How else can you explain the activities of 20 golfers who, together with up to 10 reserves, subject themselves to the dubious delights of playing every Saturday throughout the winter months? Like geese returning to Tentsmuir, they flock back to the Burnside at the end of September each year. During the summer they are to be seen in profusion on the Medal and even farther afield. But a mysterious, presumably primeval urge drives them back to the Burnside, their winter habitat, each September.
There, every Saturday, they perform their golfing rituals, and, as the winter sun sinks somewhere to the west of the third green, return, hungry and thirsty, to the Clubhouse, where no one begrudges them their richly earned reward. Pints, nips, plates of soup, hamburgers and chip butties are gulped down, eagerly eaten, contemplatively consumed. The niceties of straight left arm, right foot back or swing plane are earnestly discussed. Decisions are reached as to what would have happened ‘if only that putt . . . ‘
But who are they? They are golfers, the same as all the other members of the Caley – well, maybe not quite the same. They call themselves the Carnoustie Winter League. Some of them are good players – very good players. Others, well . . . But they are keen very, very keen players. And in many a dreary Saturday afternoon, almost unaided, they bring the clubhouse to life.
The story goes back a long way – to November 1938, when 12 enthusiastic, young Carnoustie golfers decided that, given organised competition as an excuse, they would happily turn out every week, regardless of the winter weather. J.A. Wright, D.M. Wright, R. Duthie, G. Clark, J.C. (Piper) Hosie, Willie (Basher) Ramsay, V.G.L. Finlayson, G.S. Hosie, A.R. Simpson, A. Tosh, T. Tennant and R.J. Duncan were the apostolic group who set things rolling.
They played for 11 weeks on the Medal Course that last winter before the War, awarding two points per player for each win and one each for a drawn match. The season ended with Ron Duthie and the Wright Brothers tying for the championship and with the players fully agreed that the League should resume after the 1939 summer season.
The world, of course, knows what happens. Six long years of war were to rage before the survivors next golfed at Carnoustie. J.A. Wright, G.S. Hosie, A.R. Simpson and A. Tosh were not amongst them.
But in February 1946, the League restarted. D.M. Wright, R Duthie, G. Clark, J.C. Hosie and R.J. Duncan, returned from the Colours, were joined by four ‘Jims’ – Young, Lyall, Smith and Brodlie, together with David Waldie, J.W. Japp and the promising young Wallace McArthur. With R.J. Duncan as Secretary, they played for eight weeks and D.M. Wright won 13 points to emerge as champion.
September ’46 saw League play resume with 20 players involved. They were as keen as ever, all of them prepared to play in any sort of weather, but a 2-foot covering of snow on the courses made golf just a bit too difficult from 18 January to 22 March. So that year, the League had to settle for just 18 weeks of winter ‘pleasure’.
That was the last season the League played on the Medal. September 1947 saw them on the Burnside and there they have remained for the past 57 years, playing over 16,000 rounds in fair weather and foul, and, in the process, achieving an astonishing eclectic score of 33 for the 18 holes.
Featuring in half a century of League golf have been many of Carnoustie’s finest players. They include the Scottish internationalists, J.R. Hosie, Wallace McArthur, Alec Deboys and D.G. Grieg, the last named having also won the Scottish Amateur Championship and played in the 6-man Commonwealth Trophy team in Durban in 1975. There have been engineers and doctors, farmers and journalists, insurance men and joiners, teachers and painters. Some have played for as little as a single season, while others have spent a golfing lifetime in the League and have eventually been joined by their sons.
Any account of the League must inevitably record the dedicated enthusiasm with which R.J. Duncan worked on its behalf from 1946 until his untimely death in 1984. With the help of his wife, Esther, Ralph carried through all the necessary organisation of the games and documentation of results during that time. He was a perfect example of the kind of enthusiasm on which this remarkable organisation thrives.
Yes, as any Caley member will tell you, they are all nut-cases in the Winter League, but they all revel in their affliction. That is why the League has survived for over 75 years and will continue to do so for many years to come. That is why the Caley can look forward to seeing them flock into the clubhouse every winter Saturday from late September till March. Isn’t that what the best traditions are all about?