As early as 1751 there is a record of the gentlemen of the district gathering there to play on the coastal links. A golf club existed in the 1860s, and the Prestwick professional, John Hunter, laid out the town’s first proper course for them on Stair Park and the Green, on the seafront. After some years, new buildings and streets made this site unsuitable, and a field at Watermouth Park, just north of the harbour, was leased from Mr T. F. Kennedy of Dunure. A nine hole course was laid out there by Willie Fernie, who would win the Open Championship in 1883 and move to Troon as the professional. Girvan Golf Club’s oldest trophy, the Cockburn Medal, was first played for in 1872, and it is likely to have been at that time that the new course was opened. However, once again new housing began to encroach on the course as plots of the land on which it stood were sold off, and in 1901 the club moved to the course which had just been created at Turnberry for Lord Ailsa by Willie Fernie. The clubhouse, which had corrugated iron walls and roof, was dismantled and moved to Turnberry.

Meanwhile, Girvan Burgh Council was keen to see golfing return to the town as a tourist attraction. It encouraged the formation of a new club, Girvan Burgh Golf Club, which acquired a piece of land lying along the coast north of the harbour from Mr J. C. Kennedy of Dalquharran and Dunure in late 1902. This was added to the remaining part of the previous course. In February 1903 David Kinnell, the professional at Prestwick St Nicholas, laid out a nine hole course on this ground, and this was the beginning of the present municipal course. The old clubhouse was returned from Turnberry, where a new one was being constructed. (In May 1903 the remaining members of the original Girvan Golf Club merged with the new Turnberry Golf Club.)

When the clubhouse had been re-erected, the official opening took place on Thursday 30th April 1903. A large crowd attended including the provost, magistrates and town councillors, and Mr and Mrs J. C. Kennedy of Dalquharran and Dunure. Provost William McCreath and Bailie Alexander Telfer (the club captain) gave speeches, and Mrs Kennedy drove off the first ball. The club’s handicap competition then took place. In the years that followed, the popularity of the course with both locals and visitors made its extension increasingly desirable.

In 1911 the golf club was successful in getting the lease of an additional piece of land, Lagganwhilly Holm, lying to the east of the nine hole course. This made it possible to extend the course to eighteen holes. The laying out of the new holes, along with any necessary alteration to the original holes, was supervised by Willie Fernie’s son Tom R. Fernie, who had just become the professional at Turnberry. The official opening of the extended course took place on Friday 16th June 1911. Club captain Alexander Telfer, now an ex-provost, made the opening remarks. Vice-captain James McCrindle, also an ex-provost, then presented an inscribed club to Lady Marjorie Dalrymple Hamilton of Bargany, who used it to drive off the first ball on the new part of the course. A foursome was then played over the whole course by Lady Marjorie’s husband Mr North Dalrymple Hamilton and Prestwick amateur Gordon Lockhart versus Glasgow Championship holder Robert Scott junior and another Glasgow amateur, J. H. Irons, Pollok – the result was a draw. A new clubhouse – still in use – was constructed, and opened on 12th June 1912.

During the First World War, 1914-18, part of the course, comprising nine holes, was given over to agricultural use for the growing of potatoes. In January 1920 the club obtained the services of five-time Open Championship winner and celebrated course designer James Braid to advise on reinstatement work. He inspected the whole course and made a number of recommendations for improvements. These were duly implemented, bringing the course to its present configuration. Due to escalating costs, the club held talks with the Town Council during the year regarding the municipalisation of the course. By the end of 1920, the Council had taken over the course, clubhouse and equipment from the golf club, which remained independent. During 1926 the Council completed the purchase of the land on which the course lay. The Second World War, 1939-45, resulted in part of the course being again taken under cultivation. On 24th April 1946, when Girvan Golf Club held its first competition since the end of the war, it was over fourteen holes as those which had been under cultivation had not yet been reinstated. In 2014 the clubhouse underwent extensive refurbishment.

Main source: ‘A History of Girvan and Ballantrae Golf Clubs’ by Bill Tait, 2015

Tom Barclay
Reference & Local History Librarian
South Ayrshire Libraries
November 2015