As the Craigewan Links at Peterhead Golf Club comes into sight, so too does the path to reach it.
There aren’t many clubs where you find yourself crossing a footbridge to reach the clubhouse but Peterhead is one such place. For many years after this club was first formed, the only access to the golf course was by ferryboat across the River Ugie, operated by the club. Walking is enough for us today, thankfully, and we reach a modern clubhouse which gives the impression Peterhead Golf Club is relatively new. And yet it is, in fact, the 18th oldest golf club in the world with a rich history peppered with land feuds, alleged fire insurance claims, re-built clubhouses and two foot bridges.
The history of the place certainly brings it to life. The crossing over the river caused issues as far back as 1894 when a row between the golf club and the man who owned the land on the town side of the river threatened the existence of the club. A Colonel Ferguson claimed he and not the club, should control the ferry and the dispute prompted the colonel to plough up one of the greens on the golf course before peace was reached and calm restored.
The early days were certainly eventful with the clubhouse also having burned down in the 1890s and the course extended to 18 holes in 1908. And yet what has been left behind is unquestionably enriched by its eventful past.
It’s an historic piece of land, which has had multiple uses over the years, from cattle and sheep grazing to doubling as an artillery range, which in turn led to a new hole being built to ‘avoid inconvenience and danger when volunteers were shooting targets’ – there is no mention as to what the targets were! Some traditions have remained such as the annual presentation of the Gold Medal which dates back to 1841 and is inscribed as having been presented by the ladies of Peterhead.
The club’s history has also shaped its membership numbers which resembles a heart beat monitor of peaks and troughs. The locals will tell you the course condition seems to follow the trend of the membership – which makes perfect sense as money is either tight or in full flow.
Peterhead Golf Club was one of those courses that was enjoyable to play, even if it lacked the sharpness and challenge of some of its neighbouring courses. Not quite as isolated as the lone footbridge would lead you to believe, there was a faint hum of traffic present for the first few holes.
The breeze which greeted us as we climbed the second, a par-3, was welcome on a warm, sunny day, but we could imagine it might not be so welcome on a winters day when shelter would be sought for a different reason. From the 4th tee, the landscape seems to change, taking on a more rugged links feel with the vast North Sea now in full view. Throughout our round, nature’s magic came to the fore with natural hollows adding more depth to the course and certainly adding to the sense that Peterhead Old Course owes little to man’s heavy handed work in its creation.
We played in the heat of the Scottish sun, which somehow felt like Death Valley as we snaked our way between the hillocks and out of the wind from the 9th on. While not a flat or uninspiring links course, the dunes were far from towering but certainly enough to provide a test. The greens were subtly shaped and not overly large in size made – made for target golf. And the bunkers delivered that fine spray of sand to the face as the ball rose cleanly out of the hazard. Sand clad and thinking of times as a child being given jam sandwiches on the beach – jam sandwiches with a dash of sand, of course.
The 17th, a short par-4 was as good as any hole with a blind tee shot testing our nerve. Despite the bare patches on the summer burnt fairways, the ball did react favourably – in the main anyway!
Our experience of playing Peterhead Golf Club was unquestionably enhanced by understanding its back story and appreciating its current journey in its next steps of its evolution. Peterhead is a survivor and with good reason. It might not carry the big name or reputation of its near neighbours but it certainly commands a place in golfing history.
*To watch a video of Sarah’s visit to Peterhead click here.