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In our latest blog, find out about some of the stories about golf in Angus to learn more about the region’s impact on the sport. Angus has an incredibly rich golfing heritage and offers some of the finest golf courses in Scotland, if not the world.

Throughout 2022, we will be sharing a series of blogs celebrating the Year of Stories.

Year of Stories

As part of Scotland’s Year of Stories celebrations in 2022, we’re looking at stories about golf in Angus to learn more about the region’s impact on the sport. Angus was home to many golfing pioneers, influential course designers, and even PGA founding members.

Angus has an incredibly rich golfing heritage and offers some of the finest golf courses in Scotland, if not the world. Here are just some of the best golf stories from this historic part of Scotland.

Sir Robert Maule

Sir Robert Maule (1493-1560) was the first documented links golfer. The distinguished history of golf at Carnoustie begins with the record of Sir Robert playing on Barry Links.

Sir Robert was said to be tall, fresh-faced and well-spoken but prone to anger. Although he never learned to read and write, he became Sheriff of Angus.

It is said that when Sir Robert lost at golf, he would send his servant into the pub to buy everyone a drink, thereby initiating the tradition that the loser buys the drinks.

Image: Carnoustie Championship

Carnoustie Open winners

Carnoustie has a long association with the game of golf, not just in Scotland but across the globe. Members of the Carnoustie Golf Club played key roles in the formation of the PGA of Australia in 1911 and the PGA of America in 1916. They went on to influence all parts of the game, including the modern golf swing, golf club manufacturing, course design, and much more.

The town has three golf courses, the Burnside Course, the Buddon Course and the famous Championship Course, considered to be among the best courses in the world.

The Championship Course is the ultimate test of links golf and features arguably the toughest closing stretch of golf holes anywhere. It has hosted The Open on eight occasions, most recently the 147th Open in July 2018. The winners were:

Tommy Armour (1931)
Henry Cotton (1937)
Ben Hogan (1953)
Gary Player (1968)
Tom Watson (1975)
Paul Lawrie (1999)
Padraig Harrington (2007)
Francesco Molinari (2018)

Ben Hogan’s victory in 1953 stands out. Only 16 months after a serious car crash that could have ended his career, Hogan won the US Open in what became known as the ‘Miracle at Merion’. However, Hogan would surpass that in 1953 to have the most remarkable season of his career.

Hogan arrived in Scotland from the US two weeks before the championship got underway to acquaint himself with links golf and the smaller British golf ball. He battled through tough competition and some physical issues caused by the car crash to reach the final day in contention to win the tournament.

When he woke up on the final morning of the championship, Hogan was badly affected by exhaustion and influenza. Despite all of these issues, he demonstrated great determination and bold, aggressive play to post a new course record of 68 and achieve a four-shot victory.

This was an unprecedented third consecutive major victory for Hogan, a feat that has only been emulated once (by Jack Nicklaus) and bettered only once as well (by Tiger Woods).

Carnoustie has also hosted the Ricoh British Women’s Open, two Senior Open Championships, and is one of the three courses used for the annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

You can learn more about Carnoustie’s rich golfing heritage by taking the Golf History Trail. Look out for information boards around the town that feature fascinating facts about its long association with the sport.

You can start the Golf History Trail at any point on the route, but there is a large car park beside the Golf Hotel on Links Parade. This is an ideal starting point for your walk, especially with the glorious views across the beach and Championship golf course.

Image: Panmure Golf Course

Hickory golf

Hickory golf is a variation of golf played with hickory-shafted golf clubs. Competitors are limited to clubs either made before 1935 or made to replicate those manufactured before 1935.

In the very early years of golf, in the late 17th century, elegant wooden clubs were made from materials like apple and pearwood, ash, thorn, greenheart, or lancewood. By the middle of the 19th century, hickory was thought to be the best for shafts, because of its strength and flexibility. The material is still sourced entirely from the United States today.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, great golfers were considered more like artists. Their clubs were works of art and typically had names rather than numbers. It wasn’t until 1924, when the USGA legalised steel shafts, that the age of hickory showed signs of ending.

Today, hickory golf is popular around the world, especially in Europe and the United States. It has experienced exponential growth in recent years as people discover the joy of using traditional equipment and appreciate the social aspect of hickory golf.

Players often play in authentic period costume using original, pre-1935 hickories. Unlike their modern-day equivalents, which are more forgiving, hickory clubs perform brilliantly when swung correctly but punish the player for poor technique.

The World Hickory Open Championship was first held in 2005 after being established by Lionel Freedman, who was a stockbroker, philanthropist and hickory devotee. The championship has been held at the Burnside course at Carnoustie, Monifieth Medal, Montrose 1562, and other courses throughout Angus. In fact, the region staged the competition for five years running until 2017.

The 2016 World Hickory Open was held at Carnoustie’s Panmure links and won by Sandy Lyle after two days of highly-competitive games between many of the world’s top hickory golfers. Lyle also won the 2014 World Hickory Open at Panmure, the world’s 16th oldest golf club.

Image: Arbroath Golf Links

James Braid courses 

James Braid was one of the leading golfers of his generation, winning the prestigious Open Championship an impressive five times. He was also the first player in an Open to break 70, shooting 69 in the third round at Royal St. George’s.

Fondly remembered as a great golfer, his legacy also lives on in the magnificent golf courses he designed and remodelled. From the dog-leg angles of his courses to his use of the tricky pot bunker, Braid’s courses remain as testing and fun to play as when he first designed them.

There are over 200 James Braid-designed courses spread out across the UK (plus one in the USA), including five in Angus.

Carnoustie Championship
The Championship Course at Carnoustie Golf Links wasn’t designed from scratch by James Braid, but his expert remodelling in 1926 brought it up to Open Championship standard. Today, the course is known as one of the most challenging and rewarding golf courses in the world.

Arbroath is a traditional links golf course with subtle undulations providing testing challenges throughout its entire length. Natural and exposed, the course can be influenced by invigorating sea breezes from the east.

The course was originally designed by Old Tom Morris in 1877, however, it has since been redesigned, first by Willie Fernie in 1907 and then altered again by James Braid in 1931.

Panmure Golf Club is a stunning links course that has hosted many national and regional championships. It offers a host of challenges for even the most seasoned golfer. The club was founded in 1845 and first used a nine-hole course in the area of Monifieth.

A further hole was added in 1851 but discarded twenty years later. Then, in 1880, Panmure was extended to eighteen holes, but due to high demand, it moved and settled on the present site in Barry in 1899.

There have been many changes since, and the course has been lengthened from its original design. Many of those changes came from the suggestions of James Braid in 1922.

The Grampian mountain range forms a backdrop to this lovely heathland and parkland course at Edzell, originally laid out in 1895 by Bob Simpson. In 1933, the course was redesigned on recommendations made by James Braid. The course has since been updated by Martin Ebert, who worked on the Turnberry and Royal Portrush courses.

Brechin Golf Club was formed in 1893 at Trinity Muir with a nine-hole course. James Braid was invited to play the course in 1926 and was so impressed he began to make suggestions for enhancing the course, including suitable sites for sand bunkers in the Limefield section.

The 10th to the 17th holes of this remarkable course are mainly the work of James Braid, although the holes did exist before his modifications. This portion of the layout offers the most memorable golf looking north to the foothills of the Grampians.

Image: Montrose Golf Links

Montrose 1562

Montrose 1562 is the world’s 5th oldest golf course and is integral to the sport’s history. It is one of the most intriguing challenges in golf, with its springy turf, deep bunkers, bountiful gorse and sand dunes. The undulating fairways and fast greens are made more challenging when the wind whips inland from the sea.

Although the first golf club in Montrose wasn’t formed until 1810, records show that golf has been played here since 1562. In 1845, Prince Albert granted the club royal patronage.

There are now two separate golf clubs playing on these ancient links, overseen by the Montrose Links Board. One of these clubs, Royal Montrose Mercantile, is the 3rd oldest existing royal club in the world.

With 460 years of maturity and a run of holes along the rugged Angus coastline offering jaw-dropping views, it’s no surprise that the course is consistently in Golf Monthly’s Top 100 courses.

And a new blue tee ensures the course is more accessible for higher handicap golfers.

Carnoustie Championship Golf Course
Image: Carnoustie Golf Links

Smith family

Carnoustie has had a significant impact on the development of golf in America. In the early 19th century, around 200 young people, all trained golf club makers, made the voyage to the USA. Many of them went on to become the greatest golfers of their age, and some became the first officials of the PGA.

Members of the Carnoustie Golf Club played key roles in the formation of the PGA of Australia in 1911 and the PGA of America in 1916. They went on to influence all parts of the game, including the modern golf swing, golf club manufacturing, course design, and much more.

Three of those young people included the Smith brothers, Willie, Macdonald and Alex. They are undoubtedly some of Carnoustie’s greatest playing exports. The Smith family (John, Joann and their five sons) left the Angus coast in the late 1800s and later went on to become some of the most important characters in the early story of golf in America.

Willie Smith won the 1899 US Open at Baltimore Country Club’s Roland Park Course. He won by a margin of eleven shots. This record wasn’t broken during the entirety of the 20th century and wasn’t surpassed until Tiger Woods won the 2000 championship by fifteen shots.

Alexander ‘Alex’ Smith won the US Open in both 1906 and 1910. His 1906 Open victory came at the Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest, Illinois. His 72-hole score of 295 was the lowest at either the US Open or the British Open at the time. The 1910 US Open was played over the St. Martin’s course at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Smith won a three-man playoff against American John McDermott and one of his own brothers, Macdonald Smith.
Macdonald ‘Mac’ Smith is regarded as one of the best golfers of all time never to have won a major championship. He did, however, win 25 official events on the PGA Tour and placed in the top ten of a major championship 17 times.

The brothers learned to play golf on the world-famous and challenging Carnoustie Golf Links.

Inspiring stories are everywhere in Angus. Visit this significant and beautiful part of Scotland to create your own golfing stories and memorable moments as you play some of the most rewarding golf courses in the world. Find out more about golf in Angus.

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