A Historic Walk in the Park
For generations of Dundonians, Caird Park Golf Course has provided pleasure, camaraderie and health-enhancing activity. As new measures are in place to rejuvenate the course and attract more people to enjoy its leafy fairways, it is worth taking a look back at the history related to the course and the colourful characters associated with it.
The purchase of a park for the people of Dundee was largely due to the energy and enthusiasm of one man, Mr James Kerr, a shoemaker in the Wellgate. In 1910 Kerr had the idea of creating a municipal park that would provide a healthy alternative to the industrial environment that most people of the town lived in. It took until the end of 1912 when the wealthy mill owner Sir James Caird agreed to ‘furnish the money as a gift to the city’ for the purchase of the estate surrounding Mains Castle. There was only one stipulation! Caird wanted the deal completed before the end of the year – which was only three days away. Mr Kerr immediately set off to Worcester to find the Den o’ Mains landlord, a Mr David Erskine and by the following Sunday, the 30th of December, Kerr was back in Dundee with a deal in place. Dr Caird immediately signed a cheque.
Caird Park was officially opened on the 27th October 1920 and an 18-hole golf course 3 years later. There were sheep still grazing on the fairways but Dundee had its first municipal golf course as well as adjacent facilities for ‘all sorts of games, cricket, football, tennis, hockey and children’s playground’.
Individual clubs formed to take advantage of the municipal facility. Maryfield Golf Club was the first followed by Caird Park Golf Club in 1926 with several others to follow. Matches were arranged against other clubs in the area such as Downfield, Perth Artisans and Arbroath. In the early 1950’s a full-time professional was appointed, none other than Walter Lyle, uncle of two-time major tournament winner Sandy Lyle, MBE. Walter stayed as professional until 1960 when he left to take up another position. During that time he helped lay out Dundee’s second municipal course at Camperdown Park. In his autobiography Sandy mentions his relative. “Uncle Walter partnered Ben Hogan during he first two rounds of the great man’s 1953 Open triumph at Carnoustie. Only recently I was watching the Golf Channel in American when on came a grainy black and white clip of the ’53 Open and there, two places beneath Hogan on the leaderboard, was the name A.W. Lyle. I must confess I felt inordinately proud of the old fella.” Subsequent Caird Park professional Fred Bullock led the 1960 Open Championship at St Andrews “before a disaster struck in a bunker when he conceded a two-stroke penalty when the ball rebounded from the bunker wall and hit him”.
Golfing greats don’t come much greater than Jack Nicklaus and it seems the ‘Golden Bear’ visited Caird Park during his attempt at the 1968 Open Championship just up the road at Carnoustie. Jackie Black, the then club professional was on his own at the 16th when a man came over to him and asked, “Do you mind if my friend hits a few balls?” The friend appeared along with a ‘great big golf bag’ – and according to a rather excited Cairdie pro, it was none other than Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus was staying in Dundee at the time as a guest of NCR so the event does seem plausible. The great man went on to take 2nd place at Carnoustie next to Gary Player.
There are lots of stories associated with the ordinary members of Caird Park. Some were married on the 1st tee, others have had their ashes scattered in favourite corners. There’s the story of a crow that used to lift golf balls – at least one per four-ball and no one could find his stash. This went on for some time until, so they say one member decided to include an extra article in his golf bag, a shotgun.
Legions of golfers have learned their golf and played here at Caird Park on the two 9-holers, now condensed into one fine 9-hole course or on the 18-hole course. Let’s hope the courses go on to create even more golfing history.
Extracts taken from the book ‘A History of the Caird Park and Golf Course over the first 85 years’ by D.D. Taylor and ‘To the Fairway Born: The Autobiography’ by Sandy Lyle