the Ellon people to have their own golf course can be gauged from the fact that, within six months of the announcement that Sir James had bought the land, they had raised £550 through various fund raising activities, such as whist drives, sales of work, dances, raffles, bridge evenings and so on. In today’s money terms that is the equivalent of more than £20,000 - a staggering effort. This was sufficient to finance the laying out of the course and the purchase of some essential equipment.

Sir James was so impressed by the efforts of the general public that he offered the use of the two front rooms in the house he had built for his parents - by now both dead - to provide changing facilities for the members. He retained the rest of the house to store his shooting equipment. 

This arrangement continued for the best part of 10 years, when a wooden hut, which was known as the Pavilion, was built adjacent to the house, and although it was sometimes used to hold club meetings, its main purpose was to provide catering facilities for visiting teams playing inter-club matches. Once again the ladies were responsible for raising the money to pay for the Pavilion, although it would be reasonable to assume that this time, the ladies were most likely club members.

A further 30 years would pass before the club had what could be termed, ‘a proper club house’.

It is amazing to realise that although the course had been under construction for eight months, the meeting to form a club and appoint officials did not take place until little more than a week before the official opening. Nevertheless that was the case and on the evening of Monday May 23 1927, a public meeting - described in the local press as “well attended” - was held in the local secondary school.

Provost Milne of the Ellon Town Council chaired the meeting. A motion that a golf club be formed was proposed by Baillie Walker and seconded by Mr A H Reid of Hillhead Farm, Ellon. The motion was, of course, passed unanimously and the election of the McDonald Ellon Golf Club’s first officials then took place.

Mr A H Reid was elected the first captain of the McDonald Ellon Golf Club, with Mr A F Robertson of the Clydesdale Bank in Market Street as Secretary/Treasurer. These were the only officials to be appointed at that meeting.

A little later Messrs H J Alexander, W Alexander, W G Hardie, G C Milne, V Munro, J W Paul, J H Reid, and the Rev. R Dunnet were elected to the committee.

Later still the "Greens Committee" was appointed and it consisted of the captain, along with Messrs Hardie and Milne. Now the term Greens Committee is a little misleading. Today, the Greens Committee is a sub committee of the club council and, as such, is responsible for the maintenance and development of the golf course, in conjunction with the head green keeper.

However, in those early days of the McDonald golf club, and indeed for many years thereafter, the Greens Committee was responsible for all aspects of the day-to-day management and running of the golf club.

The committee then considered how the newly formed club could best acknowledge Sir James’ extraordinary generosity. Its gratitude would be expressed in two ways.

Firstly, he would become the club’s Honorary President, a position he would hold for his lifetime and one which would not be filled on his death. His close friend and companion Mr Henry Herrington would become Vice-President.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly as far as Sir James was concerned, it was decided that the club would henceforth be known as the “McDonald Ellon Golf Club”. There can be little doubt that with his great love for his native town, and his pride in donating both a recreational park and a golf course to the people of Ellon, he would have derived great satisfaction from this decision. The name "McDonald" is sometimes omitted from the title of the club; in recognition of the part played by Sir James in establishing a golf course for the people of Ellon the full title should always be used.

Chapter Four:  Sir James Gordon McDonald K.G.B. O.B.E.

Now it has been noted that Sir James was hugely involved in the running, maintenance and general management of the McDonald Parklands, but he also had great influence and played a large part in the affairs of the golf club, from its early days, through to his death in 1942.

It might be appropriate at this point to consider the man himself.

James Gordon McDonald, was one of Ellon's most distinguished sons. He was born in Ellon in 1867, the son of Johannah Tough, and Hugh McDonald. Hugh McDonald was the “Land Steward”, (Estate Factor would be the present day equivalent) and Gamekeeper of the Ellon Castle estates. He served as Provost of the Ellon Town Council from 1918-1921. 

J. G. McDonald, who was always referred to locally as J.G., was brought up in Ellon and attended the local parish school, before completing his education at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen.

In 1890, when he was 23 years of age, he left Scotland for South Africa, where he would have an illustrious career.

He went first to the Transvaal, but soon moved on to what was then Rhodesia, where he became attached to the staff of Cecil Rhodes, whose constant companion he would remain until Rhodes' death in 1902. In his early time in Rhodesia, McDonald was involved in farming, forestry, mining, ranching, and estate management, but his later career was in the fields of finance and gold mining.

Cecil Rhodes, who was largely responsible for setting up the diamond and gold mining industries in Rhodesia, appointed him General Manager of the Goldfields Rhodesian Development Company – a company that had the responsibility for the mining and financial interests, not only for Rhodesian companies, but also for many others throughout Southern Africa.

Because of his extensive knowledge and experience in business and commerce, he acted as a confidential adviser to local governors and Government ministers, and he was knighted in 1929 for his services to the British Government.

He joined the Home Guard at its inception in 1940 during World War two, even though by then he was in his seventies, and was appointed an Intelligence Officer for Aberdeenshire. He wrote several books, two of which were devoted to his mentor Cecil Rhodes - “Rhodes - a Life” and “Rhodes - a Heritage”.

As mentioned earlier, Sir James continued to be responsible for the McDonald Parklands even after he had handed them over to the Town Council. His influence also extended to the running of the golf club and continued for the duration of his lifetime. He was quite capable of taking decisions without consulting the other members of the Management committee.

There are many examples of Sir James’ influence, among them, his displeasure at the length of the grass on the edge of the 1st tee: his opinion that the greens required watering: the fairways needed an application of lime to combat moss and so on, and all had to be acted upon.

Notes with his instructions were left with the secretary, to be passed to the green-keeper, who carried out his orders without question. Everyone was in awe of Sir James none more so than Willie Buchan with whom he had a good relationship. On hearing that a visit by Sir James was imminent, Willie would carefully rake the ground around the house of Sir James’ late parents and no one was allowed to walk on this area until Sir James’ arrival – his footprints would be the first on the newly prepared surface!

Structural alterations on the course also demanded his attention. The relaying of a green could not be done without his consent, and it was he who decided where additional bunkers should be sited.

In 1941 a motion to allow the playing of golf on a Sunday was put forward by the captain of the day Mr Arthur P Davidson who ran a grocery shop in Market Street. The motion was carried at the meeting but the Greens Committee had to get Sir James’ approval before the change could be implemented. This was readily given and although the original Blench Charter had contained a clause stipulating that there should be no play on a Sunday, Sir James informed the committee that the reasons for this were no longer applicable and he would happily sign an addendum to the Charter, confirming his support for the change. No record exists as to why Sir James agreed to the proposal but the likeliest explanation is that it was taken in an attempt to encourage people to join the club.

While the everyday affairs of the golf club were the concern of the aforementioned "Greens Committee" (appointed by the membership), its overall management lay in the hands of the "Management Committee".

The "Management Committee" comprised ten members, five representatives from the Ellon Town Council, and five from the Golf Club. The composition and functions of these committees will be described in more detail later. But neither committee was entirely free from the influence of Sir James: no decision of any significance could be implemented without his blessing.

After his retirement, Sir James divided his time between South Africa and Ellon.

He returned to Ellon every year, often with a party of friends to indulge his main hobby of shooting and during this time, lived in the Station Hotel.

He even had a wing added to the hotel, at his own expense, for his own exclusive use, and when he returned to South Africa, the wing was closed and remained unused until his return the following year. On his trips to Ellon he would frequently call at the local school, to address the pupils, and the visits, by “an important gentleman from abroad”, but one who had hailed from Ellon, were keenly anticipated and caused a great deal of interest and excitement. 

Sir James never married, but his close friend and companion was Mr Henry Herrington, a mining engineer, who was appointed Vice President of the McDonald Golf Club, and whose name is perpetuated in the Herrington Trophy, awarded annually to the winner of the men’s championship.

Sir James died in December 1942, when the “Ceramic”, on which he and Herrington were travelling back to South Africa, was torpedoed. All on board perished, bar one passenger who was picked up by a German submarine.

As a result of his successful career in Southern Africa, Sir James had become a very wealthy man, but he had always retained a strong bond with, and a great affection for, his home village: feelings that were reflected in his gift of a park and golf course to the community.

Chapter Five:  The Early Years

Following the death of his parents in 1926, Sir James leased both the golf course and the park to the Town Council.

The course opened for play in 1927, but within sixteen months he had fallen out with the Council, torn up the lease agreement.  Under a new set of rules, he now donated the golf course and park to the Council.

This meant that the Town Council would now become the Trustees of the properties, holding them in trust for the people of Ellon.

So what had caused the rift that prompted Sir McDonald to change things after such a short time?

As mentioned earlier, Sir James divided his time between Ellon and Southern Africa. It became increasingly obvious to him on his trips home, that the Town Council was failing in its duty properly to look after and maintain, the park as had been agreed. The overall standard of care and maintenance was poor, but his main concern was with how badly the trees were being cared for, with no effort being made to replace those, which had either become damaged or had died off. The late Mr George Raeburn, the local solicitor, who had succeeded his father Mr A J Raeburn and who was, for a long time, clerk to the Town Council of Ellon, was the legal adviser to both the club and Sir James. Acting on behalf of the latter, he confirmed that Sir James was entirely justified in his criticisms - the council, quite simply was not doing the job it had agreed to do.

Sir James immediately terminated the lease, and instead gifted both the park and golf course to the Town Council. His action in so doing might have seemed somewhat strange, but in fact Sir James was effectively handing over both the golf course and park, to the people of Ellon. The Ellon Town Council would now become the Trustees of the policies, holding both "in trust in perpetuity", for the people of Ellon.

The lease agreement was immediately withdrawn and a new set of rules for the care and maintenance of both the park and golf course introduced.

This agreement took the form of a Blench Charter (literally a White Paper) supplemented by a Minute of Agreement.

These two documents were authenticated and verified with the Keeper of the Registers and Records in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

They are still in existence today and are still legally binding documents. Blench Charters are now obsolete but in the 1900s were a common feature of land and property conveyance.

The Blench Charter did three things: it gave details of the dimensions and the boundaries of the property or land in question; it conferred rights of use or occupancy - thus making it clear that the land in question was to be used only as a park and golf course; and finally it could stipulate the rent (or as was the case in those days feu-duty) to be charged for the use of the land or property. Now this question of rent would become of great significance in years to come, and it is important to note exactly what was said in the Blench Charter.

The Blench Charter stated that - the town Council would make, "for payment to me (Sir James) by the said Council, the sum of one penny Scots at Whitsunday yearly, if asked only.”

The rent asked for clearly indicated Mr McDonald’s wish that it be a token rent, a peppercorn rent, and not in any way to reflect the value of the properties. In fact he never collected any rent, but some fifty years later others would try to, the significance of which will be looked at in due course.

The Minute of Agreement contained a long list of the rules and regulations for the care and maintenance of the park and all the buildings on it. But it also laid down conditions for the running of the golf club, which would be a joint venture between the Town Council and the Golf Club - in the form of a Management Committee as previously mentioned. And it is obvious from the wording of the agreement, that following his earlier experiences with the Council, Sir James would now retain significant control over both the running of the park and, to a lesser degree, the golf club.

This is supported by the wording of the first clause in the Minute of Agreement, which states and I quote -“that notwithstanding the granting and recording of said Blench Charter, the donor shall, during his life, have full control of the McDonald Park, as if said Charter had not been granted”. That could not be any clearer - he would be in charge.

There then followed a long list of terms and conditions as follows:

  • He would retain all sporting rights over the McDonald Park.

  • The park had to be known for all time as the "McDonald Parklands", as a memorial to his parents.

  • He alone would have the responsibility for deciding the percentages of the various trees that would be grown in the park.

  • There would be no Sunday golf.

  • Picnics in the park would be forbidden.

  • No fires would be allowed in the park.

  • The golf club would be run by a Committee of Management, comprising members of both the golf club and the Town Council in equal numbers.

  • While alive, he would be solely responsible for the McDonald Park ensuring that it was kept in good condition taking upon himself tasks such as supervising the cutting of the grass, trimming tree branches, planting shrubs, and so on.

  • He further instructed that after his death, the Town Council, acting as Trustees for the gift, must continue to maintain the park in the condition in which it had been while he was alive, and to that end he bequeathed a sum of £200 per annum.

    By this time the golf club had be in existence for over a year, and concerned that it might, in time, no longer continue to function as he had meant it to, he stated in his will that “at no time shall said course be turned into a free municipal one”. He also reiterated the duties and responsibilities of the Management Committee.

    One of the more important rules however and one which would become of great significance in years to come, was the one whereby he transferred the Feu-superiority of the properties from the Town Council to the Dr Barnardo’s Homes for Children.

    This meant that they, Dr Barnardo’s, were now entitled to collect the rent or Feu-duty - “one penny Scots at Whitsunday - “…if asked only”.

    To define “Feu-Superiority”: superiority simply means the ownership of a piece ground, while “feu” may be explained as the perpetual lease at a fixed rent for a piece of land held by such a lease. The word “feu” originates from old French for “fee” - a payment made in olden days, by a vassal to his superior. This payment could be in the form of money or kind (e.g. grain) in return for not having to enlist and do military service for his master.

    While he was alive, Sir James himself would be responsible for supervising the Council’s maintenance of the park. However, after his death, as Dr Barnardo’s now held the feu-superiority, they would have the task of monitoring the Council’s work. And to that end, they were given the authority to have an official from the Forestry Commission inspect the policies every three years or so, to ensure that the park was being maintained in accordance with his wishes. Should it not be, and then the McDonald Park would be handed over to Dr Barnardo’s Homes.

    However, the conditions relating to the golf course were somewhat different.

    Even if the McDonald Park did become the property of Barnardo’s, the Council would nevertheless continue to have the responsibility of ensuring that golf continued to be played over the course. The exact wording in the Blench Charter was that the Council retained “a perpetual servitude right of using said golf course as such”. In other words the golf course had to remain a golf course and it could not be developed for any other purpose irrespective of who owned it. Now as stated above, Dr Barnardo’s had the authority to have the park inspected every three years or so, but in reality these checks were infrequent, if indeed they were carried out at all. Until that is, when a chain of events was set in motion, that would have significant consequences for the golf club.

In the early 1960s, Miss Scott, the niece of Sir James, who had formally opened the club in 1927, reported to the late Charles G Brown, senior partner in the law firm of Burnett and Reid, Aberdeen that in her opinion the McDonald Park was not being properly looked after. The complaint was forwarded both to the Standard Bank of South Africa. Who were acting as Trustees for the now late Sir James, and also to Dr Barnardo’s. The latter, as required by the terms of the Minute of Agreement, sent an official from the Forestry Commission to Ellon, and he, along with Mr Raeburn, spent the better part of two days inspecting the park. They concluded the complaints were justified and had to be remedied.

This episode must have brought home to Dr Barnardo’s, the fact that ownership of the Feu-superiority, far from being in any way profitable, was a liability. Like Sir James before them, they had never asked for the rental to be paid. Not surprisingly then, in 1990, Dr Barnardo’s decided to put the Feu-superiority up for sale but the golf club was not informed of this decision.

The Gordon District Council, successors to the Ellon Town Council, bought the feu-superiority for £10,000 and, in doing so, set in motion a chain of events, which would be of huge significance for the McDonald Golf Club, and would not be resolved for more than almost two decades. This issue will be looked at later.

Chapter Six:  The Management of the Golf Club

As noted earlier, Sir James stipulated in the Minute of Agreement, that a Committee of Management would run the golf club. This committee would comprise ten members - five from the Town Council and from the golf club, the captain, the secretary/treasurer, and three others. A chairman was meant to be elected at each meeting, but in practice he was always the Provost of the Town Council. There were also three honorary posts: Honorary President and two Honorary Vice-presidents.

Sir James was appointed Hon. President, a post only he would hold, and one which would not be filled after his death.  The Hon. Vice-presidents were Mr Henry Herrington, to whom reference has already been made, and Sir Edward J Reid, the eldest son of another distinguished native of Ellon, Sir James Reid, who was physician-in-ordinary to three monarchs Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V.

The posts of Honorary President and Vice-presidents ended with the deaths of Sir James and Mr Henry Herrington in 1942.

The Management Committee was formed in 1928 according to the provisions of the Blench Charter. It met infrequently, perhaps three to four times a year, and its main remit was the care and maintenance of the golf course and any property on it. The property comprised the Pavilion, and the two front rooms of Sir James' parents' house, given to the club to provide locker and changing facilities.

The Pavilion was a wooden hut erected in 1936 with money raised by the ladies’ section and was used for catering purposes.

The everyday affairs of the club, such as the running of the competitions, handicaps, social events, fund raising ventures and so on were the responsibility of what was known then as the “Greens Committee” - elected by the club members.  Although called the “Greens Committee”, it had no involvement in the maintenance of the greens or the rest of the golf course.  That was the responsibility of the Management Committee.

Although nominally Honorary President, Sir James had a considerable input to and influence over both committees, neither of which would take any decision of importance that did not have his approval. 

This arrangement, whereby the running of the club was shared between the two committees, worked well, and indeed it was not until the mid-70s, nearly 50 years later, before the set- up was changed.

Most importantly the club members were happy with the situation - the Town Councilors were local and well known to them.

And so the introduction of the Blench Charter and the Minute of Agreement heralded a period of stability for the club.

Chapter Seven:  The War Years 1939-1945

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.

Chapter Eight:  The 1950s

The 1950s was a difficult decade for the club. Membership numbers remained down during this time, reaching an all-time low in 1959 of only 55, and as a result the club struggled financially. Nearly every year, losses were recorded at the Annual General Meetings.

The demands on the finances were considerable: the green-keeping equipment, never of a particularly high standard, had deteriorated due to lack of use during the war and had to be replaced; every year the green-keeper asked for a pay rise, but he was seldom successful; and the Town Council (members from which formed half of the Management Committee) continually asked that donations be made by the club, towards the McDonald Park maintenance fund. In 1953 for example the Town Council notified the club that it could not afford to maintain the park to the standard demanded by Sir James and, since the club was enjoying rent-free golf, it should henceforth make an annual donation of £10. The matter was discussed at the AGM, but the meeting agreed that no such payment be made - instead the ladies were asked to organise yet more fund-raising activities.

Because of the financial situation, the committee looked at every possible source of income, but with membership numbers stagnant, the only realistic source of funds was the grazing rent. So profitable was the grazing that successive committees continued to use it as a source of income and it would be 1959, 14 years after the war had finished before the practice was discontinued.

Morale within the club must have been low because at the Annual General Meeting of 1955 no one would accept nomination for the post of captain. The meeting was abandoned but not before those present were advised that if the post were not filled at an Extraordinary General Meeting at a later date, the running of the club would be handed over to the Town Council. Notices of the meeting were posted in the local shops and advertisements were even placed in the local newspapers, the Press and Journal and Evening Express. This had the desired effect: 21 people attended (about a third of the membership) and Mr Bill Joss a local banker accepted the post of captain.

Chapter Nine:  The 1960s

Now if the 1950s were a difficult time for the club, the 1960s were altogether better. Although the membership totalled only 61 in 1961, within 5 years it had increased to more than 150. More visitors were playing again, especially at the weekends. They may have been tempted to play by the quality of the tea and scones served up by Mrs Mary Buchan, the green-keeper’s wife, a duty she had taken over from her mother-in-law Jemima, wife of John Buchan the club’s first green-keeper.

Mary’s tea and scones were legendary and appreciated by all. As the course was still only nine holes, players starting their game had to alternate with those about to set out on their second nine holes, so the latter spent the time waiting in the Pavilion, enjoying a cuppa and Mary’s scones. Mary was a remarkable woman caring for her family Billy and Evelyn, (both of whom would become club champions) on Willie’s meagre wage, providing refreshments for the golfers, and also collecting visitors’ green fees. She was paid an honorarium of £20 per year, increased to £30 in her last year (1967) when she collected £1300. The fact that the fees were 4/- (20p) per round Monday - Friday, and 6/- (30p) at the weekend gives some idea of the number of visitors playing.

The increase in playing numbers certainly helped the finances but it also highlighted the fact that the clubhouse facilities (such as they were) were totally inadequate. I say ‘clubhouse facilities’ but in fact they were just the same two rooms in Sir James’ late parents’ house, given by him to the club nearly 40 years previously. This was wholly unsatisfactory for a club with a membership in excess of 150. Proper clubhouse facilities were urgently required, something recognised by Baillie J H Clark, a representative of the Ellon Town Council on the Management Committee. At the Annual General Meeting of 1963, he suggested that the club should look into ways of providing proper facilities for its members.

The meeting agreed with Mr Clark, but the secretary pointed out that building a new clubhouse would be a costly business and suggested that an “Improvements Fund”, to which money could be added regularly, be set up.

However the incoming captain Mr Alexander (Sandy) Thomson was enthusiastic in his support of the proposal. Sandy ran a butcher’s business in the town. A keen golfer he had served on the Committee of Management for several years, and there is little doubt that he was the driving force behind, not only the building of a new clubhouse, but also the extension of the course to 18 holes that would follow not too many years later. During his time in office Sandy was responsible for several innovations: the club did not have a constitution - Sandy had one drawn up by Ian Nicoll the club secretary and Frank Duguid a past club captain. He also introduced licensing for the sale of alcohol and tobacco in the clubhouse, as well as drawing up rules regarding the payment of subscriptions and notification to the members regarding the Annual General Meetings.

At the AGM the following year Mr Bill Bruce Junior, whose father Bill Senior, along with Bill and his brother Norman, ran a joinery and building business in the village, was asked for his opinion as to how much a new clubhouse might cost. He replied that if the club was considering building a new clubhouse, then in his opinion it had to be fit for purpose and at the very least should comprise a lounge, ladies’ and gentlemen’s locker rooms, toilets, a kitchen and a bar, all of which would cost in the region of £4000. Furthermore, in his opinion, the club should not consider embarking upon such a project without at least £2000 in the Improvements Fund. At the time it stood at £800 but within a year the fund had grown to more than £1800, and the Management Committee felt the time was right to look anew at building a new clubhouse. But the Club would first need to seek the approval of the Town Council, five of whose members, of course, sat on the Management Committee. 

By the time of the AGM of 1967, the Improvements Fund totalled £3500. But the estimated cost of the clubhouse had now risen to £6400, and as it had been decided to incorporate improvements to the green-keeper’s accommodation costing £1200, the total price would now be around £7600. Improvements to the green-keeper’s accommodation were desperately needed and long overdue. Little or no maintenance had been carried out on the house since it had been built nearly 40 years previously. Its condition had deteriorated over the years and it had long been condemned as being unfit for habitation. Yet Willie Buchan and his family had lived there for more than 20 years after the death of Sir James, and continued to do so. Space was limited for a family of four as the front two rooms were still being used by members, leaving only a kitchen and two small bedrooms upstairs. The roof leaked, the house was continually damp and it was infested with vermin. The house had long since been taken over by the club and surely it ought to have done something to improve the green-keeper’s accommodation, financial difficulties notwithstanding.

A housing grant of £500, a 50% grant from the Scottish Education Department and the Town Council sharing the cost of modernising the green-keeper’s house, meant that the eventual cost to the club would be about £3500. The contract was awarded to Bill Bruce’s firm, Bruce and Sons. Work proceeded uneventfully and the new clubhouse was completed by early 1968.

Colonel J H Reid of Fechil House, a founder member of the club, conducted the opening ceremony on May 5 1968. In his remarks he recalled the early days of the club when the membership was very small. He said it was very gratifying that it now stood at 200 and that the club could boast having a Scottish champion in its numbers. He was of course referring to Maurice Moir. 

Willie Buchan decided to retire in 1967, so his hard working and long suffering wife Mary, never did get to enjoy the benefits of her new accommodation.

Chapter Ten:  The 1970s

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.

Chapter Eleven:  The New Clubhouse

Although the club had been founded in 1927, it would be more than 40 years before it had a proper clubhouse. Some years after the club came into being, the ladies who had raised the original £500, which was used to lay out the course, raised more money, this time to help build what was known as “The Pavilion”.

Situated behind the original first tee, the wooden building was used to cater for visiting golfers playing matches against the home club and although much too small to function as a clubhouse, it was occasionally used to hold committee meetings.

The Pavilion continued to be used until the new clubhouse was opened in 1968.

However within six years of its opening, it was clear that the facilities of the new clubhouse were unable to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding membership.

The 1970s heralded the arrival of North Sea oil in the North east of Scotland and Ellon enjoyed the benefits of the economic boom that followed, quickly becoming a commuter town for the oil community working in Aberdeen.

As Ellon grew, so did the membership of the golf club, which soon stood at more than two hundred and fifty. There were many more visitors playing, so much so, that at one AGM a motion was debated as to whether their numbers should be restricted. The motion failed.

The clubhouse, as it was, could not meet the demands that were now put upon it. The bar space was very limited, there was no separate dining area, the lounge was too small, there were not enough lockers. Bigger more up-to-date facilities were essential.

There appeared to be only two options available to the club Council. One was to extend the existing premises, the other to start from scratch and build a new clubhouse on a different site. Neither option was particularly appealing.

To extend the existing building would be difficult due to the limited space available: the green-keeper lived in the old granite house that had been built for Sir James' parents and it would have to be incorporated somehow or other into the extension. The end result would be a conglomeration of bits and pieces having been "stuck on" - not very appealing to the eye, and the clubhouse would be out of commission for the members for a lengthy period of time.

The second option at first seemed much more attractive. It would be possible to build a new clubhouse in the green-keeper's garden which was adjacent to the existing building near to the Auchnagatt road. Work could continue without affecting the members. But the project foundered on cost. Estimates suggested that the total bill might be in the order of £55,000, far beyond what the club could afford. The finances for the course extension had been secured but the club could not take on another project of this magnitude.

Approaches for financial assistance were made to both the Ellon Town Council and its successor, Aberdeenshire County Council (the Gordon District Council had ceased to exist) without success. However a third, and hitherto quite unexpected, option became available.

Ellon had had a hospital since 1888. Built on the edge of the land that Sir James bought for the golf course and park, it was, initially, an infectious diseases hospital. Once these illnesses were all but eradicated thanks to immunisation, the hospital was converted into a maternity unit, serving not only Ellon and district, but also a wide surrounding area extending as far as Peterhead and Inverurie. However, when maternity services were rationalised in the late 1960s, these towns were given their own units and with an increasing number of confinements taking place in Aberdeen, retaining Ellon as a maternity hospital was no longer economically justifiable.

It closed in 1968 and as the local Health Board had no further use for the property, it was put up for sale.

A company called Woodside Property Group bought the hospital and its adjoining cottage. The Group initially leased the hospital to a couple who, for a few years, ran it as an Old People's home. But the venture was not a success, and when the business folded early in 1976, the owners were once again looking for tenants.

By this time, the need for new clubhouse premises had become even more pressing and the club Council decided that renting premises, rather than building new, might be a better proposition, at least until the financial situation had improved. The old hospital building seemed to fit the bill and after lengthy negotiations, the golf club agreed to rent the premises at an annual rent of £3000 pounds, with the first year's rent being limited to £1000. The golf club would be responsible for the costs of maintenance and any renovations it undertook. The lease would run for 19 years and 364 days, but the club would have the option to purchase the property outright on every fifth anniversary of the rental renewal date. The Church of Scotland held the feu-superiority on the property but agreed to sell it for £500, the cost to be shared between the club and the owners.

At this time the property was valued at £25,000 and one or two far-sighted members, foremost amongst who was Mr Bill Bruce Junior, of whom mention has already been made, suggested that the club purchase the property instead of leasing it. They argued that this course of action would, in the long run, save money. Their proposal was rejected - a decision that would cost the club dearly in years to come. The club went ahead with leasing arrangements and an entry date of the end of March 1976 was agreed.

It was estimated that to convert the old hospital into a suitable clubhouse would cost in the region of £30,000.This would prove to be pretty accurate as the internal renovations cost £21,000 while the external work, painting, heating, fittings and furnishings came to around £11,500 - £32,500 in total.

The club was now faced with the question of how to finance the project.

So far, the course extension had cost just over £31,000: outstanding bills totalled approximately £4500, taking account of loans still to be paid off and a modest bank balance surplus, the club would, at the time, be overdrawn by £500. The question was how to raise the money. Applications for grants through the usual public bodies were unsuccessful, so other avenues had to be explored.

The first option was to borrow money from a brewery firm. It was common practice at this time, for brewery firms to lend money to sports clubs at rates of interest, which bettered the current bank rate, in return for which, the company would have a monopoly of the beer sold in the club. Terms regarding interest rates and percentages of bottled and draught beer to be sold, varied amongst the brewers and after much deliberation and negotiation an offer of a loan from Ind Coope of £10,000 was accepted: £8000 would be repaid at 3% with the balance at the prevailing bank rate - then varying between 10%-17%. Ind Coope also insisted that it supply 100% of the draught beer and 75% of the bottled.

With the bank rate as high as it was, the club did not wish to be tied into a long term loan but managed to negotiate an overdraft from the Clydesdale Bank in Ellon with a maximum limit of £15,000 pounds, the security being the new nine holes. The Clydesdale Bank has been a valued supporter of the golf club for many years.

Just how much security this provided was debatable. The land on which the new nine holes was built had been re-zoned for leisure purposes and could therefore, only be used as a golf course.

Whilst the club was pleased to have secured the necessary loans, it was also keen to keep borrowing to a minimum - loans had to be serviced and the rent was £3,000 per year.

The Council therefore looked at other means of raising money and came up with the idea of selling life memberships.  This scheme had been used successfully at some other clubs, and a variation would be used later by other McDonald Golf Club Councils. In the short term it brought in money quickly -, in the long run it would prove to be something of a double-edged sword.

A one-off payment, of ten times the annual subscription at the time, secured life-long membership of the club. No further subscription would ever require to be paid. This scheme proved particularly attractive to the younger members who foresaw themselves remaining at the club in the long term.

However, while the club had immediate access to ready money, the downside was that every life membership sold meant one fewer annual subscription fee - and the annual subscription invariably rose year on year.

On a subsequent occasion the club offered Loan Memberships, but since then practice has not been repeated.

When the club was formed in 1927, the subscription was the same for men and women and remained so until 1959, when the ladies were given a reduced fee. This continued until 1975 when it was agreed at the Annual General Meeting that both sexes pay the same. McDonald Ellon golf club was one of the first clubs, certainly in the North-east, to introduce equal fees for men and women. Both would enjoy equal rights on the golf course.

When the scheme was introduced, the annual subscription was £20 and so the cost of the Life Subscription was £200. By present day standards the sum of £200 might be looked upon as ridiculously low, but it should be remembered that it was ten times the current annual subscription. 

The Council hoped that the deal would be taken up by at least 50 members to raise £10,000 - In fact only 29 did so, raising only £5,800.

To this was added £7,000 from the reserve fund. The loan from Ind Coope the brewer brought in £7,500 and together with a bank overdraft of £ 8,500 meant the target of £30,000 was, more or less, achieved. Entry to the premises was obtained in March 1976 and the renovation work began.

Sandy Jolly, an enthusiastic committee man and at the time a Managing Director with Barratt Construction, acted as unpaid Clerk of Works, and supervised the conversion programme.

Edi Swan, head of the art department at Ellon Academy was responsible for the interior décor. The project was completed with only a few minor delays and Ally McLeod then manager of Aberdeen Football Club carried out the opening ceremony on 16 April 1977.

It was during this time that the financial workings of the club underwent a radical overhaul.

The club was becoming an ever bigger business and sound financial practices were required.

Without denigrating in any way the methods used by previous treasurers, it was the case that the management of the finances was not as efficient as it might have been and to ensure the efficient running of the club; a new structure was now necessary.

Modern business practice needed to be introduced.

These changes were introduced by Stan Smith, a director of Smith's Bakery in New Pitsligo, who had just been appointed treasurer. He undertook an exhaustive appraisal of the club’s financial working practices, making them much more efficient. Hitherto each committee had its own account. Stan brought all these together - ruffling some feathers in the process! - and introduced the concept of each committee being given its own budget and having to work within these budgetary limits.

Before any project could be embarked upon, it had to be presented for costing and approval. By so doing he exercised firm control over expenditure, which in turn helped to limit borrowing. Stan's philosophy of budget accountability has been adopted by all successive financial conveners and is the foundation stone upon which the club's fiscal policy has been based.

The converted hospital would serve as the clubhouse for the next 17 years when a purpose-built building would take its place.

Chapter Twelve:  The 1980s

Having rented the old hospital building since 1976, the club Council, under the captaincy of Eddie Sherwood, decided that moves should be made to purchase the building. Following negotiations with the owners a price of £82,500 was agreed, the money for which would come from various sources.

The Clydesdale Bank, continuing its practice of supporting the club, agreed an overdraft facility (lasting no more than 15 years) of £30,000; the Gordon District Council gave a loan of £20,000 re-payable over 10 years; a further loan of £20,000 also re-payable over 10 years came from the brewers Dryborough and £23,400 was raised from 41 members via a “Loan membership” scheme. 

This scheme differed from the Life Membership, in that the members were invited to make a loan of £600 to the club. All those lending money would be required to redeem their loans after five years, but no subscriptions would need to be paid during the term of the loans. But if for any reason the club had to repay the loan to one member, then all had to be repaid.

The situation changed however when HMRC informed the club that VAT should have been paid on the loans. The problem was resolved when the club asked those who lent money to pay the VAT - at that time 15% - and in return the member was given life membership. Most members accepted this option but a few did not and were a little put out when they had to start paying subscription fees again! This method of raising finance has long been abandoned by most clubs.

Negotiations were completed with the Woodside Property group.

In the 1980s Ellon was one of the first clubs in the north-east to introduce the practice of giving captains life membership of the Scottish Golf Union in recognition of their services to the club. Under the captaincy of Ken Gill, captains so honoured were: Adam Robbie, Frank Duguid, Sandy Thomson, Ian Roberts, Jim Morrison, Eddie Sherwood, Jack Nixon and Ron Davidson and the practice has since continued. During this time the council introduced a pension scheme for the staff and in 1988 the Senior Section was formed.

Pro-am Tournament

McDonald Ellon Golf Club was one of the first clubs in the area to hold a Pro-am tournament. The first Pro-am was held in 1989 during the captaincy of Colin Grant.

Companies were asked to enter teams, each paying a fee to do so. It was hoped that 40 teams would accept the invitation. That this figure was achieved and has been maintained over the years was due, in no small part, to the drive and enthusiasm of Dave Murray, who chaired the original organising committee. 

These tournaments were extremely popular at the time, with many clubs in the area running them.

However as time has passed, the interest in Pro-ams has waned, due mainly to businesses becoming unwilling to commit money to this form of advertising, so it is greatly to the credit of the club and the hard working members of the Pro-am committees that they continue every year at the McDonald Ellon club.

Local professionals and many from the Tartan Tour come to play in the Pro-am and it is one of the highlights of the Ellon golfing calendar.

An unfortunate incident - the like of which had never happened before nor since - which highlighted the responsibility of council members in dealing with club staff - occurred in the 1980s.

At a routine council meeting just prior to the AGM, the greens convener proposed that changes be made in the hierarchy of the green keeping staff.

His suggestion was that the second in command would now be known as the "Course Superintendent" and would receive a 21% pay rise. The head green-keeper would retain his title, but from now on, would be answerable to the Course Superintendent, who would effectively be his boss. He was reassured this was not a demotion!

The council agreed to the proposal by five votes to three but with three abstentions.

I would suggest the council fell down on two counts. Firstly, on a matter of such importance, abstentions should not have been accepted. A definitive vote from every member should have been insisted upon and secondly, as the AGM was imminent, the matter should have been deferred until then, so that those attending might have the opportunity to debate the issue. 

The head green-keeper was, understandably, outraged. Not only did he have 10 more years’ experience, he had the skills in maintaining and repairing machinery which his number two did not possess and furthermore, he had consistently maintained the course to the satisfaction of the vast majority of the membership and visitors alike.

He therefore consulted with three former captains as to what he should do. They made representations to the council on his behalf, but were told the matter would be considered at the upcoming AGM.

However the greens convener made no mention of the matter in his annual greens' report, but as the proposed changes were by now common knowledge, the subject was raised from the floor of the meeting. A heated debate followed. The meeting decided that the matter had not been well handled and a vote of no confidence in the council was proposed and carried. The council stepped down en bloc, apart from the vice-captain Ron Davidson, who remained to oversee the formation of a new council.

A new council, to which the greens' convener was not returned, was duly elected. His proposal was reconsidered and rejected.

Now golf club councils comprise well-meaning, enthusiastic individuals, who willingly give of their time to help the running of their golf club, and for that they deserve the thanks of all the members. But being a council member carries a responsibility for ensuring that every decision taken and the consequences arising therefrom, especially those affecting staff members’ jobs, has been carefully thought through. Members of staff deserve nothing less.

Chapter Thirteen:  The 1990s

The issue of rent.

During the 1990s the club was embroiled in a long-running dispute, firstly with the Gordon District Council - the successors of the Ellon Town Council in the first local government re-organisation in 1975 - and then with the Aberdeenshire Council which came into being when the Gordon District Council was abolished in 1996.

The dispute would not be resolved for more than two decades.

It concerned the question of rent for the original nine holes - the “back nine” as they are now known.

As mentioned earlier, Dr Barnardo’s Homes for children had been given the feu-superiority of the McDonald Parklands and the golf course by Sir James, after his disagreement with Ellon Town Council.

However Dr Barnardo’s quickly realised that not only did they not benefit in any way from having the feu-superiority, it was in fact costing them money, as they were now responsible for organising, and paying for, the inspections to confirm that the park was being maintained to the standard agreed between them and Sir James.

They therefore put the feu-superiority up for sale on the open market in 1990 and it was bought by the Gordon District Council for £10,000.

Clearly the Gordon District Council now felt that it had to make some effort to re-coup the £10,000 spent on acquiring the feu-superiority and that could only be done by asking the golf club to pay rent. Even though the club had known that the feu-superiority was up for sale, it was in no financial position to consider buying it. However Mr Bill Bruce, to whom reference has already been made, said, in yet a further example of his generosity towards the club, that had he known about the sale, he would have considered buying it on behalf of the club

The golf club only became aware of what was happening when, in May of that year, Mr Alan Grant Director of Legal Services to Gordon District Council met with the club captain Mr George Ironside and the secretary Mr Fred Chadwick.

At the meeting he told George and Fred that the Council’s recent acquisition of the feu-superiority, had raised both problems and opportunities regarding the management of both the golf course and the McDonald Parklands. It seemed initially that he was referring only to the care and maintenance of the McDonald Park but then came the hammer-blow. He said that in his opinion, there did not appear to be any formal agreement, other than “some clauses” in the original Minute of Agreement and Blench Charter, that gave the golf club the right to occupy and play on, the golf course.

Worse was to follow.

Mr Grant went on to say that “in spite of the clear wishes of the donor” Sir James, the club had not paid any rent since it first occupied the land more than 60 years previously. It should be pointed out that the wishes of Sir James, to which he referred, were laid down in the Minute of Agreement, which stated that the rent for playing over the land he donated as a golf course, would be “one penny Scots - if asked” - surely as clear an indication as there could be, that Sir James never intended that the club should pay any rent.

Mr Grant then said that henceforth, rent would have to be paid. And furthermore, since the club had played over the course for the preceding 62 years without paying rent, this would have to be taken into account and the possibility of back rent for this period would be considered. He did agree that the rent “if asked” in 1927, was intended to be a “peppercorn” one, but went on to say, that if a formal lease between the golf club and the Aberdeenshire Council was now entered into, the Council could not agree to a nominal rent and that one reflecting current market value would be looked for.

He justified this statement by saying that other clubs in Aberdeenshire were paying a market value rent and that the McDonald Ellon golf club, irrespective of what was recorded in the Minute of Agreement, would be expected to do the same.

He then said that the club could make an appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland, as he had the authority to allow the continuation of the payment of a peppercorn rent, but in his opinion this was most unlikely and were he (the Secretary of State) to turn down the appeal, then the council would have no option but to charge the club a full market value rent.

He did discuss other options available to the club “to safeguard the continued usage of the ground”.  For example he suggested that the Council could offer to sell the course to the club, but at full market price - something the club could not even contemplate.

He went on to say that the club and Council could agree to do nothing whatsoever about the “new situation”, but in his opinion the problem with doing that, was that it exposed the club to a degree of insecurity, in that the Council could, in theory, seek to develop the land in such a way that it could no longer function as a golf course.

Once again he seemed to have been oblivious to the terms of the Blench Charter and Minute of Agreement: both documents were still in existence and remained legally binding. The golf course could not be used for anything but golf and also that less than 20 years previously the land had been re-zoned for leisure and recreation!

To his credit he did say that the latter option was unlikely in the extreme “at that moment”, and that the reason for acquiring the superiority was to give the club some long-term security. That may well have been the case, but it is not unreasonable to conclude that the whole situation was something of a shambles. Nonetheless this was an extremely worrying development for the club. The option of buying the land was a non-starter - the price would be far beyond what the club could afford. The other option was to sit tight, do nothing and wait and see what happened. 

In fact nothing did happen. The matter lay dormant for the next six years, until 1996, when, in a further local government reorganisation, the Gordon District Council was replaced by the Aberdeenshire Council.

Dialogue between the two parties was re-established.

Resolution of the matter was needed. Aberdeenshire Council began by seeking an opinion from the Aberdeen University Law Faculty; as to whether, having acquired the feu-superiority, it could now insist that the club enter into a formal lease, which would require it to pay rent for the land that it had occupied since 1927. There is no record of the outcome of these discussions, but as the subject was not raised for the next two years, it seems unlikely that Aberdeenshire Council got the answer it was looking for.

Nothing having happened for two years. Then Mr Gordon Daniels, Aberdeenshire Council’s Senior Estates Surveyor, informed the club that it was the Council’s intention to force it into a lease agreement. The club responded by saying that in its opinion, the reason Sir James set up the Blench Charter and Minute of Agreement, was to ensure that the club did not ever have to pay rent. Furthermore, while the club accepted that it had occupied the course for nearly 70 years, it had during this time, carried out very significant work at its own cost to maintain and improve the land.

Both sides in the dispute then sought a legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel in Edinburgh.

The view of the club’s Counsel, Mr Leonard Wallace Advocate was, to everyone’s surprise, that the club was in a “precarious” position. He argued that the club had no security of tenure over the back nine holes and advised that it should consider entering into negotiations with the Aberdeenshire Council, in order to obtain as favourable a lease agreement as possible. The Aberdeenshire Council also sought Queen’s Counsel’s opinion and was advised, by Douglas Armstrong Advocate, that it was entitled to demand rent from the club by way of a lease. He too stated that a lease would provide the club with some security of tenure.  

Armed with this information and certain that it was in a position to ask for a market value rent for the land, Aberdeenshire Council informed the club that under Section 74 of the Local Government Act 1973, it could not “dispose of land for a consideration less than the best that can reasonably be obtained” - it was duty bound therefore to charge the going rate for the land. The Council also invoked the “Trusts (Scotland) Act “of 1921, claiming that this Act too, gave it the right to prepare a lease and to charge a commercial rent for the land.

There then followed a lengthy period of negotiation between the club and Aberdeenshire Council.

The golf club Council tried to negotiate what it thought was a fair rent (if there was to be one at all) and to persuade the Aberdeenshire Council that work done by its staff over the years should be taken into account in determining the level of rent to be charged. Several meetings were held with Aberdeenshire Council but despite the best efforts of the club’s solicitor and various club officials - among them Alan Strachan (the club captain at the time), George Ironside, Colin Grant and Duncan Castles - Aberdeenshire Council refused to budge on the matter.

Nothing happened for a further two years.

Then in January 2002, Mr Daniels again met with club officials and proposed a rent which varied slightly from that which he had previously suggested. His proposal was rejected. The club was determined to get the best possible outcome if rent was to be imposed.

Nine months later Aberdeenshire Council again raised the question of rent and the matter was discussed by the members at the Annual General Meeting of 2003, where it was agreed that the club should now at least meet with the Aberdeenshire Council and see what it had to suggest.

The golf club council had by now come round to the idea that it should perhaps pay rent. The club solicitor should be instructed to approach Aberdeenshire Council and suggest that the rent initially might be £3000 plus VAT per annum for at least 10 years, after which it would rise to £9000 plus VAT for the next five years, after which time the lease would be subject to re-negotiation.

However the meeting between the golf club solicitor and Aberdeenshire Council, thankfully never took place.

Unhappy at the outcome of the AGM, several members, amongst them some past captains as well as Bob Duncan and Bill Bruce met with the captain and vice-captain to express their unease at the prospect of the club entering into discussions with the Aberdeenshire Council on the subject of rent.

Bill Bruce, who of course had been a long time member of the club, attended the meeting and was very vociferous in his opposition to the club opening any form of dialogue with Aberdeenshire Council on the subject of rent. He was adamant that by doing so the club was in breach of the terms of the Blench Charter and the Minute of Agreement, which as has already been stated, were still legally binding documents.

Bill felt that Queen’s Counsel advice from an advocate should again be sought and he very generously paid the costs involved. The advice received this time, was that the club should not, under any circumstances, enter into any form of lease agreement with Aberdeenshire Council. Were it do so, the club would acknowledge the Council’s rights over it and so be unable to dispute any future rent increase the Council, as its landlord, might decide to impose.

The advocate said that his opinion was based on the fact that several of the clauses in the Minute of Agreement drawn up in 1928 between Sir James and the Town Council of Ellon, supported the club’s position that it was not required to pay rent.

The advocate’s findings and recommendations were discussed at a club council meeting attended by Bill Bruce. The possibility of challenging Aberdeenshire Council in court, over its attempt to extract rent was explored - it could be costly - but yet again Bill Bruce stepped in to help the club, generously offering to meet its expenses, if such action was undertaken.

The Aberdeenshire Council was then informed of these latest developments, and advised that the club would not be entering into any lease agreement. And there things remained until June 2007 when it was recognised by both parties that they needed to come to some form of compromise.

Representatives from both sides met to discuss how best an agreement could be reached whereby both parties would take part in the future running and maintenance of the golf course and the McDonald parklands.

An agreement, accepted by both parties, was drawn up and just as had happened with the original Minute of Agreement in 1928, this document too, was registered in “Books of the Lords of Council and Session” in Edinburgh.

In paragraph one, Aberdeenshire Council agreed that, as “statutory successors of the Provost, Magistrates, and Councillors of the of Ellon Town Council, it would hold in trust, for the people of Ellon, the subjects known as McDonald Park, by virtue of the Blench Charter by James Gordon McDonald, in favour of the said Provost, Magistrates, and Councillors, dated 9th October Nineteen hundred and Twenty-eight and recorded in the Division of the General Register of Sasines, applicable to the County of Aberdeen on Twenty-fourth January Nineteen hundred and Twenty-nine”. This statement simply confirmed what should have been accepted all along, namely that the Blench Charter and Minute of Agreement drawn up all of 80 years ago were incontrovertible. It beggars belief that the legal establishment failed to acknowledge this.

The agreement went on to state, that whilst the golf club had indeed enjoyed playing rights over the nine holes of the golf course since 1927, no formal agreement to “regulate the management thereof” had been entered into.

Both parties now considered it desirable that there should be such an agreement. A map was then drawn up which showed the land for which each party was responsible. Each would be accountable for the future general management and maintenance of its area.

The golf club would continue to function as a golf club and would have the sole right to charge for playing golf. Other paragraphs dealt with such issues as insurance cover for any liability against claims from people using both areas, keeping these areas litter free, the maintenance of boundary fences, the care and replacement of trees and so on - many of the conditions in this new agreement were similar to and reminiscent of, those in the original document of 1928.

In fact this new agreement should perhaps remind the golf club, that Aberdeenshire Council, as the successors of the Ellon Town Council, should still have a role to play in the management of the golf club - after all, the Management Committee had never been abolished. It had simply ceased to function!

Happily for the club the question of resurrecting the Management Committee has never been raised.

However Aberdeenshire Council will still retain a modicum of interest in the golf club, by virtue of the terms of the new agreement. It states that the Council reserves the right to require the golf club to produce evidence that their charges for playing golf are reasonable and comparable to other courses within Aberdeenshire; the Council’s permission will be required to create vehicle paths; the lopping of tree branches may require the Council’s consent; no new boundary fences or hedges may be installed without the Council’s agreement and so on.

The agreement, which took effect on 7 June 2007 and will continue for ninety-nine years, can only be terminated by the Aberdeenshire Council “following gross non-adherence of any of the terms and conditions by the golf club”. Should such an eventuality ever arise, the club would still be given two months in which to put matters right.

And so the possibility of having to pay rent for the “privilege” of playing golf on a course which Sir James McDonald had donated to the people of Ellon all those years ago, was finally resolved.

The contribution made by Bill Bruce in the affairs of the McDonald Ellon golf club over many years, has been inestimable. His advice over the years - not always followed - has been invaluable to the club none more so than the part he played in the vexed question of rent.

By getting a second Queen’s Counsel advice, he completely changed the course of the disagreement between the golf club and Aberdeenshire Council. Without his intervention the club would be now tied into paying thousands of pounds in rent.

The golf club will forever be in his debt.

The new clubhouse

The highlight of the 1990s was of course the opening of the new clubhouse.

While he was captain in 1992, George Ironside first raised the possibility of building a new clubhouse.

The converted hospital been had in use for nearly 20 years.  It had served its purpose well, but larger, more modern premises were required. Consideration was given to refurbishing and perhaps extending the converted hospital building but was rejected. The cost would have been prohibitive and the building was unsuitable for extending.

Now the club was on a sound financial footing: it had in excess of £200,000 in its development fund which was due entirely to the foresight and initiative of two council members of the mid-1970s. It has already been recorded that when the club purchased the land for the “new” nine holes, it also bought the embankment of the old small gauge railway line, which used to run from Ellon to Cruden Bay.

Sandy Jolly, a club member and a director with Barratt Developments and Dennis Christie a local solicitor who was then the club secretary, saw an opportunity which they thought might benefit the club in the long term.

Without any consultation with the club council, the captain, or indeed anyone at all, they submitted an application to Aberdeenshire County Planning Committee for permission to build a house on the embankment. The club only became aware of application when a list of planning applications was published in the local press.

All hell was let loose.

A specially convened council meeting was held to discuss the situation. Sandy and Dennis were present and were roundly criticised, accused of being disloyal, self centred and much worse. It was even suggested that they be dismissed from the council. The council was split down the middle over the matter.

One faction led by the captain was totally opposed to their action and wanted the application withdrawn. The other council members after some thought, decided that having a site to sell might not be such a bad idea - after all, if the application was successful, the sale of the site would bring in some much needed money.

Thankfully common sense prevailed and it was agreed that the application should be allowed to go ahead. A decision as to how to proceed if the application was successful would be taken at a later meeting.

The application was successful. However the club was advised that no further applications would be entertained. The site sold for £1000 - the gamble by the two-committee members had paid off.

In spite of the Planning authority’s assertion that no further development of the embankment would be allowed, over the next ten years permission for a further ten sites would be given, totalling eleven in all.

With land prices escalating over time, a total of around £250,000 was raised, money that would be set-aside in a development account and would, in large part, fund the building of the new clubhouse.

Of course it is entirely possible, indeed likely, that in years to come, councils would have realised the potential of the railway line embankment and made similar applications.

But the fact remains; it was Sandy and Dennis, in the mid 1970s, who first saw the potential of the embankment. They had the courage of their convictions to go ahead with the application and by so doing, laid the foundation of the fund which would, in years to come, enable the club to build the new clubhouse.

For that the club owes Sandy and Dennis a huge debt of gratitude.

The decision was taken to go ahead and build a new clubhouse from scratch, but the question of how to finance the project, required careful consideration. Even with a healthy development fund, augmented by the sale of the final plots, the money from the sale of the cottage which had been part of the old hospital complex, and a grant of £7,250 from the Gordon District, borrowing of around £135,000 would still be necessary.

The club council was comfortable with these figures. The loan would be serviced by adding a supplement of £15.00 to the annual subscriptions although this was later raised to £25.00. In 1993 three architects were asked to submit plans for a new clubhouse, one of the criteria for acceptance, being that bar trading would continue during construction. Only Taylor Design Services met that condition and so were awarded the contract. The plans were then put out to tender.

The best quote received, was that from Barratt Construction who offered to build the clubhouse for £430,000. That offer was accepted.

Work started on the new building in August 1994, proceeded uneventfully and seven months later on 23 March 1995, the new clubhouse was officially opened by Adam Robbie, the oldest surviving former club captain.

The Bill Deacon Centre

Towards the end of the 1990s work began and was completed on what was to be known as The Bill Deacon Centre – it opened in 2000. The club had built a large shed to be known as a “Course Management facility” to house green keeping equipment – tractors, mowers and fertiliser seeds and so on. It was decided to call the "facility"  "The Bill Deacon Centre" in memory of Bill, a hugely popular and enthusiastic member, who was employed in air-sea rescue and who lost his life during a rescue mission.

Chapter Fourteen:  The McDonald Ellon Golf Club Ladies’ Section

Mention must be made of the part played in the club’s history by the ladies’ section. Ladies have played a hugely significant role in the affairs of the McDonald Golf Club since its inception in 1927.

It will be recalled that ladies raised the astonishing sum of £550 when the club was first set up, to finance the laying out of the course and help in the purchase of machinery necessary for the development of the land. One wonders how many of the ladies involved in this tremendous effort actually became members of the club.

There was a ladies’ section from the earliest days of the club and although they did not participate in the running of the club - there were no ladies on the Management Committee - they had the responsibility for the social affairs of the club, organising fund raising events, running the annual prize giving and so on.

The ladies were also responsible for raising the money to pay for the building of the Pavilion. One would assume that on this occasion, these ladies were members.

And of course McDonald Ellon golf club had both a lady secretary/treasurer and a lady captain during the war years. This was surely unique. Even today lady captains of golf clubs are a rarity. Over time, women have become more and more involved in the running of the club and for many years now, the lady captain and secretary have had ex officio appointments to the club council.

And the ladies, both individually and collectively, have brought the club great success over the years - full details are to be found in the “roll of honour” - but it is worth reiterating the international recognition of Jillian Pennie and Michele Thomson and the success of the ladies’ team in the Robertson Trophy - a team competition open to clubs from all over the North-east.

Women have always had equal rights within the club and on the course and since 1975 - apart from a spell in the early days when the late Mrs Alice Robbie argued, successfully, at an AGM that as women played less golf than the men they should pay a reduced subscription! - have paid the same fees as the men.

Chapter Fifteen:  The McDonald Ellon Golf Club Seniors’ Section.

The men’s’ senior section was founded in 1988 during the captaincy of Ken Gill.  Adam Robbie ran the section when it first began.

It meets on a Monday morning and initially was played over only 16 holes - the present 17th and 18th were not used - the thinking being that the full round might just be too much of a challenge for the “auld mannies”. However, that soon changed, as it was impossible to apply handicaps playing only 16 holes. The seniors have proved themselves to be a pretty robust bunch!

The section is now a hugely popular part of the life of the McDonald club. Over the season it is involved in many inter-club matches, runs its own open tournament, and has performed with great success in the Buchan Seniors Golfing Society.

The “Buchan Seniors” comprises nine clubs from the surrounding area - McDonald Ellon, Cruden Bay, Newburgh, Oldmeldrum, Inverurie, Longside, Peterhead, Inverallochy and Fraserburgh. 

In 1997 Inverallochy golf club set up a competition, known as The House of Commons Commemorative Trophy, to be played for annually among the clubs, on a knock-out handicap basis. To enable the words “House of Commons” to be incorporated in its title an early day motion had to be presented to parliament for its approval. This was done by Alex Salmond MP.

The competition is to commemorate a match played at the Royal St George’s Golf Club, Sandwich, in 1905, between a group of fisherman from Inverallochy and a team of MPs led by Mr Arthur Balfour. The fishermen lost.

To date the Senior Section has won the Trophy on no fewer than five occasions and been runners-up on several times - a remarkable achievement.

The Buchan Seniors Society has proved to be hugely popular with the McDonald Ellon Club, so much so, that it has been impossible to accommodate all those wishing to play. For that reason many players have joined an alternative senior golfing society and now participate in "CADS" - the Central Aberdeenshire and District Seniors.

Chapter Sixteen:  The McDonald Ellon Junior Section.

The Junior Section of the McDonald Ellon Golf Club was formed in 1970, when the captain Sandy Thomson, recognising the importance of juniors for the club's continuing development, asked Norval Dawson to take on the role of Junior Convener. However a lot of the preparatory work towards the creation of a junior section, had already been done by a former captain - Frank Duguid - who quite possibly had been inspired by the success of Maurice Moir, who won the Scottish Boys' Championship in 1954.

Norval was the Junior Convener for six years and, with his genial, good-natured demeanour, and an immense enthusiasm for helping and inspiring the youngsters, became something of a club legend and set the benchmark for all the conveners who would follow him.

The Juniors have enjoyed regular success over the years, winning the prestigious Aberdeen and District Pennant League on two occasions. The first victory was achieved during Norval's time in charge; the second when Bill McConachie was Convenor.

The full list of their successes can be found in the club's "Roll of Honour" in the next chapter. Many junior convenors have followed Norval since he gave up the post and all are to be thanked for the sterling work they have done, and are doing, in supporting and encouraging the junior section.

Bearing in mind the demographics of most golf clubs today - ageing adults and falling numbers - the importance to a club, of a strong junior section, can never be overstated. It is to be hoped that clubs continue to reap the benefit of the work being put into the development of youngsters, at both club level and nationally. 

Chapter Seventeen:  McDonald Ellon Golf Club Roll of Honour

McDonald Ellon Golf Club can be justifiably proud of the achievements of its members. The following players have either won a national trophy, represented Scotland (some have done both) or brought success to the club, either individually or in a team.

Maurice Moir

Maurice Moir, son of the local player Jimmy (Souter) Moir, started playing golf when he was eight, sneaking onto the course to play when there was no one about - it was only a stone’s throw away from his home. He was due to start work as an assistant with Gordon Durward at Deeside Golf Club, but having already entered the Scottish Boys’ Championship at North Berwick, went there instead and won the tournament, becoming the Scottish Boys’ champion of 1954.

To mark his victory the club presented him with a new set of golf clubs and, in 1962, awarded him an Honorary Life membership.

Maurice turned pro, went back to Deeside Golf club as an assistant and remained there for two years.

He then moved to Sunningdale Golf club where the captain was Gerald Micklem and where he frequently played with a young Bruce Critchley - who would later find fame as a Sky TV golf commentator. He remained at Sunningdale for three and a half years during which time he won the prestigious Sunningdale Foursomes tournament with Belle McCorkindale (later Robertson).

In 1961, while attached to Royal Aberdeen as a playing professional, he narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, being beaten in a play-off for the final place.

In 1964 he emigrated to Tasmania, where he won the Tasmanian PGA three years in succession.

He returned to Scotland in 1967 and was appointed head professional at Hamilton in Lanarkshire, where he worked until his retirement.

Angus Moir

As a junior Angus had been a very competent player but his career flourished when he got a golfing scholarship to St Thomas’ College in Houston, Texas, one of the first Scottish players to do so. He combined his golf with a degree in Business Administration, success in which was essential to ensure his continuing golf scholarship. He quickly made his mark in America winning a College tournament soon after his arrival. His grounding in College golf stood him in good stead when he returned to Scotland. He won the Scottish Youths Championship in 1983, the Scottish Amateur title in 1984 and played for Scotland in the Home International championships in 1983 and 1984. He also played for Great Britain and Ireland against Europe in 1983.

To mark his winning the Scottish Amateur Championship, the club held a celebratory dinner in January 1985, at which the guest of honour was Mr Michael Bonallack and Angus, was awarded Honorary Life membership.

He gave serious consideration to turning professional and had a short spell as an assistant at Cruden Bay, but having failed to win a tour card he decided that life as a club pro was not for him.

Instead, Angus entered the world of business in which he has been hugely successful becoming firstly, Business Director of Europe and then Global Business Director with Wilson Golf, before moving to Nike Golf as General Manager EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).

John Moir

John was capped for the Scottish Boys team in 1981; he won the Spence Trophy the same year and reached the last eight of the British Boys Championship in 1983.

Jillian Pennie

Whilst having a successful career at club level, Jillian won the Aberdeenshire Ladies County Championship in 1993 at Deeside Golf Cub when just 17 years of age. She also won the Grampian TV girls’ championship at Inverness and rounded off the year by being selected to play for Scotland in the girls’ Home International Championship at Helensburgh.

In 1994 she again represented Scotland and was also chosen as the 2nd reserve for the under 21s and was also 2nd reserve for the British Girls’ team. In 1999 she won the North of Scotland Girls’ championship.

Michele Thomson.

Michele began playing golf when she was 11 years old, under the watchful eye and the enthusiastic support and encouragement of her mentor, the late Ethel Davidson.

Aged 15, she had her first national success winning the Royal Bank of Scotland Junior Masters at Gleneagles.

In 2005 she won the North of Scotland Ladies' Championship. She repeated the feat the next year when she was selected to represent Scotland in the Under 21 European Team Championships. She reached the peak of her amateur career in 2008, when she won the Scottish Women's’ Amateur Championship and was selected to play for Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup against USA at St Andrews.

She turned professional in 2009, but soon after decided on a career change, giving up golf and joining the police force.

However she returned to full-time golf in 2014 and, in 2015, had her first professional win on the LET (Ladies' European Tour) access tour. She finished 8th in the tour order of merit in 2015 having had six top ten finishes.

Adam Dunton

Adam was a member of the Scotland men’s squad for three years from 2012 - 2014 inclusive. During his time with the squad, he enjoyed warm weather training camps in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as playing in tournaments in South Africa and Colombia. He was selected to play for Scotland in a test match against South Africa at Prestwick Golf club in 2012.

In 2014 he was in the Scottish team for the Home Internationals at the Southerdown Golf Club in Wales, winning three of his four matches.

Team and individual successes at club level.

1980    Juniors win Aberdeen and District Pennant League

            Michael Gillan wins the Spence Trophy

1986    Men win the Abercromby Cup

1987    Men retain the Abercromby Cup

1988    Men win the Rose Bowl

1989    Men win Abercromby Cup

            Juniors win the Felicity Trophy. This is the first time this double has been achieved

1990    Ladies runners-up in Challenge Cup Robertson Trophy -

            the first time of it’s playing

            Men runners-up in Abercromby Cup

            Juniors win Felicity Trophy

            Juniors win Aberdeen Journals "Off the Tee" Cup for the first time in its 15-year history

1991    Ladies runners-up in Robertson Challenge Cup

            Men lose in final of Abercromby Cup

1992    Ladies win the Robertson Trophy

1993    Juniors win Felicity Cup

            Ladies runners-up in Robertson Challenge

            McDonald Ellon were finalists in the Robertson Challenge Cup – making it four years in a row since its inception in 1990

            Gordon Foster selected for junior coaching camp in Houston Texas

1995    Graeme Cowie selected for junior coaching camp in Houston Texas

1996    Ross Cameron wins both individual and team trophies in North East District Alliance winter completion. He turned professional soon                     thereafter.

1997    Chris Gilbert selected for junior coaching camp in Houston Texas

1999    Ladies runners-up in Robertson Challenge Cup

2000    Seniors runners up in House of Commons Trophy

2001    Ladies runners-up in Robertson Challenge Cup

            Seniors runners-up in the House of Commons Trophy

2002    Anne Bowman wins Handicap Section in the North of

            Scotland Championships at Downfield G. C.

            Alma Wildgoose wins Handicap Section of the Aberdeenshire

            Veteran Ladies

2003    Senior men win House of Commons Trophy

2004    Senior men win House of Commons Trophy

            Ladies runners-up in Robertson Challenge Cup

2005    Michele Thomson selected for junior coaching camp in Houston Texas

            Senior men win House of Commons Trophy

2006    Ladies win Robertson Challenge Cup

            Juniors win Felicity Trophy

2007    Adam Dunton selected for coaching camp in Houston Texas

2009    Men win Journals Cup

            Men win Inverurie Rosebowl

2011    Men win Abercromby Cup

            Ladies win Robertson Challenge Cup

2012    Men win Northern Counties' Cup

2014    Senior men win House of Commons’ Trophy

2015    Senior men were runners-up House of Commons’ Trophy

2016    Senior men win House of Commons’ Trophy

Chapter Eighteen:  The Green-keepers

John Buchan

John Buchan (Johnnie) was appointed green-keeper when the McDonald Golf Club was founded in 1927.

A blacksmith to trade, he then set up a cycle repair shop in Market Street, Ellon but when this venture was unsuccessful he turned to green-keeping. He retired after 10 years in the post and was succeeded by his son William Buchan.

William Buchan

William Buchan (Willie) was an interesting character.

Born in 1897, he was called up for military service in the 1st World War, like so many others, at the age of 17 years. A very clever man, he spent his war years in intelligence and remained in the army doing this work for a few years after hostilities ceased.

Soon after finishing his military service, he was accepted by the University of Aberdeen to study medicine, but in spite of achieving high grades in all his subjects, dropped out after only a year.

In 1937 he succeeded his father as green-keeper and worked at the club until his retirement in 1967.

As has been mentioned earlier he worked with the most basic of equipment yet still did an excellent job looking after the course. He had frequent run-ins with the Management committee but in spite of threatening to resign “more or less every week” (according to his daughter Evelyn), he never did, possibly because of the special relationship he had with Sir James, who clearly appreciated his worth. Some idea of his working conditions might be got from the following two examples. On one occasion he reported to the Secretary that a mower blade should be replaced - it was no longer possible to sharpen it. He was told the club could not afford a blade and just to continue using it. On another he decided that the fifth green needed to be relaid, but the club could not afford to get him extra help. None was forthcoming from the members so Willie, his wife Mary and son Billy, aged 15, did the job themselves while daughter Evelyn watched them from her pram.

William Stephen Shepherd

William S Shepherd succeeded Willie Buchan in 1967 and would give the McDonald Golf Club 25 years devoted service until his retirement in 1992.

Known to all as Bill, he was born at South Teuchan, Cruden Bay on 10 February 1927, one of a family of six. Sadly by the time he was six years of age, both his parents had died and the family split up to stay with various relatives. Willie went to live in Auchnagatt with his uncle George - who worked at the local railway station - and his aunt Jean Lyon.

Willie attended the local primary school at Savoch before going on to Maud school where he became Dux before leaving aged 15. His teachers, recognising his academic capabilities, wanted him to stay on at school and undertake higher education, but as was so often the case in those days, financial constraints dictated otherwise and Willie left school to seek employment.

His uncle got him a job at Maud railway station where he worked for three years before he left to do his National Service training as an air mechanic in the Fleet Air Arm. This gave him the opportunity to pursue his interest in engineering which would stand him in good stead in his later career.

On completion of his National Service he returned to his old job in Maud but soon transferred to the main station in Aberdeen where he worked for a further 10 years till the mid-fifties. Unhappy with life in an office, and keen to further his engineering interests, he decided to try his hand at being a golf course green-keeper.

He joined the staff at the Links Golf Course in Aberdeen and soon thereafter moved to Hazelhead Golf Club where he completed his training, meeting John Geddes who would succeed him. In 1967 Bill was appointed as head green-keeper to the McDonald Ellon Golf Club.

Like his predecessors Bill had to work with sub-standard equipment for much of his career. However his time spent training as a mechanic in the Fleet Air Arm stood him in good stead. He was highly skilled at repairing machinery, but also had a keen eye for second hand equipment, which he would restore to good working order - equipment that would then give many more years of service.

Bill’s skills saved the club a lot of money over the years.

The McDonald Ellon Golf course has always enjoyed a reputation of being of high quality and there is little doubt that while Bill’s successors continued to develop and improve the course, the foundation for this excellence, was laid by Bill Shepherd.

John Geddes

John, like Bill Shepherd before him, also began his green-keeping career with the Links and Parks department in Aberdeen.

Soon after joining the department, John was transferred to Hazelhead golf course where he worked under the supervision of Mr Alex Pirie, who would be succeeded by his son Sandy the renowned Walker Cup player.

Four years later, John became first assistant at the King’s Links golf course where he would remain until his transfer in 1975 to Auchmill Golf course as head green-keeper.

Auchmill was a nine-hole course when John moved there. He then supervised the extension of the course to 18 holes, working under the guidance of its designers Brian Huggett and Neil Coles.

In 1989 John moved to Kintore Golf club, which had just been extended to 18 holes and worked there for three years.

The paths of John and Bill Shepherd would cross once again when they met at a trade show in Edinburgh. Bill happened to mention that he was contemplating retirement in the near future. John saw the opportunity, applied successfully for the job when it was advertised, and started work at the McDonald golf club on 1 April 1992.

During his career John also took part in the administrative side of green keeping. While at Auchmill golf club he was appointed vice-chairman of the north section of the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) from 2004-2006 and chairman from 2006.

In 2008 he became chairman of BIGGA Scotland.

During his two years as chairman he travelled extensively across Scotland and beyond, chairing seminars, attending trade shows and being involved in the many other duties his job entailed.

In 2014 John stepped down as full time head greenkeeper, but continued to work on a part time basis.

William Shepherd Junior.

William (Willie) joined his father as a trainee green-keeper on leaving school, working with him until Bill retired in 1992. He continued his training under the guidance of John Geddes and took over as head greenkeeper when John retired in 2014.

Chapter Nineteen:  The Professionals

Ronnie Urquhart

Ronnie an Ellon loon, born and bred was educated in the local schools. He started playing golf at the age of 12 and played with distinction as a junior, being a member of a Pennant winning team.  He left school at 16 when he joined Ian Smith at Hazelhead Golf Club, turning professional a year later. He tasted success as a young assistant professional winning the East of Scotland Assistant's Championship at Deeside Golf Club in 1979 and, a year later, the Betty Muir Assistant's Championship at Dunblane Golf Course. After passing his PGA examinations in 1980, he was appointed Head Professional to the McDonald Ellon Golf Club two years later in 1982, during the captaincy of Eddie Sherwood – Ronnie was the first to hold this position.

He proved to be a popular professional, being highly regarded, both as a teacher for the adults and for his enthusiastic coaching of the Junior section. Ronnie resigned in 2008, having given 26 years’ service to the club.

Sandy Aird

Sandy, the son of a professional, his namesake at the Forres Golf Club, started playing golf at an early age. A scratch golfer as a junior, he turned professional in 2002 and played with success on the Tartan Tour. Having become a fully qualified professional, passing his teaching exams with distinction, he has continued his coaching development, attending numerous PGA seminars.

In 2009 Sandy was appointed head professional to the McDonald Ellon Golf Club, where his teaching ability is much appreciated, by both senior and junior members.  

Chapter Twenty:  Conclusion

This concludes the history of the McDonald Ellon Golf Club, from its inception in 1927 to the present day. During this time the club has seen a significant amount of change, as well as its fair share of challenges, developments and great successes. It has produced a Scottish boys champion; a men’s Scottish amateur champion and a ladies’ Scottish amateur champion and Curtis cupper. Several of its members have been chosen to represent their country. At a local level the club has won virtually every competition open to it – men’s, ladies and junior teams have all brought success to the club and a few members now play the game at a professional level.

The club has been fortunate in having a succession of green-keepers who have consistently produced a golf course of high quality. The two professionals have served the members well while a large number of enthusiastic members have given of their time and experience, in the day-to-day administration of the club.  

There is no ending to the history of the golf club. I would hope that, in the future, someone will record what happens in the years to come, as I am sure the club will continue to develop and build on the success it has enjoyed so far.


I would like to thank the following people to whom I am indebted for giving of their time and effort in helping to produce this history:

To Sandra Brockie for checking and verifying dates and facts; to the late Adam Robbie for information regarding the lay-out of the original nine holes; to Evelyn Cruickshank and her brother Billy for information about their father Willie; to Jack Nixon, George Ironside and Norval Dawson for their help in confirming details of information; to Jenni Ebben for her help in proof-reading; and to Andrew Morrison for his IT expertise in breathing life into my malfunctioning computer to ensure this history was completed.

Information has been sourced from the book ‘A History of Ellon’ by Cosmo Alexander Gordon.

Our Partners