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.

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