Port Bannatyne Golf Club

The history of Port Bannatyne Golf Club dates back to the years prior to 1910, when a group of influential, well-heeled gentlemen in the village and Ardbeg, among them Sir Harry Hope M.P., decided to raise cash to build a course on their own doorstep. Agreement was reached with the Bute Estate that 76 acres would be allocated, provided that the farmer at Bannatyne Mains, William Dickie, retained the grazing rights. The lease was initially for 14 years at a rent of 20 per year. The mastermind behind the plan was Peter Morrison, of the Rothesay Tramway Co., who was assisted by jobless village yacht crews, farm labourers and the odd fisherman in completing the layout of 9 holes and 9 tees to allow the course to open in 1912. The biggest initial outlay was the purchase of a second-hand horse mower from Rothesay Town Council and the hire of a horse from farmer Willie Dickie of Bannatyne Mains.

By 1925 dissatisfaction was being expressed that players having already completed nine holes were being held up by others about to start. Peter Morrison was again consulted, with the result that 4 additional holes were completed, with players now playing 12 holes, then the first 5 again, before a separate 18th, the set-up which remains, with minor modifications, until today.

In summer the main source of revenue was derived from Kyles of Bute Hydro visitors. In those days before the advent of foreign holidays, many Glasgow and Paisley families had a summer house in Port Bannatyne and automatically joined the club, rather than pay green fees each time they played. One such member was Joe Buchanan of Broomloan Bakery in Govan, but better known as chairman of Rangers Football Club.

The most successful golfer associated with Port Bannatyne was E.D. Hamilton, known nationally as Eddie, but in the Port as Teddy. He was the son of one of the businessmen responsible for the creation of the course, with the family moving to Port Bannatyne when he was less than a month old. All his education was at the Port School and Rothesay Academy and played much of his early golf on the Port Course. Later he joined Ralston and won the Scottish Amateur Championship in 1936 at Carnoustie and again in 1938 at Muirfield. In a golden six year period from 1934 he also picked up three bronze medals as a beaten semi-finalist.

In the 1930s he and Cathie McPhail, the Queen of Bute golf were an almost unbeatable pairing in the Wednesday Mixed Foursomes, Speaking in 1993 Eddie Hamilton said Cathie could have more than held her ground with the finest lady golfers in Scotland.

Although the land was owned by the Bute Estate, from the 1930s through to the 1950s the course was run by Gilbert McKellar, who in the summer months moved up from the village with his family to live in the tiny wooden shack adjoining the clubhouse. At that time the Thomson Bequest gave money to the club which bought half sets of clubs to encourage local boys to take up the game all for the princely sum of one shilling a year.

For a period in the early 1960s the course closed and the land was used for grazing sheep, perhaps the golden hoof being the reason for the acknowledged excellence of the fairways since those days.

In 1968, however, Port Bannatyne Golf Club was reformed, with the Rev lan McDonald of the Ardbeg Baptist Church as captain and Bill Lavender, one of those who had benefitted from the Thomson Bequest 30 years earlier, as Secretary. The mainspring, however, and for several years thereafter, was Match Secretary David McMillan, whose twin aunts Jessie and Kate McMillan had been stalwarts of the club in the thirties.

At the same time, Bute District Council took over a lease of the course from Bute Estate, with the golfers paying ten shillings annual membership to the club and the cost of their season ticket to the District Council.

By the early 1970s the original wooden clubhouse was in a state of disrepair, with the ridge being being propped up precariously and one of the first tasks of the new committee was to effect some necessary repairs. It is amazing to think that during his custodianship of the course from the 1930s to the 1950s, Mr Gilbert McKellar and family spent the entire summer in the small annexe to the clubhouse.

Almost the last act of Bute District Council before local government reorganisation in 1974 was to push through the building of a new brick built clubhouse comprising ladies and gents locker rooms, a kitchen and lounge. Councillor Bobby Reid, Ardmaleish, was instrumental in persuading the Council, with the work being carried out by Fred Kerr and Son, Builders. One consequence was to put 3p on the ensuing Argyll and Bute District Council rate!

In 1984 a letter was received from Argyll and Bute District Council, who claimed to be making a loss of 2000 per annum in running the course, proposing that the Club take over all responsibilities for the course, in effect to become a private club. After protracted negotiations the club agreed to a package, in which the Council agreed, among other conditions, an annual contribution of 2000 to the club, to hand over course machinery, to replace the machinery shed and to continue to pay the rent to the Bute Estate. The club accepted frill responsibility and took over all aspects of the course from 1 April 1985.

Membership peaked at just under 200 in the early 1990s and already increased expectations caused the club to look again at its clubhouse provision. In 1995 the committee, with past-captain Cohn Renfrew co-opted as Clubhouse Co-ordinator, took the first steps in an ambitious plan to provide a clubhouse fit for the 21st century. This involved redeveloping the existing ground floor and building a new upper floor with improved facilities for members and visitors. It would include gents and ladies locker rooms with toilets and showers, a junior locker room, a disabled toilet and a reception desk on the ground floor, with a fully fitted kitchen and a panoramic lounge, overlooking Kames Bay on the new first floor. Among the funding bodies were Argyll and Bute Council, The Foundation for Sports and the Arts and the Scottish Sports Council, through the National Lottery. The design was by Riach Partnership, architects, with the building work carried out by local firm George Hanson, Building Contractors. A company of almost 100 invited guests attended the official opening in May 1988 by Walker Cup captain Charlie Green, OBE. In early 2000 Port Bannatyne Golf Club became a licensed club, enabling it to offer bar facilities for visiting parties, inter-club matches and club functions.

Iain L. MacLeod
Honorary Secretary, 9 March 2001
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