Coll The Coll Magazine

Article by David Moore Jnr (2000)

Coll Golf Club
Coll Golf Club

Part 1 of the history of the Coll Golf Club - part2 in the next issue

One man went to mow

In the 1970s the Isle of Coll went through a process of rapid change which was to alter the way of life of the locals forever. The new pier had been completed at the end of the previous decade and ahead lay the benefits of car ferries and easier access to the island for tourists and locals alike. Crofters and farmers looked forward to the day when they could take their animals to market in a motor vehicle and "Project Trust" was just in its infancy. For those of a sporting persuasion, however, the greatest change of all was the coming of golf to the "links" at Cliad.

While golf had been played before on Coll by annual visitors like Alan Griffiths Senior, Neil Campbell Senior and David Moore Senior, there was no focal point - no official golf course. Each of these keen golfers had designated areas at Cornaigbeg and Benmeanach where they would practice for hours on end hitting golf balls up and down the fields. Davie Moore's "course", for example, consisted of two holes - one immediately behind Clabbach Manse and the other down the hill towards the beach. I spent many happy hours marching up and down that "fairway" with him, playing from new positions to vary the hole and competing fiercely to see who could get the ball into the large coffee tins in the fewest shots.

However, after many years of playing the 2 hole course, Davie decided that he would strike out for 9 holes. At Benmeanach and Clabbach there was no room to establish any more holes so he asked Jock Galbraith of Cliad Farm if he could cut a few holes on the machair between the road and Cliad beach. This land was a natural golf links, the grass being kept short by Jock's sheep and the bunkers being provided by a combination of erosion and rabbits on the land. Jock had no objections to the plan and so Davie set to work with his pushmower. What some of the locals of the time must have thought on seeing a man with a mower on sheep-grazing land is difficult to tell but Angus Kennedy, (Angus "Benmeanach"), used to have a quiet chuckle and give a slight shake of the head when he saw him set off with the mower in the back of the car. However, as with many of that Coll generation, Angus was much too polite to put into words what he thought and when anyone asked him where Davie was he just replied that he was "over at Cliad cutting the grass for lock's sheep" - and so it was that in 1975 Coll golf links came into being.

The original golf course

The original course was short, running from the site of the current first tee to just over the burn half way towards the Grishipol march fence. Seven of the holes were designed as par threes with only the 8th and 9th requiring two shots to the green. To begin with the greens were small and circular in shape and for the first "season" the holes were simply squares of turf dug out to a spade's width and deep enough for a ball to disappear below ground level. During the first year a number of the visitors who played golf at home came along to Cliad and put their 2p donation into the 'honesty box' at the first tee for the privilege of playing on the course. Golfers didn't need many clubs to play the course in these early days and most golfers carried only three clubs to see them through a round. The last club anyone would have thought about carrying was a putter as despite mowing, the putting surfaces were still a bit on the rough side. However, despite the drawbacks, competition on the links was fierce and regulars like Dave Allan, Neil and Alan MacFadyen, Alan Griffiths Snr., Neil Campbell Snr. and Davie often played out dramas with the exchange of money being determined by who could avoid the most sheep dirt and cow pats on the way round. These became such a feature of play that when the Golf Club was being formed at the later date Dave Allan suggested that the motto of the club should be "Semper in excreta", an idea, alas, which was not taken up.

Course improvements.

As interest grew amongst the hardy annual visitors some began to put their minds to ways in which the course could be improved. The first major improvement to the course came about when Neil MacFadyen arrived with plant pots for holes. They were about 9 inches in diameter and partially filled with concrete. The concrete in the base had a hole in the centre to hold the flagsticks which were made from wooden doweling. Neil cleared their introduction with Davie and triangles of cotton were made and attached. The first flags fluttered on the course. These were white and they frequently surrendered to the attentions of inquisitive sheep and cattle which leaned against them with annoying regularity, breaking them at the base. As the summer progressed each flagstick was gradually reduced in height by each break until eventually some were reduced to mere stumps with the flag resting on the ground. Nonetheless, the tradition of golfing on Coll had begun and from then onwards, it became essential to include a few golf clubs in the annual packing for the holiday on Coll.

The Coll Open

Such was the interest in golf on Coll in the early days that it was decided to hold a competition towards the end of July in 1976 for all golfers on the island. Golfers of all ages and abilities were invited to the great competition and the event attracted a large number of participants including many from Lochmaben who came with Roy and Margaret Thorburn. Roy was so taken with the event that he donated a cup, the Thorburn Cup, first played for in 1977 and won by a young 19 year old from Lochmaben called Kenny Bell with the three clubs permitted by the rules of the competition. The Coll Open was born and has been played for every year since 1977. As its popularity increased so too did the prizes on offer. The lack of a woman's trophy was rectified when Roy Thorburn presented a cup for the lady champion. In 1990, a silver plate was presented by Dave Allan for the winning junior and a shield was presented by the Moore family for the player with the best scratch score in 1991. For those taking part there has always been a keen desire to stake their little part in history by having their name engraved on one of the trophies and the competition is as keenly contested in its own way every year as the British or American Opens.

Despite the array of prizes to be won, the most coveted of them all are still the Thorburn Cups which are awarded for the lowest handicap scores achieved on the day by the leading lady and gent. For the next twelve months the winners have the privilege of calling themselves the Coll Open Champions. Over the years this distinction has gone to many well-known locals and visitors. Since 1977 the roll of honour on the original gents' Thorburn Cup reads

1977 Kenny Bell
1978 John English
1979 lain MacFadyen
1980 A.C. Forbes
1981 Roy Thorburn
1982 Roy Thorburn
1983 Alan Maxwell
1984 Alan Griffiths Senior
1985 John English
1986 Lawrence Ward
1987 Mike Taylor
1988 Neil Morrison
1989 David Moore Junior
1990 David Moore Senior

In 1991 a new cup, the Lexy and Hugh Thorburn Memorial Cup replaced the original and has been won by

1991 Lawrence Ward
1992 Allan Garrett
1993 Neil Morrison
1994 Ian English
1995 Allan MacFadyen
1996 Andrew Greaves
1997 Colin McKinnon
1998 David Moore junior
1999 lain Moore

The Coll Open now has a long tradition and is an integral part of the summer diary on Coll. However, of all those who take part, none can claim to have the staying power of Davie Moore Senior. Since 1977 he has organised and played in every single Coll Open and there was no-one more pleased in 1990 when as Open Champion he was given permanent custody of the original Thorburn Cup. Without his enthusiasm and energy over the years this competition would not have risen to the position of prominence which it currently holds in the annual Coll summer calendar of events.

Boom and bust.

For several years the course was looked after firstly by Alan Underwood, Derek Stove and more recently, Ally Anderson as greenkeepers. Derek took a fierce pride in the greens and under his stewardship they were enlarged and greatly improved. With a mower which was regularly serviced and sharpened, the greens were kept immaculate and they were as true for putting upon at the height of the summer as many "proper" golf greens. For Derek there was nothing to raise his temperature more on the course than the sight of rabbits - particularly at the 3rd green where on more than one occasion the rabbits ruined weeks of work overnight. He tried everything to keep them at bay - and for several years he was able to maintain the green in good playing order by sheer hard work, gallons of Renardine and tenacity.

Derek's pride in the course rubbed off on others and it was during these years that the golf club had some of its greatest days. His pride and efforts were assisted in no small measure by the golf club's most influential member at this time - John English. John was the driving force behind the club from 1985 and he was instrumental in introducing the Members' Cup in 1990. He was a keen golfer and a fierce competitor whose name appears on several pieces of silverware played for at the club. He also led the club into new ventures like the annual barn dance and presentation of prizes at Achamore. John never once took a decision about the club or a competition without fully consulting everyone involved and in this way he made everyone feel very much that the golf club was theirs. He truly created a real sense of community between the locals and visitors thanks largely to his knack of always doing or saying the right thing at the right time and by his willingness to involve everyone in decisions, to listen to and value their opinions and to make everyone feel that the golf club was something shared.

In the period from 1990 to 1995 the number of visitors playing was also high. The course was seldom without Cath and Crawford Stevenson or Alan and Rosemary Griffiths, the MadFadyen family, the Allans, the Moores, the Thorburns, the Bells or the Maxwells. On competition days numbers were high with as many as thirty two adults turning up to play in the Campbell Scramble in one year. The Open could attract upwards of forty players of all ages and the Members Cup was played for by a membership of over 20.

David Moore Jnr.
Images associated with this article:-

Davie Moore with Lexy & Margaret Thorburn and Elva Maxwell

Davie Moore Jnr, with the Thorburn Trophy in 1998
Coll Magazine - Article by David Moore Jnr

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2007 The Coll Magazine