The Warbeth Course
The first Stromness golf course was on the natural links at Warbeth. It was a short 9-hole course, so short that only at one hole was a wood necessaryfor a second shot. The style employed was unlike today’s. The ball was addressed with half a dozen swings to and from the ball, the final swing being shoulder high without a follow through. Clubs consisted of a driver, a baffy baffy (no. 4 wood), a cleek (no.2 iron), a jigger (no. 3 iron), a mashie (no. 5 iron) and a putter. Up to 1900 balls were gutties (hard rubber without dimples).Thereafter, rubber-cored balls came in.
Play was normally on Thursdays and Saturdays, and summer evenings mostlyfriendly games with competitions fewand far between. There were nofairways as such – the grass was keptshort by the rabbits!
One early summer hazard was the kelp drying on the shoreward side of the course! The clubhouse was wooden with a balcony. It was situated at the junction of the Warbeth and graveyard roads. Well known greenkeepers were the Harveys, father and son, James, the son, was the originator of the baffy ‘chip’. A great benefactor to the Warbeth course was Mr Charles Ackroyd a regular summer visitor who spent up to £60 per annum on improvements to the course till he fell out with the committee over his unauthorised activities. During the time at Warbeth over 80 men and about 50 women were members of the club.
The Ness Course
The purchase of Ness farm in November 1923 for £1600 for a new golf course was initiated by G. S. Robertson and Bailie T. R. Mowat. Money was raised by forming a company – forerunner to Golf Club Ltd. The money for laying out the course came from fund raising and voluntary contributions. The course was designed by Mr George Smith of Lossiemouth.
The original course did not include the park where the first and second holes are. The fifth was over a deep quarry to a green on the site of the battery. The sixth was beyond the road behind the present sixth and seventh in the meadow where the direction post is situated. Adequate bunkering was included in the original plan but was ignored.
The course was officially opened by Dr McNeish, a visitor, by driving off the first ball (above). He presented the club with the Doctor’s Shelter at the tenth tee. The original wooden clubhouse was re-erected inside the barn, with the dome superimposed on the roof. This original clubhouse was extended in 1963 to the stable and a bar was introduced in the larger lounge – this was all done by voluntary labour.
It was around then that the Ness Sports and Social Club was formed to organise the building of new premises and the creation of the bowling green and tennis court. Grants from the Scottish Education Department, Orkney Education Authority plus funds from the Social Club, Bowling Club and Tennis Club made the scheme possible. Organisations later brought into the Club include the Sailing club and the Football club.
Recently however, to enable funding for the third new clubhouse at Ness, The Ness Sports & Social Club amalgamated into The Golf Club Ltd. This meant money for the clubhouse could be given from the Lottery as well as local funding bodies, the result is the magnificent new two-storey clubhouse which stands on the same site today as the two previous buildings.
The greenkeepers to date have been Thomas Craigie who presided over the construction period of the course, E Flett, G Sutherland, C Adason, Raymie Manson, Peter Tait, John Flett, Justin Lochrie and at present Rae Craigie.
Sheep had long been a feature of the course. Initially grazing was rented but this led to overcrowding and a shared ownership scheme between the greenkeeper and the Golf Club Ltd. was introduced. However it was in the club’s centenary year (1990) that the course saw an end to this scheme and the sheep themselves.
In 1968, the members of the Ladies section of the golf club joined the Ladies Golf Union and so are involved in many more competitions than before. Mary Tait had held the course record with a gross 75 for 9 years from 1981-89 before being replaced by Shona Croy from Kirkwall with a 71 in the second round of the Heddle Cup in August 1989.
Gentlemen’s golf in Stromness has increased from occasional games of the early days to the busy schedule of competitions nowadays. The main competition in the Stromness golfing year is undoubtedly the Stromness Open which for the last 25 years or so has attracted an entry upto 132 players from not only all parts of the UK but from overseas countries such as Kenya, Canada, South Africa and Australia. To enable these competitors to get round the Stromness course twice in one day play now usually starts at 5.30am on the day of the competition. (See Fixture List for the date of this year’s event and drop us an e-mail if your interested).
Over the past one hundred years Stromness has produced many County Champions at both Match and Strokeplay. Successes have also been recorded on numerous occasions in the annual inter club match against Kirkwall for the Cupal Cup.
Success for Stromness in the Wilson Cup (played for between teams from clubs in the counties of Orkney, Caithness and Shetland) was in the early years of the competition, from its inception in 1903, almost total – Stromness won it for the first six years. In recent years success has been however somewhat elusive. The last Stromness win was in 1986 at Wick, the first time a Stromness team had won outside Orkney.
Despite the great advances in golf equipment the Stromness Course has retained its reputation as a tight and tricky layout. The course record was held by the late Norris Cumming, one of the club’s finest exponents of the game, for over twenty years from the late fifties. The present course record is held by Graham Dunnett from Thurso – a 61 gross shot in the first round of the Stromness Open in the early 90’s and was matched by local Brian Corsie in 2002 (McVitie & Price) and 2014 (Handicap Cups). This replaced the record of 62 shot by the late Colin Poke, a record that stood since 1983. The Colin Poke trophy is now annually awarded to the player who returns the lowest gross score in medal play over the Stromness course.