THERE were no tears. In fact, it was more like a celebration than a wake. Yet this was the day that a band of golfers, male and female, gathered to say farewell to an “old friend”.
Founded in 1895, Torphin Hill Golf Club is now officially closed, a valiant effort by a dwindling membership over the last few years having failed to stop it slipping into administration and being wound up.
It’s a sad tale, one that has come on the back of near neighbour Lothianburn also being forced to shut its doors, but the Torphin Hill die-hards, many of whom had been members for 30 years or more, were determined to use a valedictory event to remember the good times.
“We are here to say goodbye to a dear old friend, one that has given us so much pleasure over the years,” said Christopher Davies, the club secretary. “Torphin Hill does not rank as a prestigious club, but it ranks in the Super League when it comes to people – their emotional loyalty to the club is exceptional.”
Ticking along nicely when it had close to 500 members in 2006, the total had fallen to just over 320 last June, when the ‘ordinary’ membership, the figure that really matters, was only 124. Described by one member as a club that had been “limping along in difficult and horrible times”, annual running costs were slashed from just over £200,000 to under £130,000. But, despite the introduction of an “affordable golf” concept, it simply proved to be a losing battle.
“It’s been tough going for the last six years and if it hadn’t been for the hard work by members, both on the course and in the clubhouse, then we wouldn’t have lasted as long as we have,” admitted Vincent Robinson, a member for 36 years and serving his second stint as club captain. “That effort makes what has happened all the more sadder as it has been to no avail.
“When I was captain first time around in 1988-89, things were good. We had about 400 members back then. You need 300-400 members to keep a club like this going but, unfortunately, we’ve fallen below that in recent years. We’ve been able to get new members, but the problem has been keeping them.”
The disappearance of waiting lists at most capital clubs has contributed to that. So, too, according to both Robinson and Ian Hislop, a member for 40 years and a former club champion, is Torphin Hill’s terrain, with the future use for the land now in the hands of an equestrian company that owns it.
“What I think it boils down to is that people don’t want to play golf on a hill these days and also don’t have to any more,” said Hislop, who is also a member at both Dunbar and Whitekirk and, in recent times, has only headed up to Torphin Hill to play in either the club championship or Senior League matches.
“I think it’s general rather than an age thing. People don’t have to join feeder clubs any more. They can almost get straight into the club of their choice. If you get strangers up to the top of the hill here, they rave about it – it’s getting up there that’s the problem!”
Though now close by, Hislop lived in Leith when he made his first foray to the club that sits on the Pentland Hills.
“I didn’t even know where Torphin was,” he added. “I only knew it was the terminus for the No 10 bus, so I got that up.” It’s a journey many have taken over the years but no longer to play golf.
Swanston New, which had its own problems a few years back but has been turned around thanks to a fresh new management approach, is believed to have gained the biggest chunk of former Torphin Hill members. Others are heading for the likes of Baberton, Gogarburn and Kingsknowe.
“It is mournful but, at the same time, a lot of the people here today have enjoyed themselves up here over the years,” said Robinson, who is also a member at Ratho Park. “There was a great camaraderie. You never saw anyone standing on that first tee on their own very long. If they were a new member, someone would soon come long and ask if they wanted a game.
“We reduced our prices but it was to no avail, unfortunately. I think it’s a game that is more facility conscious these days than price conscious.
“I know that Ratho have introduced special deals for people under 35 and other clubs have to do similar things. What we’ve found is that it has become increasingly difficult to get people aged between 25 and 40 to join the club.”
Asked to share their memories of the club, it was left to Bobby Henderson, a member for just under 30 years, to hammer home the point that Torphin Hill’s fate certainly wasn’t sealed by a lack of spirit.
“It will live whenever and wherever we – the folk who played on the Hill – meet,” he declared.