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.

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