The Montrose Links is one of the oldest and most important venues in the game of golf. In 1562, when James Melvill, a six year-old Montrose schoolboy, recorded in his diary that he was taught to “use the glubb for goff” by the Reverend William Gray, this made Montrose Links the fifth oldest recorded golf links in the world, and only at St Andrews has golf been played continuously longer over the same golfing ground.
Significant parts of the present courses, the Medal and Broomfield, are still laid out on what was the original golfing ground. For the first 300 years or so, Montrose golfers began their rounds within a short distance of the town centre playing a circular course and ending their round where they started. The Mid Links area, pictured below in the early 19th century, and which can be observed in its present form looking southwards from the 13th green on the Medal course, was where golfers in those days began and ended their rounds.
It was the route taken by the first railway line to Montrose in 1849, now the cycle path that sits behind the 14th tee on the Medal course, that forced local golfers to stop using the mid links section of golfing ground and to realign the course further North. But for that development, golfers at Montrose might still, as at the Old Course at St Andrews, be starting their rounds within a wedge shot’s distance of their town centre.
The East Links, the open expanse of ground to the South of the pro shop and golf clubs, was part 0f the original golfing ground and pictured below is Old Tom Morris playing a challenge match against Bob Dow, the first Montrose Professional, on that part of the links in the late 19th century.
It was a Town Council decision around 1900 to preserve the East Links for leisure and commercial development that forced the golf courses to give up those holes and utilize more land to the North and East.
Fortunately for golfers in Montrose, the loss of these parts of the original golfing ground posed few problems as the total links area available in Montrose, perfect for adaptation to golf, was very extensive. So much so, that in the mid-19th century Montrose Links had more holes in play than anywhere else in the world and celebrated that fact in 1866 with the only 25-hole professional golf tournament ever held. Cash prizes on offer in that unique tournament exceeded what the professionals were playing for at the early Opens, and the entry included four past and future Open Champions – William Park, James Anderson, Andrew Strath and Old Tom Morris – who would win eleven Open titles between them.
Some renowned golf architects have shaped this wonderful expanse of natural Links into the present superb courses. Over the years the Montrose Links has received care and attention from, amongst others, Old Tom Morris, Willie Park Jnr and Harry Colt. Old Tom devised a circular course that came into play in 1888. The famous hole of the day was called ‘The gully’. It no longer exists but the hollow which bore the name can be seen around the current 16th green on the Medal course.
Willie Park Jnr made further changes to the Medal course in 1902 but only the current 4th hole survives from his layout.
It was the renowned English golf architect, Harry Colt who revolutionised the layout in 1913 with a design for eleven new holes on the Medal Course including several new holes on the ‘Bents’ – the local name for the sand dunes beside the sea – and also creating enough extra space for the 9 hole Auxiliary Course that was established in 1907 to be made into an 18 hole course, now the Broomfield.
Harry Colts’s strength as a golf designer was that he created visual challenges to tease and intrigue the golfer and he certainly achieved that in Montrose, one of his earliest designs. By the end of his career, he had left his mark in part or in whole on some 300 of Britain’s most cherished courses. Links courses that he designed included Rye, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal Portrush, Rosses Point at Co Sligo and Muirfield. Inland, he designed the New Course at Sunningdale, Wentworth plus many others.
Colt’s original layout of the Medal Course in Montrose remains largely unchanged today apart from a realignment of the 2nd Hole in 2008, designed by Martin Hawtree, in response to coastal erosion, thus visiting golfers have a unique opportunity to play original Colt-designed courses.
The first Golf Club was set up in the town in 1810 by golfers determined to protect their links for future generations of golfers. That encouraged the creation of many different golf clubs, all playing on the same golfing ground. Now, just three clubs, each with its own proud history, which can be researched on their respective websites, survive – the Caledonia, Mercantile and Royal Montrose clubs. Their members still play on the same courses and now, in association with Angus Council, they appoint Directors to Montrose Golf Links Ltd who manage the courses and welcome visitors from around the world to play their historic links.