13 June 2017 Murray Bothwell on Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club

We received a great welcome and an excellent meal when we visited Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club due to our usual Tuesday evening venue of the Savoy Park being unavailable. Murray Bothwell was our guest speaker who, appropriately, described the history and development of Prestwick St Nicholas Golf course/club and its surrounds. He is a trained geographer, golfer, and one of the archivists for St Nicholas GC.

Murray explained that St Nicholas Golf Club was formed in 1851, the same year as its neighbour, Prestwick Golf Club, with whom it shared the original 12 holes. It is the 26th oldest golf club in the world and “Old” Tom Morris, the famous St Andrews golfer and course designer, was a founder member. In 1892 the club moved the short distance to its present site where 18 holes were formed.

The building of the clubhouse was funded by debentures and one of the original, principal debenture holders was a Miss Garvie, daughter of a local coal merchant. Well-known connections with the club include Sir William Arrol, the famous Glaswegian engineering contractor responsible for the Forth Rail Bridge and Thames Bridge amongst others. Sir William was an enthusiastic golfer and donated the Arrol cup which is competed for by low-handicap golfers.

The ground over which the course is laid out is traditional links terrain which, prior to 1892, was mostly scrub-land with some small-scale, coastal farming alongside scattered industrial activities including salt panning and stone quarrying. Interestingly, the Salt Pan buildings still exist today and are maintained by the golf club although belonging to Historic Scotland. The disused, flooded stone quarries (one of which is now filled-in) are features of the course and the fresh water therein is used by the club for irrigation purposes. During the war years, parts of the course and its environs were used, with the permission the club, as a volunteer training ground.

Murray described the wide variety of flora and fauna which can be seen over the course before going on to discuss the present-day challenges faced by clubs generally and golf clubs in particular. He cited falling membership as presenting the greatest challenge and discussed possible ways of addressing this including shorter courses, flexible membership packages, relaxed dress codes, modern management techniques and better governance. Attracting and retaining younger members and encouraging junior golfers were a priority.

After a robust question and answer session, Jim Nelson (also a member of St Nicholas) thanked Murray for his thorough research work and excellent presentation.