1672 Elgin and Burghead - The MP Golfer


There are several early golf references in 'THE RECORDS OF ELGIN,' published in 1908. The first dates back to 19th January 1592 when Walter Hay was warned about playing golf and bowls on the Sabbath. He does not seem to have been punished, so we assume that he did not do it again.

Over fifty years later, there are three interesting entries for January, February and May 1649.

Elgin had a thriving cobblers' business. There were at least 17 'cordiners' in the area, who were fined a total of 63 pounds 16 shillings and 2 pence for a breach of statue in January 1649.  The cordiners often made golf balls.

January i8th. The cordiners [seventeen in number] fined in all in 63 pounds i6s. 2d. for breach of statutis.

The following month, George Watson a golfer and Burgess of Elgin was adjudged liable for the payment of four pounds four shillings to Alexander Geddes, skinner and Burgess, in respect of the cost of certain golf clubs he had received from Alexander Geddes.  Whether Geddes made the clubs, or just sold them, is not clear, but Watson appears to have paid him.

February 28th. George Watsone, gouffer, burges of Elgin, wes decernit to mak payment to Alex r . Geddes, skinner, burges ther, of four punds four s. money and that in contentatione of certaine golf clubs coft and receawit be him fra the said Alexander. [The foregoing entry is thereafter deleted.]

Then, in May 1649, in a breach of the peace action, George Watson is noted as a 'golf bal maker'. This is also confirmed in 1672, in the BURGH COURT BOOK, when George Watson 'golfballmaker' appears as the recipient of a payment from Captain George Smyth (or Smith), though the matter did not seem to involve golf.  This probably makes George Watson a 'cordiner'.

Elgin 2016 Hole 18W

Elgin Golf Club 18th tee and clubhouse

Putting all of this together, there is clear evidence of golfing activity in the area, but exactly where is not certain. A few years later, in nearby Burghead, there is definite confirmation of golf play and good evidence of where they played.


Burghead Well

Burghead Well from Pictish times

In 1672, Alexander Brodie of Brodie, Member of Parliament for the County of Elgin in Scotland, wrote in his diary about a visit he made to a spa at Riuus to take the waters apparently to alleviate gallstones. This may be the Burghead Well at the end of King Street in Burghead or, more likely, St Aethan's well further along the coastal path. St Aethan was a follower of St Iona and brought Christianity to the Northern Picts. He is the patron saint of Burghead.


12. I did this day begin to drink at the well of Riuus; som effect it had as to appearane. I past this day ther, and made use of golfing for exercis of the body. Whil I drink, let this be noe snar to me. . . . 

19. This day I returnd to the well at Riuus to drink water; and desiring to use it as a means throgh His blessing to prevent the diseas which I am subject unto of the stone. ... I was this night at Burgi. Mr. Colin Falconer drank with me, and we recreated the bodi by pastim at golf.

Lord ! let this be noe snar to me. This day I continued ther at the well, and until Saturday, the 24 instant.

His words “Lord! Let this be no snare to me...” may to refer to the golf, and not the waters, and he is worrying that he will become addicted to it. If so, this is the first reference to golf addiction known.

Burghead St Aethans Well C

St Aethan's Well - the water comes from further up the hill and is thought to have healing properties. Until to 100 years ago people drank it but today it is only for dogs.

Brodie mentions drinking at 'Burgi' (Burghead) with Mr Colin Falconer, the Minister of Forres. Afterwards they took physical exercise in a game of golf. If it was St Aethan's well then they probably walked up Clarkly Hill and played there.  There is also a links, now a wood, shown on early maps further down the hill on the west. One of these two places is the most likely place where they played in 1672.

Clarkly Hill is the site of the later Burghead and Duffus golf course laid out in 1896. The first course was unsuitable and the golfers then moved to the Clarkly Hill site. More details of this course can be found at Golf's Missing Links.

Burghead 2016 29

BBC transmitters on site of old Burghead and Duffus golf course on Clarkly Hill

The Burghead and Duffus Golf Club disappeared but others from the same vintage still survive in the area, notably Forres Golf Club (1889), Elgin Golf Club (1906) and Hopeman Golf Club (1909).

Forres 2016 14

Forres Golf Club 3rd green and clubhouse