An adapted version of the history of Orkney Golf Club, originally written for the first club web site by the late Magnus S. Work and originally from his booklet “Centenary of Orkney Golf Club.” (Published in 1989)
Photographs from of Orkney Library Photographic Archive.
Many people are surprised to find that the game of golf in Orkney dates back as far as the 16th century, a letter sent by a servant to Earl Stewart requested golf balls for him to play, also a number of other historical documents mention early golf and golfing equipment. It was possible that they played golf over the links in Birsay, that being a place most reminiscent of early links courses. Golf, however, it seems died away in Orkney around the time of the Jacobite Rebellion.
It was around the late 1800’s that golf regained it’s popularity, and was once again played over the links at Birsay, along with the sandy linksland in Deerness and Warbeth outside Stromness.
In the 1890’s Orkney Golf Club began its move from the links at Birsay to a site at Pickaquoy on the edge of Kirkwall.
First presentation of the Ladies Cup at Pickaquoy in 1897.
However as the Victorian era drew to a close, the members of the Orkney Golf Club became so dissatisfied with the conditions on their course at Pickaquoy that they entered into a discussion with the factor for the Dundas Estates to rent approximately 40 acres of land between the fields of Grainbank Farm and the heather of Wideford Hill. The newly acquired land at Grainbank was converted into a nine-hole golf course for use by the summer of 1902.
When play started, members had to accept that there were imperfections on the greens, which were small and only mowed weekly. There were also imperfections on the fairways, which were narrow, and bordered on one or both sides by areas of heather, but these things did not deter members, play and competitions progressed. One of the early trophies contested, was the Wilson Cup which is still a subject for annual contest between clubs in the Northern Counties, it was presented by John Wilson, sheriff of the area, and was first played for on the new Grainbank course on August 19th 1903.
Members at the opening of the new course
and clubhouse in 1902.
The Clubhouse, erected in 1902, had no facilities for social or club functions but, as membership increased, there was a requirement for additional space, and it was decided to extend the building by adding a clubroom to one end of the building and a small kitchen to the other, at a total cost when completed of £60, the ladies were able to enjoy tea while watching their partners on the course. This extension was completed before the First World War began. Throughout the period of hostilities, service personnel principally used the course and maintenance was at a minimum. As men returned from the war, fairways and greens were repaired and rejuvenated, and golf again became a popular sport.
Green fees at the time were:- Men, one guinea; Ladies, 1/2 guinea; Juniors 2/6.
In the early twenties, with the popularity of the sport on the increase and the inclusion of more lady members, the committee was concerned at the congestion on the nine-hole course. The possibility of restricting membership considered but, but before any action was taken, Dundas Estates came to the rescue. The club was offered the rental of an additional 60 acres on which to lay out a further nine holes, thus promoting the course to the standard 18 holes.
The land, now obtained on long-term lease, had considerable areas of heather and some very wet areas, but the position of the tees and fairways was soon decided and the plan of the future course pegged out. Construction of the nine new tees and greens proceeded apace throughout the winter of 1922. Three tees and greens had to be built in areas of heather, and the fairways to these were narrow and rough with deep heather on all sides ready to capture any off line ball. Despite these and other difficulties, the planned opening of the extended course was achieved and, on Wednesday, July 4th 1923, the opening ceremony took place in the presence of some 200 members and friends.
Opening of the 18 Hole course in 1923.
Membership at the opening of the 18 hole course 1923.
Less than two years later, the club was faced with a new problem. The owners of the land advised the club that the leased land was to be sold, with the entry at Martimas 1925. Negotiations with the factor, who was a member of the club, resulted in an agreed price of £500 – a lot of money in 1925 – but this was raised, and the club was now the owner of 119 acres.
Many of the active members were called to the Forces at outbreak of war in 1939, and that included the greenkeeper. In consequence, the condition of the course deteriorated, but members soon made good the defects after the war.
Modernisation and enlargement of the clubhouse was the next project and in 1960 to finance this, a field of surplus land was sold.
Money was always in short supply and, in 1966 to reduce maintenance, it was decided to compress the course into a smaller area and eliminate the “heather holes”. The redesigned fairways on the smaller area were approximately 100 yards longer and, with minor alterations over the years, have proved successful.
The improved clubhouse facilities satisfied members for many years until the leaks through the original roof became unbearable. Discussions on a replacement began in the late 1980’s and it was finally decided that a new club house was necessary. Plans were approved, construction commenced in 1991, and the present day building was opened in 1992.
(Addendum) Today the club has a thriving membership with many adults and juniors learning the game. Further investment has been made in facilities with a modern course maintenance building and indoor practice space. Recent course improvements have been made to the satisfaction of the members and competitions attract good numbers which is a good omen for the future.