The East Lothian Golfers

Ben Sayers with a tricky lieAs 19th century golfing developed a wider competitive edge, East Lothian players were at the forefront. Interestingly, the luminaries of this new golf came not from the ranks of the gentleman players who had established the clubs and often owned the links but from the ranks of the caddies and artisans associated with the sport.

The rising stars developed their skills in opportunities arising from their employment. They often at first used improvised clubs and substitute balls but keenness and skill were frequently rewarded by gifts of equipment – and once competitive matches were being entered and won reputation could open doors to careers as club professionals, course designers and equipment makers.  The first generation of professionals could be the founders of dynasties and the same surnames appear time and again early in the tables of winners of the major championships.

The Parks of Musselburgh

Mungo Park of MusselburghDuring the 1830s, James Park of Wallyford flitted down to the coast at Musselburgh – perhaps to be closer to Musselburgh Links: he was reputed to be a keen golfer.  His sons benefited from growing up on the doorstep of the course – Willie, Davie and Mungo were high in the first wave of professionals and their brother Archie was a ballmaker.  A third generation – young Willie and Young Mungo among them – carried the family’s renown into 20th century and by then the girls of the 4th generation were carving a name for themselves amongst the early women golfers.

Between them the Parks figured high in the development of both the professional game and the development of equipment as technology and expansion revolutionised the place of golf in the sporting calendar.

Old Willie began with challenge matches – one to one or pairs matches, often played over a multiple of rounds and courses (for example home and away) and was ideally placed to participate in the British Open Championship when it was inaugurated at Prestwick in 1860. He won it a further three times, his brother Mungo once and son Willie twice – 7 times in one family.

Other Luminaries

Ben Sayers (1856 – 1924) may never have scaled the heights attained by the Parks but his reputation was immense and he won many other tournaments. He was born in Leith, the family moving to Haddington when Ben was 12 but he became ‘golf in North Berwick’, much sought out as an instructor by the upper classes that flocked there, as a course designer and as a maker of golf balls and clubs. His family firm long outlasted Ben and within the umbrella of a conglomerate, is reckoned now to be the world’s oldest clubmaker.

Jack White (?) in his Gullane workshopOver in Dirleton, John ‘Jack’ White (1873 – 1849) had been bitten by the golfing bug at an early age. He turned professional at the age of 16 and won the Open at Royal St George’s in 1904. He competed while working at variuos clubs and courses – Archerfield (right next door to home), Sunningdale and Musselburgh Golf Club. He was also a respected club-maker and established premises in Gullane during the 1920s.

When Jack won the Open, the holder of the American equivalent was another son of East Lothian, Willie Anderson.  Anderson, born in North Berwick, emigrated to the States in 1896. In 1901 he took his first US Open title; 1904 was his third and he won again in 1905. He competed widely in the States and before his early death in 1910 he was associated as club professional with around 10 clubs.

This short account lists only a few of the great golfers of East Lothian. Hidden within the depths of the local history resources at the John Gray Centre are the stories of many more, and their successors down to the present day. If you are interested in the stars of East Lothian golf come down and talk to us!

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