Martin Dempster: Craigie Hill’s nine-hole plan makes perfect sense

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Nine-hole golf was part of my upbringing. My golfing teeth were cut at Eyemouth while visits at the time to the two other Berwickshire courses, Duns and The 
Hirsel in Coldstream, also involved playing nine-holers.

Looking back, it was great fun. At Eyemouth, the main challenge was trying to stay out of the deep gullies on some of the holes, though it was also enjoyable clambering in and out of them to retrieve your golf ball following an errant shot.

I also have a chuckle to myself when I think about the first hole being a sharp dog leg and taking on the second shot across the corner as a football match involving one of the local amateur teams was raging on, with players blissfully unaware of the danger they were facing.

One of my early memories from playing at Duns is meeting Jim Jefferies for the first time as we were paired in the same group for a greensome invitational. I was the guest of Sandy Brydon, a Berwickshire News colleague at the time, while Jefferies partnered another well-known Duns 
resident, Manse Young.

I think Jefferies, pictured, was the manager of Gala Fairydean at the time and we have subsequently spent many enjoyable rounds together, the former Hearts boss definitely being the most competitive person I have ever encountered on a golf course and a tough bugger to beat.

As for The Hirsel, I always remember it being in a lovely setting, though it was actually years later that I discovered it was part of a huge estate owned by the Douglas-Home family, the 14th Earl of Home – Sir Alec – having served as Britain’s Prime Minister in 1963.

Before I’d left home, both Duns and The Hirsel had been extended to 18 holes, with Eyemouth following suit and also Magdalene Fields, another nine-holer I played as a youngster, in Berwick-upon-Tweed. At the time, no one really batted an eyelid and, in all cases, good tests of golf were created.

At Eyemouth, a big chunk of land allowed the club to build a course that attracts visitors from far afield the year round, with those aforementioned gullies still part of the challenge, albeit at picturesque holes that now play in the opposite direction.

I have no idea how all these clubs are doing 
these days in terms of either membership or finances, but a 
bold step by a club elsewhere in Scotland has been making me wonder if it would have been better in the long run for the likes of 
Eyemouth to have remained as a nine-holer. Craigie Hill in Perth is the club I’m referring to, with its members having voted overwhelmingly in favour of working towards the creation of a nine-hole course when that motion was proposed at a well-attended extraordinary general meeting towards the end of last year.

At the same time, support was given for a plan to sound out businesses keen to develop part of the land, with a “transition fund” being created to cover debts and on-going running costs at the club, which dates back to 1911, and to preserve the current 18-hole set-up and clubhouse facility for a period of up to five years.

“We’re delighted that the members have wholeheartedly supported the proposals to maintain the course in its current configuration for the next few years and allow the board to work towards the transition to the city’s first nine-hole course, complete 
with a new clubhouse, practice facilities and adjacent parking,” said the club captain, Crawford Conochie.

“The resounding vote provides much-needed security going 
forward as the board seeks to ensure the long-term viability of a historic golf club in the heart of the city. This is an exciting opportunity and ensures that Craigie Hill will survive as a golf club long into the future.

“Now we are confident of retaining current members and attracting new faces for the 2020 season. The Transition Fund is designed to generate £300,000, with members being given an opportunity to crowdfund a loan to the club, with the benefit of a guaranteed four per cent return on their investment.

“At an agreed date, our members will be able to commit £1000 per unit, with their initial investment and interest locked in until our chosen development partner can successfully navigate the planning process. This safeguards the immediate future of the club and we can actively seek out a developer from a solid financial base.”

Fair play to both the Craigie Hill officials and members. Only those with their heads buried in the sand will be unaware that a lot of clubs in Scotland are struggling these days. Last year alone, Eastwood, Mount Ellen, Dollar, Letham Grange and Carrick Knowe – the club and not the course – lost the ongoing fight over dwindling memberships.

Due to time constraints, people are finding nine-hole courses an attractive proposition, with Kingsfield, which is located on the outskirts of Linlithgow, and Paul Lawrie Golf Centre outside Aberdeen not just offering that option but also becoming popular golfing hubs due to the fact they also have driving ranges and excellent short-game facilities.

“While several Scottish golf courses have folded recently, nine-hole tracks are proving increasingly popular with golfers struggling to commit the time required to get round 18 holes,” added Conochie of Craigie Hill taking a big decision to shape its future. “The board believes a mostly flat par 34/68, south-facing nine-hole course, with multiple tee options, will prove sustainable and offer value-for-money membership.”

Food for thought for other clubs, possibly.