There is evidence that golf was played in Crail long before 1786, on part of the farm at Sauchope under a dual rights of occupancy arrangement – golfing and grazing. According to the Gazetteer of Scotland published in 1832 there was a golf club at Crail in 1760 – there are no records.
The records of 1786 are still preserved; indeed the Society still possesses a complete set of minutes from the date of its inception. The image is of the minute of the first meeting on 23rd February 1786; click to view an enlargement. The first Secretary was Mr Stuart Grace, also Secretary to the Royal and Ancient at the time.
There are, in fact, only six older golf clubs in the world:
The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh (1735), The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (1744), The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (1754), The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society (1764), The Royal Musselburgh Golf Club (1774) and The Royal Aberdeen Golf Club (1780)
In those early days members wore scarlet jackets with yellow buttons and dined at the Golf Inn after a day on the links. The records show members being fined for failing to attend the dinner.
Monthly meetings were held until the end of the eighteenth century followed by dinner at the ‘local inn’. The dinner seemed to have had at least equal importance to the golf at that time. Minutes describe the end of meetings variously but ‘the members separated at a seasonable hour’ is suggestive of the nature of the meetings.
The Society enforced its regulations by a system of fines, which causes the Minute Book at certain periods to resemble a police court register. The fine in 1789 for not attending the dinner, and failure to give adequate notice, was to pay for the not consumed dinner. This was deemed an insufficient punishment and it was later that year that absentees were ordered to pay an additional mutchkin of punch. The official uniform had to be worn at meetings under the same liquid penalty. What is less clear is who consumed the fines! A lesson here for the current Management Committee?
‘Several gentlemen in and about the town of Crail, who were fond of the diversion of golf, agreed to form themselves into a Society to be known by the name of The Crail Golfing Society. The Society was accordingly instituted upon the 23rd day of February 1786’.
The image is an extract from the title page of the minute book of Crail Golfing Society, which contains the resolution above; click on the image to see a full page enlargement.
Although Mr Grace was appointed Secretary on 23rd February 1786 he was not admitted to the Society until 4th March so denied the opportunity to be considered a founder member. That august body was:
The gentlemen who founded the Society were drawn from many classes, and consisted of landed proprietors, naval and army officers, a writer to the signet, ship masters, farm tenants, bailies of Crail and the landlord of the local inn.
The first meeting elected Capt. William Ranken to be captain of the Society, and Mr Patrick Murray, chaplain. Captain Ranken was a tenant of Barnsmuir, near Crail, has a lasting memorial in the Ranken-Todd Bowl, gifted in 1895 by Professor John Chiene, C.B., of the Chair of Surgery, Edinburgh University, and members of the family of Fortune, then of Barnsmuir, in memory of Capt. Ranken and Richard Todd, tenant of Balcomie, who used to keep the links there in order for the Society.
Within twenty five years three of their number, all members of the same family, had been raised to the peerage, a remarkable and probably unique occurrence in the history of golfing Societies. These three gentlemen were Charles, Thomas and Methven Erskine, the eighth, ninth and tenth Earls of Kellie, all of whom filled the office of captain. On the death of the last named the title merged into that of Mar.
Daniel Conolly was landlord of the Golf Inn and father of Matthew Forster Conolly, Town Clerk of Crail and author of historical works on Fife.
Extract from the first minutes of the Ladies Golf Club of Crail:
“At Crail and within the Town Hall there on the twenty-seventh day of March Nineteen hundred and one a meeting of Ladies for the purpose of forming a Ladies Golf Club was held. Members of the Burgh of Crail Golfing Committee were also present. Provost Sim, Chairman of the said Committee, explained to the ladies that the sum charged by the Committee for the upkeep of the links would be two shillings and sixpence per member”
Miss Reid, Miss Morton and Miss Ross were not present, but signified their desire to become members.
Mr Guthrie, Mr Ireland, Provost Sim, Mr Morris, Mr Scott and Mr Mathewson became honorary members.
The following early trophies are still played for by the lady members.
The Burgh Medal was donated in 1902 by Crail Town Council and is awarded to the player with the lowest 3 aggregate scores from 12 medal competitions.
The Rosebowl first awarded in 1905 is played for in a singles match play.
The Walker Cup donated in 1935 by Miss Jessie Walker is played for in a singles match play competition every summer.
The More-Nisbet Cup was donated by Mrs H More-Nisbet in 1935 and is played for in a singles match play competition also in the summer.
Some of the prizes for early competitions warrant close inspection – Silver Shoe Lift, Silver Pencil Case, a Coronation Dessert Spoon and Silver Frames. In 1909 a prize of Silver and Blue Enamel Buttons was awarded to the winner of the American Tournament.
The first competition was played on Saturday 27th April 1901. A scratch competition with prizes of five shillings, three shillings, two shillings and one shilling. The leading score out of 17 competitors was by Miss Adamson with a 57.
As one might expect prudence was a watchword of the Ladies Golf Club of Crail from the very beginning. There was by 4th February 1902 a sum of £3 9s 2d was already in hand. However, caution was thrown to the wind and the money was blown on a medal to be competed for each month!
1. An interesting protest was made, to no avail, to the Balcomie Management Committee in 1935 against notice forbidding clubs to be cleaned in the Clubhouse! A request was also made to the very same committee to furnish the Ladies' Clubroom in a more suitable manner – that request met with rather more success.
2. In 1960 an away match with Thistle Earlsferry Ladies had to be cancelled as it was impossible to raise a team on the date, that of Princess Margaret's wedding.
3. On 14th April 1970 an article was published in the East Fife Mail stating that at a town council meeting Provost Simpson, Chairman of Balcomie Links Management Committee, said that in his opinion the biggest mistake ever made by the committee was to admit the Ladies section to their meetings. A letter was sent to the Town Council!!
4. In 1996 the ladies were granted full membership status of Crail Golfing Society.
5. Unique? The Lindsay Triplets,Preston, Beatrice and Ena, joined the club in 1948
By a Charter from King Robert the Bruce in 1306 the jurisdiction of the Burgh of Crail was declared to extend from the middle of the Water of Leven to the middle of the Brook Putiken (now known as Pitmilly burn) between Kingsbarns and Boarhills. The Ranken-Todd Bowl was intended by its donors as a memorial not only to Captain Ranken and Richard Todd but also as a reminder of the ancient Burgh since the trophy was to be played for by teams within the ancient Burgh.
The Society’s first trophy was presented by Mr David A. Lindesay, Esquire of Wormistoune. Mr Lindesay seemed to have been beside himself that a Society of 44 years standing had no trophy.
A selection of the Society’s earliest trophies are listed below. Click on the small icons to view a large image of the trophy in a new window.
On 19th September 1885 a special committee was formed to consider what form the centenary celebrations should take. The prime movers were Mr D. Mathewson and Professor John Chiene, C.B whose great-grandfather was one of the original members of 1786.
The celebrations began with a match on Balcomie Links on 23rd February in which twelve players competed for the ‘Star’ and several sweepstake prizes. Mr David Morton of Craighead was the winner with a net score of 73.
In the evening this select group assembled at the East Neuk Hotel for ‘tea’ consisting of wine and cake! Perhaps not surprisingly ‘toasts, songs and recitations followed and a very enjoyable evening was brought to a close by the company singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
On 26th February, in the Town Hall, there was a Ball attended by forty-one ladies and forty-seven gentlemen. The music was supplied by a Mr Allan and his band of four musicians from St Andrews. They were obviously good as dancing continued until 4am.
Not a Temperance Society!
On July 1st 1789 the Society passed the ‘unanimous resolution that no member, in particular the Secretary, shall absent himself from the bowl on the pretence of tea drinking.’ Apparently the purpose was served, for three years elapsed before an infringement occurred, one member being then fined half a mutchkin of punch ‘for being about drinking tea. Mr L. Was convicted on his own confession.’
On 5th September 1792 the Society adopted an official uniform which was a scarlet jacket with a plain yellow button. Any member appearing on the links on a golfing day without this uniform was liable to the penalty of half a mutchkin of punch. On 5th June 1793 Captain Aytone and Mr Ranken, both former captains of the Society, were fined for ‘appearing on the links with green jackets.’
On 4th September 1793 it was agreed that members of the Kingsbarns Golfing Society be allowed to play in the uniform of their own Society (blue jackets). This piece of information is now acknowledged by Kingsbarns as enabling them to date early golf on their links.
A Declaration of Loyalty
In 1794 45 members signed a declaration of loyalty to the sovereign, George III which included the following:
‘That they detest all levelling and republican principles tending to subvert the same, and which can only lead to anarchy and confusion and the destruction of all regular government.’
It might be as well to check whether this resolution still applies before there is a referendum!
The Captain’s Bottle
In 1832 Robert Inglis, Esquire of Kirkmay was obliged to resign from the captaincy due to ill health. Mr Inglis wrote ‘begging the members’ acceptance of his warmest wishes along with a bottle of fine old India Arrack to flavour their toddy’.
The Minutes record that ‘the members spent the evening with their usual hilarity and good fellowship’.
The First Match
The first recorded match between Crail Golfing Society and another club was on 27th November 1839. The opponents were Kingsbarns. The match was a two leg affair, home and away.
Unfortunately the result is not recorded, whether due to too many mutchkins of punch is also not recorded.
Iron Cases for the Holes
On 7th August 1874 it was agreed that ‘iron cases be got for the holes on the links to prevent the holes from being destroyed’. It was agreed that they should be left in the holes during that part of the year when there was most play on the links.
There is a school of thought that suggests Crail Golfing Society was the first to introduce such cases. Sadly it is unlikely that this can be proven. However, until such time as another club proves otherwise..............
Married Men and the Weather
The Minute of 24th July 1886 mentions that it had been intended to have a match between the married and single members, ‘but, owing to the inclemency of the weather up to the time of the meeting, the married members did not turn up in force, while there was a good turnout of singles, so the match did not take place.’
Methinks ‘if you expect me to wash your kit if you play in this weather you’re mistaken’ was not minuted!!
Number of Holes
It is important to note that the number of holes on a golf course was far from uniform in days gone by. The Old Course was reduced to 18 from 22 in 1764
The earliest record of the number of holes for Crail Golfing Society was 1842 when there appear to have been 8 holes on Sauchope Links
In 1890 the course at Sauchope was improved and extended and on 10th March 1891 it was resolved that ’18 holes should be two rounds of the Links – that 4 ½ strokes a hole, or 81 should be considered par play. It seems to suggest that the course was extended to 9 holes, however, the Annual Report of 1892 ‘Our two rounds of the Links have been fixed at 18 holes – 10 holes for the first round and 8 for the second.’
One does have to keep coming back to these mutchkins of punch!! All very confusing.
Amalgamation with East Neuk o’ Fife Club
This took place in the summer of 1894. The result was to double the membership to about 90.
The Captain of East Neuk was Mr J W Duncan of Boghall, Kingsbarns. He went to live in England and proposed the amalgamation presumably to keep the group together.
The documents show that Crail Golfing Society was the senior partner suggesting it was more of a take- over than an amalgamation, however, members of East Neuk appear to have been better players.
The Society purchased two motor buses in 1919 from loans received from public spirited citizens. A service described as ‘somewhat chequered’ ran to Balcomie until 5th September 1928.
On 9th July 1890 the East Neuk o’ Fife Golf Club and Crail Golfing Society agreed to employ a greenkeeper at a salary of £5 per year (increased later to £7) and to procure a small lawn mower.
Levies to pay for improvements are clearly not new. The course was extended and improved in 1890 at a cost of £34 17s 2d. Subscriptions were invited to pay the cost but fell £3 10s short.
Welcome to Craighead
Sir Jimmy Shand, born in East Wemyss in Fife on 28th January 1908 became, perhaps, THE most famous accordion player resulting in both an MBE and a knighthood. Appearances on both “Top Of The Pops” and “This Is Your Life” cemented his place in history.
In 1972 he retired to his home in Auchtermuchty where he became known as the “Laird of Auchtermuchty”. After his death in 2000 a bronze sculpture was erected in Auchtermuchty.
In 1998 Jimmy Shand wrote a piece of music called “Welcome to Craighead“ to mark the opening of Craighead Links. The original music is to be found in the trophy cabinet in the clubhouse but is reproduced here. To view the music, click on the image of Jimmy Shand.
Crail Golfing Society - a journey through history