In 1912 Duncan Kerr of Lamlash introduced the first motorcar to Lamlash, which he used for hire, and in the following year Colin Currie of Brodick went a step further and provided Arran’s first-ever omnibus. These may have come in handy for the first inter-club golf match, between Brodick and Whiting Bay, a fixture that continues to this day in the winter months.
Since the start of golfing on Arran, the provision of courses gathered pace. Now, in 2013, Arran is unique in the fact that with a resident population of only around 5,500 it has seven completely different courses, 3 with 18 holes, 1 with 12 holes and 3 with 9 holes. Qualified staff are employed to ensure that greens and fairways are maintained to a good standard throughout the year. A number of the apprentice green keepers, on completing their training in Arran, have gone on to be managers or head keepers at courses in the UK, Germany and USA. The latest, originally from Fort William, trained at Lamlash then spent a year working for the Trump organisation and has now moved to the Murcar Links.
Arran’s courses have their own particular geography. Some of the natural hazards are ancient features, created by the geological movement of the ridges of run rig farming from two hundred years ago. The island has more golf courses per head of population than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, but earlier this century it was even more popular. Between 1903 and 1914 there were 11 golf courses in use on the island - four more than at present.
However, a large percentage of the resident population does not participate in golf, so each of today’s clubs has a small native membership. Annual subscription rates are much lower than those charges by most mainland clubs, and as a result club finances are often stretched during the winter period, with (or in some cases no) income. Management is always conducted by elected committees whose members give their time and expertise on a voluntary basis. Many of the clubs have been fortunate in their members’ longevity, which sees people giving many years of unstinting service.
Two of the courses, Shiskine and Brodick, engage professional golfers. They are enabled to do this because they have the support of a wide UK and overseas membership, resulting in many visiting players who come to the Island each year. With modern transport, it is no more than a 30 minute drive from one course to another or from a course to wherever players may live or be staying. It was a very different story in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when a journey from one village to another might take several hours, either walking, by sea or horseback. When the first bus was introduced, it was a great novelty, and aimed to link up with the arrival and departure of paddle steamers, much as our present-day buses do. At that time, no piers had been built, so passengers and goods were ferried to the steamers by local rowing boats. As a result, ambitious projects such as inter-club golf competitions required very careful planning. Even between adjacent villages such as Brodick and Lamlash, the logistics were tricky, and such events would take up most of the day.
During the two world wars, most if not all the golf clubs had to give up their leased lands to produce crops or graze animals for the War Effort, particularly during WW1 when horses were at a premium. The War Office allowed Lamlash Golf Club to remain open, so as to provide recreation for the service men stationed in Lamlash Bay - but the farmer who leased the land to the golf club was at the same time allowed to graze sheep and cattle on the course. Stobs and rope fencing were erected to keep animals off the putting surface of the 18 greens, but this led to a number of incidents when an approach shot to a green hit a stob or rope that deflected it. The Lamlash committee had to create a temporary rule that allowed players a free drop, to make a second attempt if this happened.