1562 Montrose - The Schoolboy Golfer
James Melville and first golf tutor
James Melville (1556-1614) was a notable student at St Andrew's University 1569-1574. He was the son of the Minister of Maryton, near Montrose, and the nephew of Andrew Melville, the eminent theologian. He became Moderator of the Church of Scotland in 1589 and he died a prisoner in Berwick in 1614 opposing the re-introduction of bishops to Scotland by King Charles I. He is, however, more esteemed in his home town for the fact that he is recorded as being taught from an early age 'to use the glubb for goff', by Reverend William Gray, thus putting Montrose on the map of early golf at about 1562. The reference itself is 1566, when Melville was ten, though the Rev Gray had been his tutor for three years at this point.
In 1628, Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonston recorded the existence of the links 'off Montrois', when he compared them (and those of St Andrews) unfavourably to Dornoch.
Montrose is connected to the first record of a 'golf widow'. She was 'sweet Mistress Magdalene Carnegie' who married James Graham who had become 5th Earl of Montrose in 1626. His diaries record that he bought two golf clubs 'in Montrois' for 24 shillings to play golf with his brother-in-law, Sir John Colquhoun, 1st Colquhoun Baronet of Nova Scotia and 18th Laird of Luss, on the 9th November 1629, which was the day before his wedding at Kinnaird Castle. A few days later he sent to St Andrews for new clubs and repairs to his old ones, as well as playing more golf at Montrose. His controversial lifestyle caught up with him in 1650, when he was hung, drawn and quartered in Edinburgh as a traitor, when he backed the wrong side in the English Civil War, now technically known as the 'War of the Three Kingdoms'.
Montrose's playing partner, Sir John Colquhoun, became possibly even more infamous, if not as well known. He abandoned his wife, Lady Lilias Graham, and his children to run off with his wife's sister, Lady Katherine Graham, who was of course also Montrose's sister. They disappeared from the family seat, Rossdhu House, in the middle of night in 1631 with his German valet. By a strange turn of fate, the new Rossdhu House in Luss became the clubhouse of the Loch Lomond Golf Club.
Montrose Golf Club
In 1785, the Montrose golfers organised successfully to prevent the Town Council ploughing part of the links up to build a school. However it was another 25 years, on 1st January 1810, before they officially formed a club. Originally called the Montrose Golf Club, it became "Montrose Royal Albert Golf Club" in 1845. Finally, in February 1986, it became the Royal Montrose Golf Club after amalgamation with the Montrose Victoria Club (1864) and the North Links Ladies Golf Club (1927).
Development of Montrose Golf Links
Montrose is undoubtedly the most redeveloped golf links in the world. No fewer than four golfing areas on the Montrose links (Mid-Links, South Links, East Links and North Links) have variously been developed and redeveloped, separately and together, and then abandoned or redeveloped.
By about 1810 there were 7 holes on Montrose, played in competitions as a round of 17 holes, as detailed in Montrose Club notes of 1818. The course started in the middle of the town on the Mid Links, just north of St Peter's Episcopal Church. It went north to the Powdery (town armoury), curved west and then south to the Bleaching Green on the South Links. At this point the golfers turned round and played 5 holes in reverse, back to the Brander (drain cover) before turning again to play back to the Bleaching Green. This made 17 holes in total.
By 1825 Montrose had 14 separate holes. By 1849, it had 11 holes also played as a round of 17 holes whose names and lengths are recorded on the scorecard of 1849 for the Montrose Royal Albert Golf club.
Soon after there were 25 holes, including some holes on the South Links, although they were not all played on every occasion.
From 1863, the Royal Montrose played 18 holes as a medal, technically making Montrose the second oldest 18-hole course after the Old Course at St Andrews.
In 1866, they created a world record when there was a grand tournament using all 25 holes in a round. This attracted Willie Park and Andrew Strath, two past Open Champions, and Jamie Anderson who would become Open Champion. The winner was William Doleman with a score of 112 for 25 holes. He was a prominent amateur golfer who was the leading amateur in many Opens between 1865 and 1872 and who was driving a bakers van for a living at the time of this victory.
Although, there have been significant further developments to the layout and location of the course since, several of the opening holes of the present day Medal course are played over the same ground as holes which have been played for centuries.
In 2019, the Royal Montrose Golf Club merged with the Montrose Mercantile, founded in 1879 because of falling membership numbers. The Montrose Caledonia, founded in 1896, have a separate clubhouse nearby. They all play on the Medal Course, shown on the map above, which was redesigned by Willie Park in 1903 and which is administered by a Links Trust. The Trust also runs the Broomfield Course, originally laid out as a 9-hole course, but extended to 18 holes in 1915.
The Medal and Broomfield course are run by the Montrose Links Trust.