GOLFING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Prestonpans brings us. as we have seen. into contact with some famous
golfers of the last century. Its chief historical associations arc
not. however, of a golfing kind. Even its salt and its beer are
of small importance compared with its famous battle of 1745. in
which the galIant Prince Charlie and his HighIand forces ignominiously
scattered the English troops. The golfer should have a look round
about this interesting old place before he asks anything about its
links for . in this case. there is nothing particularly inviting
to make him 'press' for a visit to the green. There is the Parish
Church where 'Jupiter' Carlyle's father preached and from the steeple
of which the 'mighty swiper' beheld the battle, then there is the
ancient octagonal cross at Preston where every second Thursday of
October "St Jerome's Fair" used to be held. At a later
period the 'chapmen' of the three Lothians used to hold games near
it, dining afterwards in the hotel or in the Parochial Grammar School,
to the dux of which, in 1855 and 1856. they gave a beautiful silver
medal with the cross engraved on one side and the tower of Preston
on the other. The tower from which a splendid view of the sea. the
Fife coast and the rich surrounding country can be obtained was.
it is supposed, originally a fortalice of the Earls of Home when
they bore almost princely sway in the south-east of Scotland. It
was burned down by the Earl of Hertford in 1544. by Cromwell in
1650 and through accident in 1663 when it was abandoned. A fund
was raised by the late Mr Hislop of Castlepark to repair the ancient
keep and arrest its further decay so that it is now well preserved.
Bankton House, the residence of Colonel Gardiner. is near to the
railway station and a monument to that galIant officer, erected
by public subscription, stands in front of the house. Many other
places of interest arc within easy reach, but these may suffice
for attention before introducing the subject of golf at this old-world
THORNTREE GOLF CLUB
The old golfers of Prestonpans, when they formed themselves into
a club in 1856. very wisely gave their club a connection with the
famous battle by naming it after the venerable thorn-tree which
marks the spot where Colonel Gardiner fell, and from which he was
carried into Tranent Manse to die. The name was also reminiscent
of the Links of Leith where one of the holes went by that name.
We do not hear of 'Jupiter Carlyle', Lord Drummore, or any of these
last-century golfers playing on the Prestonpans Links, but that
play went on there by the beginning of the present century there
can be no doubt. At one time the golfers used to play up by the
back of Fowler's Brewery to a point nearly opposite the parish church.
The place where the most westerly putting-green was situated is
still designated 'Ringan's Hole'.(*1) What prompted the players
to organise themselves into a club we do not discover from any written
records they may have left in the way of minutes. Such minutes,
we believe once existed but went missing. Indeed the lot of the
Thorntree Club has not been at all a happy one. At times its existence
was so very feeble that it was supposed to be dead. In these hibernating
or comatose periods the club records must have disappeared. That
the club was healthy and vigorous at the outset, there are many
evidences. We have before us the original set of Rules and Regulations
which, as they contain some original points and are not long, may
here be quoted:
Rules of the Prestonpans Thorntree Golf
Club formed on 22nd December 1856
Mr John Grieve. Convener
Mr Thos. Pow, Treasurer Mr William Carse. Secretary
Committee - Messrs. John Grieve. Wm. Carse, Robert Smith.
John Edgar, Robert Hay, Geo. Christison
I. The club shall hold two meetings annually, viz. First Monday
of April and last Monday of August, the former for playing for the
prizes, and the latter for playing for the medal. The annual subscription
of two shillings and sixpence to be paid at the August meeting.
2. The business of the club shall be conducted by a Chairman. Secretary,
and the Committee to be elected at the August meeting of the club.
3. In playing for the Medal, three rounds shall be played. The players
to be paired off by ballot thus:- the last two's on the list to
mark for the first two's, and vice versa. The cards being shown
to the competitors at each hole. in order to satisfy them.
4. He who holes the round in fewest strokes shall be considered
the successful competitor.
5. The party first starting off shall be allowed to reach the second
hold previous to the succeeding party striking off.
6. In the event of a ball being lost sight of, five minutes shall
be allowed to look for it. and if not found, the party losing the
ball shall drop one near where it was lost. lose a stroke, and play
with the iron.
7. When a ball is lying where it is considered unfit to be played,
the party shall be allowed to put the same on the green, but behind
the hazard. if on the beach on the sand. by losing a stroke and
playing with the iron.
8. All loose impedimenta within twelve inches of the ball may be
lifted when the ball lies on the green. The putting-green may be
cleared within twenty yards of the hole.
9. When the balls lie within six inches of each other, the one nearest
the hole shall be lifted and placed, after playing the other, as
near as possible to its former position.
10. Whatever happens to a ball in playing, such as striking a person
or cattle or any animal, it shall be considered a rub of the green
and submitted to.
1 1. lf any player move his ball previous to striking it. he shall
lose a stroke and no pressing of the green whatever shall be allowed,
under penalty of losing a stroke.
12. New holes shall be made on the medal day at places agreed on
by the Committee.
13. No speaking or shearing the ground to a player allowed. When
a party is playing, a breach of this rule shall forfeit sixpence
for each offence. (*2)
14. Members may be admitted into the club at any time during the
year by the recommendation of the Committee.
15. Any member being in arrears shall not be allowed to play.
16. Each member shall provide himself with a copy of these rules.
17. All disputes to be settled by Committee.
Some of the best golfers in East Lothian were to be found among
the members of Thorntree Club. This is proved by the fact that the
team from this club (Messrs F Burnet, J Burnet. W Carse and Robert
Hay) won the County Cup on the First and second occasions on which
it was competed for at Luffness. On October 20th. in the year 1859.
a 'grand' national tournament was held over Bruntsfield Links. Seven
clubs dent representatives, viz Burgess. Blackheath. Manchester.
Tantallon. Warrender. St Leonard's and the Thorntree. Each club
was allowed to send as many representatives as it chose. There were
thirty-rive entries at one guinea each (forfeit, one-half). the
competition being inaugurated by the Warrender Golf Club. and thrown
'open to any established golfing association'. The Warrender Club
added £30 from their funds towards prize-money. The competition
was by stokes. players being equalised by a handicap and drawn in
classes. Four rounds of the green (each of seven holes) were to
be played, and for the occasion the order of play was the 'reverse'
of the usual round. in order that strangers might cope on an equal
footing with players who were up to the green. For the Thorntree
Club there entered Messrs. F Burnet. R Tait. W Carse and D M'Cuaig.
The two last named were in the First class, playing from scratch,
while Burnet and Tait had each twelve off. The first prize were
to a Mr R B Shaw whose score was 159-12= 147. The best scratch score
was that of Mr James Williamson. from the Burgess. 150. Close upon
his. came that of Mr M'Cuaig from the Thorntree Club. 151. The Scotsman,
in reporting the match, says:-
Mr M'Cuaig. a young player, has already gained a laurel at St Andrews
against the medal-winner of Scotscraig. and his performance on Burntsfield.
graceful, scientific, and certain, fully justifies the favourable
opinion we then expressed of this player's golfing talent. In summing
up. the reporter on the same occasion remarks:-
The point in the tournament which seems to us objectionable is.
that the first prize (plate, value 25 guineas) should be won by
the adventitious aid of odd strokes. It cannot be doubled for a
moment that the most beautiful display of golf-craft was shown by
James Williamson and D M'Cuaig. and it was felt by every golfer
that the palm had passed from deserving brows, a reflection which
has had to be made too often since that day. The Lord Provost of
the city - Sir John Melville - declared the issue of the tournament
to an enthusiastic crowd, and. in the course of his remarks, said
that the magistrates of Edinburgh desired nothing more than to see
the noble pastime of golf perpetuated and extended in their city.
At a dinner in the evening, presided over by the poet - James BalIantine.
of the Warrender Club -about sixty' were present. Thorntree. though
not providing the champion of that day. came very near to it by
the find performance of Mr M'Cuaig. which drew forth such high eulogium
from the Scotsman. The event was meant to be an annual one. but
no more was heard of it: the handicap system most likely having
been fatal to its continuance.
Of the old players of the Thorntree Club a good many interesting
stories arc told elsewhere in this volume. One about Robert Hay
may be added. He had the honour of doing several holes in one each.
in the same round. On three successive occasions the ball was lost
and a fresh one put down. and when the holes were reached it was
found in each case that the original ball was in the hole. It turned
out that his (Mr Hay's) retriever. 'Ocean', ran up when each ball
was played and put it into the hole. The old course at Prestonpans
used to be of six holes on the narrow links to the east of the town.
Par play for these was something like 453453=24. About twenty years
ago Mr W Doleman. Glasgow. did three rounds of the green in an average
of this figure, making 72. which was the record of the course. Possibly
the old club might have vanished out of sight altogether but for
Mr John Edgar, one of the original members and a good player, who
still survives. On our first visit to the green a few years ago,
we found that he kept the flags of the holes in his office, from
which we adjourned to have two rounds, the 'provost' carrying the
whole paraphernalia under his arms. Had the precaution not been
taken to remove these after the game they would never have been
seen again, so low had the condition of golf sunk at the Salt Pans.
The club in 1893 became a little lively. In November 1894 a movement
for the enlargement of the course was started, and a deputation
of the golfers, consisting of Captain Dewar. Provost Edgar. Dr M'Ewan.
Messrs E Johnston (secretary), John SandiIands. D Adams, John Bower.
Thomas M'Walter. C Lamb. John Kay and William Wilson. waited on
the trustees of the Schaw Bequest, by whom the ground is held for
behoof of various beneficiaries, to get the course extended by including
thirty-six acres of ground on the opposite side of the road from
the old course. This request was granted and a new course made.
consisting of four holes on the old ground ( 13 acres), and eight
holes on the new ground (33 acres). At a meeting in February 1895.
it was resolved to 'reconstitute the club as at 1st January last',
with the adoption of the old rules, subject to any revision that
might be rendered necessary. The first match over the new course
took place on 18th May 1895. The starting-point is in the new ground
close to Prestonpans. After the first hole. the player crosses the
road and plays the four holes of the old course, then passes back
over the road to play the remaining seven holes in the new ground,
finishing near where he started. The distances of the holes are
as follow :-
1.270 yards, 2.265: 3.310: 4.120, 5.260: 6.200, 7.260: 8.300: 9.
310: 10.325: 1 1.260: and 12. 250; making a total of 3130 yards
for the twelve holes.
PIan of the
(new) Thorntree Course in 1895
The entrance-fee of the revived Thorntree Club is 10s.. and the
annual subscription is the same. The first captain under the new
regime is Mr F Cadell and the (alleged) joint-secretaries are
Messrs G Hunter and E Johnston. As we have failed to draw anything
out of these gentlemen by the horses of her Majesty's mail. the
club must pardon us if our illustrations of the good old Thorntree
arc not so copious as its antiquity deserved.
The idea of bringing the golfers of the various county clubs
together in friendly rivalry was first put forward by the Tantallon
Club in the year 1864. A report of the first county tournament,
which was held at GulIane on September 26th of that year, appears
in the Haddingtonshire Courier of September 30th. with the following
We doubt much whether the golfing strength of East Lothian has ever
yet been fully developed or displayed. Possessing at least four
excellent play links - GulIane. North Berwick. Dunbar and Prestonpans
and no fewer than six clubs, the golfers of East Lothian ought to
have taken a higher rank than they have yet done amongst the devotees
of this - the king of outdoor games.
The object of the gathering was evidently to bring out the golfing
strength of the county, and to encourage match play.
In the GulIane county tournament four clubs competed - the East
Lothian. Dirleton Castle. Tantallon and the Thorntree. Each club
was represented by four players. These were balloted against each
other in pairs, and in the order of the ballot the match was worked
out to the final round. Each competitor contributed 5s. as a sweepstake
and the sum thus raised was the prize of the tournament. John Gourlay
of Musselburgh was. by mutual consent, chosen umpire and discharged
the duties to the satisfaction of all concerned. Willie Park of
Musselburgh was also present. The gathering brought a harvest of
riches to the local caddies and was the most interesting that "the
oldest inhabitant' had yet witnessed on the green. Subjoined are
the results of the various matches in this tournament:-
1. J R Whitecross (Tantallon) beat R Tait (Thorntree) by 11 holes.
2. Rob Hay (Thorntree) beat J CalIander (E. Lothian) by I hole.
1. W Craven (Dirleton Castle) beat D Croall (Tantallon) by 2 holes.
2. D Smith (Tantallon) beat R Hay (Thorntree) by 4 holes.
3. W Carse (Thorntree) beat R Howden (E. Lothian) by 4 holes.
4. A Nicol (Thorntree) beat J R Whitecross (Tantallon) by 2 holes.
1. A Nicol (Thorntree) beat D Smith (Tantallon) by 2 holes.
2. W Carse (Thorntree) beat W Craven (Dirleton Castle) by 2 holes.
Messrs Nicol and Carse divided.
The county competition thus initiated by the Tantallon Club was
not continued. But soon after the formation of the Luffness Club
in 1867 the Early of Wemyss (then Lord Elcho) presented a massive
silver cup for annual competition among the clubs of the county.
This bears the name of THE COUNTY CUP and is the most coveted
of all our county trophies. Each club sends four players. these
four being generally the best representatives of their various clubs.
When the clubs have been balloted against each other, the competition
goes on in foursomes, two of the one club against two of the other,
until the final round determines the destiny of the cup for the
year. The scores of both foursomes are. of course, taken into account
in deciding each match.
The first competition for the County Cup was held at Luffness on
October 17th. 1868. when twenty-four competitors, representing six
clubs, appeared. The draw was as follows:-East Lothian v Tantallon
: Dunbar v Thorntree : Luffness v Haddington.
The final lay between Thorntree and Luffness and the former won
by five holes, both couples defeating their opponents. Lord Elcho.
Sir Hew Dalrymple. Mr Hope of Luffness and many others followed
with interest the fortunes of the various clubs.
The following table gives the names of the winning clubs and their
four representatives since the institution of the cup.
1868 - Thorntree Club
F Burnet. Wm Carse
Jas Burnet: Robert Hay
1869 - Thorntree Club
F Burnet. Wm Carse
Jas Burnet: Robert Hay
1870 - Tantallon Club
Peter Brodie: Geo Campbell
J R Whitecross: Jas Brodie
1871- Luffness Club
Alex Punton; P Hunter
Peter Brown; Alex Brown
1872- Luffness Club
Alex Punton; Alex Brown
F C Dickson; Peter Hunter
1873 - East Lothian Club
T Begbie; Capt J B Hay
Colin Campbell; Jas Deans
*1 Our authority for this was the late Rev. Dr. Struthers.
minister of the parish, who was well versed in antiquarian and
*2 We do not remember to have seen anywhere else a rule
like this. where a fine was exacted in penalty. 'Shearing the
ground' is a phrase which we have not met before. Rule 3 is also
peculiar to Prestonpans.