The Scottish Invasion

The Scottish Invasion

By Lee Pace

There’s the town of Aberdeen right in our midst, the county of Scotland to the south, the village of Dundarrach to the southeast, roads we drive every day named for McDonald, McCaskill, McKenzie and Dundee. The Old Scotch Graveyard is off Bethlehem Church Road west of Carthage.

This area of south-central North Carolina has deep Scottish roots dating to the 1700s, when droves of Scottish emigrants fled the Highlands to the shores of North Carolina and moved up the Cape Fear River and its tributaries inland to the pine forests of Moore County. They found land for the taking and plentiful game for hunting.

It’s only fitting that in time the ancient game of golf would become the backbone of the Sandhills economy.

Man has enjoyed games of sticks and balls throughout history, and Europeans in the Middle Ages even played from one village to the next by striking an object, finding it and hitting it again toward a pre-determined target. “Kolf” as it was known in the Netherlands and “Goff” as Englishmen termed it were early ancestors to the modern game of golf. The game was played in Scotland as early as 1457, when the Scottish parliament of King James II banned the sport because it was distracting the men of Edinburgh from their military training. The first printed reference to golf in Dornoch, a village on the northeast coast of Scotland, came in 1616.

Englishman Alistair Cooke moved to the United States as a young man and was a mid-life convert to golf. He pursued the game passionately while forging a career as a noted journalist and television personality.

“Golf was just what the Scottish character had been seeking for centuries,” Cooke observed. “The main tenants of the Scottish faith are that life is grim and uncomfortable and that human vanity cannot prevail. Humiliations are the essence of the game. The golfer’s credo is that man should expect very little here below and strive to gain it. Golfers are the only world-wide secret society that revels in the mutual display of human frailty.”

So in the late 1800s and early 1900s when golf was taking root in the United States, young men from Scotland who knew the game found opportunity in America to foster the game’s growth. Chief among them was Donald Ross, who traveled from Dornoch to Boston in 1899, found work at Oakley Country Club and a year later moved to Pinehurst and began running the golf operation and building new golf courses for Pinehurst owner James W. Tufts. By 1919, Ross built seven courses in Pinehurst and Southern Pines as his design career blossomed and would eventually number some 400 courses across the Eastern United States.

Ross created Pinehurst golf and in particular the vaunted No. 2 course in the Caledonian image he knew so well — firm, sandy ground, plenty of width to play bold or safe and intricate green surrounds to test the player’s short game.

“He was particularly attracted to the soil conditions here, as they reminded him of the old links land at home,” said Richard Tufts of the Pinehurst founding family. “Even our native wire grass seemed to remind him of the whins he knew in Scotland.”

“Pinehurst was absolutely the pioneer in American golf,” Ross said. “While golf had been played in a few places before Pinehurst was established, it was right here on these Sandhills that the first great national movement in golf was started. Men came here, took a few golf lessons, bought a few clubs and went away determined to organize clubs.”

Other early Scotsmen who moved to America to carve a career in the golf business and landed in the Carolinas were Ralph Miner of New Bern Country Club, David Ferguson at Greenville (S.C.) Country Club, Frank Clark of Asheville Country Club and Biltmore Forest Country Club, and Marshall Crichton, the first professional at Hope Valley Country Club in Durham.

“You had to listen carefully,” Greenville golfer Heyward Sullivan said of Ferguson. “He rolled his r’s through a thick burr. He used to say, ‘Laddie, the short game will help your long game, nay the long game will never help the short game.’ He wanted you to practice chipping and putting.”

Hope Valley member Joe Robb once said of Crichton: “A Scotsman replete with a brogue, bandy legs, a caustic tongue and a terrific sense of humor. Marshall’s brogue was so thick that his cuss words often sounded like music.”

The members of Royal Dornoch Golf Club were so proud of the pros their club and town produced in the mid-1900s that they published a poster headlined “Dornoch to the U.S.A.,” that included photos of eight golfers — most pictured wearing ties on the course, some with tweed caps, one with a pipe in his mouth — and short descriptions of their accomplishments in the New World.

There was Bob MacDonald, who was a founding member of the PGA of America and instructor to Gene Sarazen, Horton Smith and Babe Zaharias, and his younger brothers Bill and Jack. There was Bob Grant, who helped light the golf fire in Chicago and later was a respected club pro in Indiana. There was Don Sutherland, a longtime club pro in Vancouver and winner of the 1934 B.C. Open. There was Alex Murray, who died two years into his American adventure, and whose son was later secretary at Royal Dornoch.

And, of course, also pictured on the poster are Donald Ross and brother Alex, the latter the 1907 U.S. Open champion.

“All these boys went out and were successful,” said Dornoch member Donald F. Grant. “They head off to America with their clubs and a hold-all, and with very little money. No one here had any money.”

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club has long had a number of tangible and symbolic relationships with St. Andrews. Prior to the 1962 U.S. Amateur, Tufts wrote a history of the town and club and titled it The Scottish Invasion. One of the chief meeting rooms in the resort clubhouse is named The St. Andrews Room, and in 2005 the club imported an urn of sand from the Road Hole at the Old Course and poured it into a greenside bunker on the eighteenth hole of No. 2. In the summer of 2012, Pinehurst built the Thistle Dhu putting course, a concept similar to the Himalayas putting green at St. Andrews.

“Golf was born in Scotland, but it lives in Pinehurst,” said noted clubmaker and historian Laurie Auchterlonie, whose family operates a golf collectibles shop in St. Andrews.

Don Padgett II, the resort CEO from 2004 to 2014, thought in 2013 another extension of that bond would be to construct a new starter’s hut to resemble the one at St. Andrews. Pinehurst management contacted the St. Andrews Links Trust, which operates the seven courses at St. Andrews, and got their permission for the replica as well as a set of architectural drawings of the building. The old hut was razed and a new one was constructed in the fall of 2013.

The Starter’s Hut now sits to the back-left of the championship tees of the esteemed No. 2 course, and a plaque positioned underneath the window where you check in reads as follows:

“Each magical place is rooted in a sacred ancestry forged by the relentless forces of nature, where to stand on the first tee at either place is to feel the full weight of the game’s history descent on your shoulders.”

Lee Pace is a freelance golf writer who has written about Sandhills area golf for four decades and is the author of club histories about Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Mid Pines, Pine Needles and Forest Creek.

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