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 Bills 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 Kings 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.

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Friday 27.05.22

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