1672 Elgin and Forres - The MP Golfer

Elgin

There are several early golf references in 'THE RECORDS OF ELGIN,' published in 1908. The first record dates back to the 19th January 1592 when Walter Hay was warned about playing golf and bowls on the Sabbath. 

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 some 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 where exactly is not certain. A few years later, in nearby Forres, there is a record of other known golfers and definite confirmation of golf play and an indication of where it might have been.

Forres

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. He also says that he played golf at 'Burgi'.  For some years, this was thought to be at Burghead and the spa was either the Burghead Well at the end of King Street or St Aethan's Well, further along the coastal path. St Aethan was a follower of St Iona and brought Christianity to the Northern Picts.

However, a recent re-appraisal of the information clearly shows that 'Burgi' is Burgie House, one of the Brodie family seats near Forres, and the golf and spa were nearby. (1)

1672. ALEXANDER BRODIE OF BRODIE

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.

Brodie mentions drinking at 'Burgi' (Burgie House) with Mr Colin Falconer, the Minister of Forres. Afterwards they took physical exercise in a game of golf. Burgie House still exists, as does the spa 'Riuus', which is the water source for the local Glenburgie distillery. 'Riuus' is almost dertainly derived from 'rivus', the Latin for river and there is a local farm called 'Rheeves', clearly a connected derivation as the reported spa waters. Near one of these two places is the most likely area where Alexander Brodie MP and Rev Colin Falconer played in 1672.

Forres Hole 9B

Forres Hole 9, par 5

The earliest organised golf course in the area was at Burghead, which was the site of the Burghead and Duffus golf course and club, laid out in 1896. The first course was unsuitable and the golfers then moved to  Clarkly Hill nearby. More details of this course can be found at Golf's Missing Links.

Forres 2016 14

Forres Golf Club, 3rd green and clubhouse

Nowadays there are clubs at both Forres and Elgin - the Forres Golf Club (1889) and the Elgin Golf Club (1906).

(1) Personal communication from Rob Maxtone-Graham.