The golfing history of a small town that grew up around one of the world’s most renowned links courses is to be explored in a new academic study ahead of a major landmark in the game.
In 2016 Dornoch will mark four centuries of golf being played in the area with the earliest concrete evidence of the game, known to this point, dating back to 1616.
However, few records have been explored from the period 1600-1800 and a new project aims to bridge the gap in knowledge in the lead up to the town’s 400 Years of Golf in Dornoch celebrations.
The Royal Dornoch Golf Club has donated £54,000 to the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for History, based in the town, to establish a three-year PhD studentship to investigate the history of sport and culture in Dornoch and wider Moray Firth coastal region during the period.
The subsequent research will be used for an exhibition and a series of public talks, but will also add to the early knowledge of the growth of golf worldwide.
The local community will have access to the progress and some of the results of the study, providing an innovative collaboration, possibly the first of its kind in Scotland.
First Minister Alex Salmond, a keen golfer, has given his backing for the project. He said: “Scotland is the home of golf and this academic research will help us understand more about the game’s early history and those who played it. It is that heritage, combined with our wonderful courses, such as Royal Dornoch, that continues to attract people to Scotland to experience the sport at its finest.”
Neil Hampton, Royal Dornoch Golf Club’s general manager, said: “Dornoch takes great pride in its history and heritage, being one of the oldest clubs in Scotland. Finding out more about this important period will help us better understand how we were involved in helping to spread the game of golf around the world.
“We know golf is a big economic driver for the town today. It brings in lots of people and money and helps makes it such a vibrant place. It will be interesting to know how far back this association goes and the extent to which it has driven the economy of Dornoch, helping the town grow and prosper over the years.”
Nuala Boyle, head of development at the university, added: “This philanthropic investment by the Royal Dornoch Golf Club is nurturing scholarly talent in Dornoch and the wider region and providing a helping hand in a future career path.
“This type of investment shows the business benefits of investing in education. It will also help the university more widely by showing the importance of attracting philanthropy to help the institution grow, develop and realise its ambitions.”
The research will start in September and will be carried out by Canadian Wade Cormack who will stay in Dornoch during the three-year project. He has strong Scottish connections with his father’s family having lived in Wick and his mother’s family, the MacDonalds, having sailed from Tiree to Canada 200 years ago.
Wade, 25, a keen golfer who recently completed a MA in Scottish history at the University of Guelph in Ontario, learned about the studentship through the university’s Centre for Scottish Studies.
During his MA and undergraduate degrees he studied sport history in Europe and examined the connections between 19th century field sports and the growing tourism industry in Scotland.
He said: “This studentship excites me because I will be going further back in Scottish history, another two full centuries, to examine the foundation of golf, and sports in general, in the Moray Firth region.
“I believe this is a very important project for the golf club because it will be able to use the research to celebrate the longevity of the game of golf in the area, build their prestige as being one of the oldest golfing centres, and promote the game as a continual/historical pastime of the Scottish people.
“For Dornoch, I believe that 400 Years of Golf project will give them yet another reason to be proud of their town and their heritage.
“And for golf in general, this project will help to uncover the foundations of the game, and answer more questions about who played, where they played and what it was like.”
He plans to interrogate a variety of sources, including the records of Dornoch and the surrounding burghs, ecclesiastical and Kirk Session records and archived family papers and documents from lairds in the Moray Firth region.
Dr David Worthington, head of the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History, said Wade was chosen for his excellent background and track record academically as well as his eagerness and commitment to the theme of the studentship.
He added: “The PhD is important since it provides an excellent opportunity for the post holder to bring the history of golf, the social and cultural life of Dornoch and of the wider Moray Firth region from 1600 to 1800 to the forefront. This comprises a key element of the Centre for History’s wider research strategy.”
Royal Dornoch Golf Club is seeking sponsorship from members to help cover its investment in the research. It has already received pledges of support and an appeal is being made to reach other potential donors.
Different levels of financial support are being sought, from donations of up to £100 to £2,000 and over. All funders will receive exclusive access to online progress reports, earlier access to updates and the final report, as well as acknowledgements on the website. Those donating over £2,000 will also be invited to take part in a pro golf match and dinner events.
Royal Dornoch Golf Club www.royaldornoch.com
University of the Highlands and Islands www.uhi.ac.uk/en