Carnoustie’s pioneering spirit lives on

Carnoustie Golf Club's members in 1885 included a number of the workers at the legendary Simpson clubmaking company which spawned some of the pioneers.
Carnoustie Golf Club's members in 1885 included a number of the workers at the legendary Simpson clubmaking company which spawned some of the pioneers.
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The role played by Carnoustie golfers in being pioneers for the sport around the world, especially the United States, is finally being told, both in print and through a new heritage centre housed in the main golf club in the Angus town.

A fascinating story includes two US Open winners, claiming that coveted prize three times between them, who hailed from Carnoustie while other natives, having also spread their wings in the late 1890s and early 1900s, were instrumental in the founding of Professional Golfers Associations in both America and Australia.

The Smith family made its mark in the United States.

The Smith family made its mark in the United States.

A “Teaching Tree” forms part of a brilliant project undertaken by Carnoustie Golf Club to coincide with its 175th anniversary. It traces the successes and accomplishments of the generations inspired to take up golf by the town’s first famous son, Robert Simpson, after his Open Championship victory in 1884 and every branch on it is jam-packed with names.

“We are trying to get Carnoustie to waken up to the fact that it has an amazing story to tell,” said club captain Bill Thompson, who has been the driving force behind the heritage centre, which was officially opened yesterday by Paul Levy, the PGA of America president, ahead of the main celebration, a golf day involving local club captains and other guests on the Championship Course today. It was Herb Warren Wind, the renowned American golf writer, who penned the line: “St Andrews may be the home of golf, but Carnoustie is the home of American and Australian professional golf”. Given that 15 of the 35 “charter members” of the PGA of America hailed from the town and the Australian equivalent had a similar influence, Carnoustie’s 
pioneers certainly deserve 
recognition.

They were led across the Atlantic by the Smith family, with Willie the first to make his mark as a player in the States by winning the 1899 US Open, which one his brothers, Alex, then claimed twice – in 1906 and 1910. On the second of those occasion, he beat another of the golfing siblings, 
Macdonald, in a play-off.

“A few years back, a chap who’d come in for a beer and a burger said, ‘I’d like to buy the two US Open medals’ that were on display in the clubhouse,” said Thompson.

“I told him they weren’t for sale even though he replied by saying ‘you don’t know how much I am willing to pay for them’ because they were part of a collection bequeathed to the club.

“About three weeks later, he sent a letter from him and his partners offering us $500,000 for the two medals. That 
started the process that led to this heritage project. About a month later, an American from our sister club out there, Diablo Country Club outside San Francisco, arrived and 
the whole Smith story started to unfold.” Equally intriguing is the tale of the Maiden brothers, Alan and Stewart. As Alan was making his mark in Australia, Stewart headed to America, where he taught the legendary Bobby Jones. “The best luck I ever had in golf was when Stewart Maiden came from Carnoustie to be professional at the East Lake Club (in Atlanta),” acknowledged Jones.

“We have spent about three years now working jointly to create this world archive and we now have all the pieces back in place,” added Thompson. “We reckon the collection in terms of quality is the fifth best in the world and hopefully we can use it to get some leverage out of the number of American visitors and world visitors who come to Carnoustie.”

Levy, delighted to be one of them this week, heaped praise on the town’s pioneers. “They taught us the fundamentals and inspired us to appreciate the sport’s inherent life values,” he said in his foreword in a book expertly pulled together by Donald Ford, the former Hearts and Scotland striker who lives in Carnoustie, to mark that 175th anniversary.