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Some of golf’s greats have had a hand in shaping Erskine Golf Course, but the club owes its existence to the unaided enterprise of William Arthur Baird, a young man with an impeccable golfing pedigree stretching back to the dawn of club golf in the 19th century.
When the 12th Lord Blantyre died in 1890, with no male heir, the Erskine Estate passed to his 21-year old grandson W. A. Baird. His paternal grand-father was Sir David Baird, Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, and founder member and first Captain of North Berwick Golf Club in 1832. Sir David features in many famous St Andrews matches of the 19th century.
Erskine Golf Club History
In 1849 he refereed the match between Tom Morris and Allan Robertson of St Andrews against the Dunns of Musselburgh for £800. He is prominent in Lee’s world famous picture of a grand golf match, a print of which hangs in the clubhouse at Erskine.
W. A. Baird came to Bishopton to take up his inheritance in 1901. By the end of that year, helped by three gentlemen amateur golf friends from East Lothian – Robert Maxwell, Leslie Balfour-Melville and Normal Mitchell-Innes – he laid out his own personal golf course at Erskine Park.
Maxwell was a member of the R&A and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. He contributed to alterations to the new course at Muirfield early in the 20th century. He was also Amateur Champion in 1903 and 1909, and Captain of the North Berwick Golf Club, Tantallon Golf Club and North Berwick New Club.
Balfour-Melville was Amateur Champion in 1895 and Captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 1902. In 1906 he was Captain of the R&A and possessed probably the finest record of all the golfers listed in the Record Book of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
Mitchell-Innes won the Golf Championship of India and the East two years in succession.
In 1903/04, W. A. Baird engaged Willie Fernie (Open Champion 1883) to develop his 1901 Erskine Course into a full 18-hole golf course. Fernie had been recommended by W. A. Baird’s uncle, the 3rd Marquis of Ailsa, who in 1883 employed Fernie to lay out his personal course at Turnberry on his Culzean Estate. It was later developed into the Ailsa Championship Course and is named after the 3rd Marquis.
The new course at Erskine Park was opened on Saturday, 12th March 1904, with an exhibition match between Professionals Willie Fernie of Troon and Ben Sayers of North Berwick. At the end of the first year, a meeting was held on 21st December in the Public School, Bishopton, and Erskine Golf Club was formed. W. A. Baird was appointed as the first Captain.
In 1905, the present clubhouse, which Mr Baird had undertaken to build, furnish and maintain at his own expense, was completed. It was described as a miniature Turnberry.
The club barely survived the Great War but by 1920, it was in a position to engage the famous Scottish golf course architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie, to re-design the 12th and 13th holes. The present 13th hole is name after him. He was later to design Augusta National Golf Course for Bobby Jones and many other great golf courses around the world.
In 1937, the great James Braid, five times Open Champion, arrived. Spending one day at Erskine, he walked the course in the morning saying little but seeing everything. After lunch, he paced out each hole marking the position and shape of many additional bunkers, new holes and improvements in the design of the greens to produce the fine course we play today.