While the official records of the Club’s earliest days have sadly disappeared, a careful study of the files of local newspapers gives a reliable picture of how the Caley came into being. It was on Thursday 26 May 1887, that the Dundee ‘Courier and Angus’ reported:
‘A meeting has been held for the forming of a new golf club. The meeting was well attended and it was unanimously agreed to form a club to be called the Caledonia Golf Club. The following were elected office bearers for the season – Captain: Mr Jas Winter, Secretary and Treasurer: Messrs DA Crawford and D Winter. Thirty members were enrolled and the first competition of the new club takes place on Saturday next.’
On the following Monday, 30 May, the ‘Courier and Argus’ went on to record the following mixture of factual reporting and uncanny prescience:
‘The members of this young club held their first competition on Saturday when 21 players took part in the game. Messrs William Menzies and Alex Simpson tied for the first and second prizes, each being three strokes below his average, and Mr David Whitton secured the third prize at one below. As regards playing powers and numbers of members, the club promises to take a foremost place among the other clubs of the district.’
The Clubhouse Villa
There was, of course, no clubhouse for that May 1887 inaugural meeting to be held in. It took place, in fact, in the back shop of a local tailor, Mr William Ferrier. The clubhouse, or at least the first part of it, the east most end of the present building, was not opened until 16 July 1889. It had been approved at a General Meeting held in the YMCA Hall and was carefully designed so that, should the club fail, the building, which cost £600 (about £40,000 in today’s money), could be sold as a villa. Fortunately, the succeeding century has shown this admirably cautious approach to have been unnecessary.
It is perhaps interesting to note that the mason work was by James Black, Carnoustie; the main speaker at the opening ceremony was Major McCorquodale; Carnoustie Brass Band was in attendance and that a bar had been ‘placed in a suitable position to dispense creature comforts when required.’ But even without a clubhouse, the Caledonia members had been busy about their golfing business, winning inter-club matches against Scotscraig and Monifieth in addition to competing amongst themselves in a series of meetings.
The First AGM
After the first AGM, held on 18 February 1888, the consistently perceptive ‘Courier and Argus’ commented – ‘this new club bids to be a success’. In 1889 the AGM was held in the new clubhouse and by that time the membership had grown to 110.
The records show the following year was one of vigorous golf and steady growth. Mr D Whitton won the Club Medal. Three inter-club matches, two against Broughty and one against Montrose Victoria, were played and won, and the AGM saw thirteen new members admitted to the Club. It is, perhaps, worth noting that the Club, which had originally been formed by local Carnoustie players, was already attracting a large numbers from outwith the burgh, particularly from Dundee. On into 1891 and success in inter-club matches against King James VI Golf Club, Scotscraig and Montrose Victoria.
At the AGM, held on 23 May 1891, a new flag – a Royal Naval Reserve Blue Ensign presented by Captain Mitchell, RNVR – was hoisted on a flagpole previously presented by Messrs James Smieton and Sons. This ceremony successfully completed, the members agreed to extend the clubhouse, adding the tower and turret as we see them today and four more rooms at a cost of £600. The work was completed in 1892, and, on 12 November of that year a ‘House Heating’ dinner was held in the Bruce Hotel to celebrate the event.
The ‘Caledonia Kettle’
That was also the year when the golf courses were purchased from Dalhousie Estates, the short 9-hole course was opened and the Carnoustie Taymouth – now the Carnoustie Golf Club – celebrated its Golden Jubilee. To mark this last-named occasion, the Caledonia Club presented their counterparts with the highly unusual trophy which was to become their eagerly sought-after Club Championship, the ‘Caledonia Kettle’.
On through the 1890s the Caley Club’s healthy expansion continued. It played its part, along with the other local clubs and the Town Council, in developing the Medal Course into something like the circuit we know today.
Famous Players Visit The Caley
In the years that followed, the Caledonia Club was to play host to many famous men, but it is doubtful, if, in a golfing sense, the club ever had a more formidable quartet of visitors than those who arrived on the 13 August 1898. They were Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor, Sandy Herd and James Braid, whom few would have questioned were the finest golfers in the world at that particular time. Having played in a professional tournament on Carnoustie Links, they were grateful, as many before them and since have been, for the hospitality the Club had to offer.
The First Fixture List
The arrival of the 20th century saw the Club publish its first fixture list, detailing the Club competitions and inter-club matches for the year 1900. In 1905 the Caley became the first winners of the Forfarshire Golf Club Championship, which was played for at Carnoustie, Monifieth came second and Carnoustie tied with Montrose Victoria for third place. The winning team was D. Ramsay, J.C. Stuart, Alex Cant and David Scroggie, who scored 81, 87, 82 and 79 respectively.
Matches Against Other Clubs
Inter-club matches appear to have enjoyed continuing popularity. Monifieth Grange, Forfar, St Andrews University and Blairgowrie were added to the list of adversaries tackled in the years leading up to World War One. In addition an annual end-of-season fixture was played against Carnoustie Club. All these inter-club matches were resumed after the War and appear to have been well-supported.
The Great Flood
December 12, 1921, saw a group of members suffer a fate avidly sought by many since. It was a Saturday afternoon and, due to severe flooding, they were marooned in the clubhouse for several hours. The records do not say how this plausible story was received when the doughty band returned to their homes.
Carnoustie, in those days, took its golf even more seriously than it does today, which was amply illustrated by the Club Championship final of 1922, in which A.C. Ogg beat R.P Grieve. They were watched by a reliably estimated 800 spectators.
Clash of the Caley Titans
The following year’s Championship saw two epic struggles. In one of them, a second round match, R.P. Grieve was again out of luck, losing to J. Julian at the 59th hole. The next round saw another marathon, this one between J.B. Cunningham and J. Hill, with the former winning at the 54th. Presumably these were matches which each finished all square – twice – and were replayed over 18 holes. The Grieve-Julian match must have gone on to ‘sudden death’ after finishing square for a third time.
There must have been an awful lot of golf played that year, 1923, because Caledonia took part in no less than seven inter-club matches. These were against Aberdeen Murcar, Craigie Hill, Monifieth Grange, Forfar, Scotscraig, Carnoustie and St Andews New, and at least some of them were on a home and away basis.
Alexander Cant Invents the Handicap System
1927 saw the local clubs agree to adopt the new handicap system. Devised by club member Alex Cant, it was essentially the basis of the handicapping system used by every golfing nation in the world. Meanwhile, reconstruction work in the main lounge of the clubhouse was carried out in 1929, followed by the installation of electric lighting in 1930.
Since the Lochty Ladies Golf Club was formed in 1924, the Caley had provided them with accommodation – evidence, one would have thought, of a commendably liberal attitude to the vexed question of equality between the sexes. This was put to the test in 1934 when a motion ‘to admit to the clubroom’ was placed before the AGM – and failed! It was not until 1989 that this decision was finally reversed.
War and the ‘Age of Austerity’
In the years between the Caley had forged steadily ahead. The early 1940s saw many members go to fight on the battlefields of World War II, some of them, alas, not to return. Golf quickly got back into its stride after the War, but it was in austere and straitened circumstances. Equipment, particularly golf balls, were hard to come by, and other essentials were in short supply.
‘Half a noggin’ of Whisky
For instance, in 1947, the records show that whisky sales in the club were restricted to ‘half a noggin’ per member – on Wednesdays and Saturdays only. This unhappy state of affairs was to persist throughout 1948, but 1949 brought joy when the ration was increased to two nips on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Another landmark that year was the decision to open the clubhouse on Sundays.
The Modern Era
The 50s and 60s saw the Club continue to flourish with alterations to the clubhouse in 1958 and 1964 before it finally took on its present shape in 1968 under the Captaincy of Harry Myers. No one would dare to predict what another hundred years may bring to the Caledonia Club, but if, at the end of that time, there are still members enjoying their Club and its fellowship as much as we do today, they will have cause to be grateful.