Kersal Moor 1818-1882

Golf on the Moor ….

The original course was known to have been set up on Kersal Moor, Salford, within the boundaries of the Manchester Racecourse, where races had been held since 1687 right up until 1846, apart from a five year break from 1697 – 1702. At that time the course only had five holes, the condition of which by today’s standards left a lot to be desired. For example, reference to the “green” took into account the whole course and not just the putting surface. Fairways never existed and many areas were thought to be particularly rough and uneven. The tees and putting surfaces were literally the same piece of land, which was more than likely to be a small patch of the Moor where the grass wasn’t quite as long as the rest of the course. Terms that we use regularly today such as, “par” and “birdie” were never identified, but the term “hazard”, often referred to as a bunker today, was more likely referring to the most flawed areas of the course, where uneven ground covered with clumps of coarse tufty grass was common.

The year was 1818 and at this time the nearest golf club was thought to be at Prestwick, Scotland, some 180 miles away, meaning that the members who were parading their skills on Kersal Moor, were likely to be the only golfers within thousands of square miles of Manchester. It is difficult to imagine that golf was virtually unheard of in the USA and also rather ironic to think that the nearest golf club to the Moor today is the almost identically named Prestwich, which is barely half a mile away. Right now it seems inconceivable that those gentlemen on Kersal Moor could ever envisage the existence of over one hundred golf clubs within a 25 mile radius of Manchester and that golf would be played by close to 60 million people around the world. Two centuries ago, Manchester was a thriving place to be with a population around 70,000 but by the turn of the twentieth century this figure would increase ten-fold, as it became the centre of extensive industrial development.

The first documented recording of golf being played on Kersal Moor was in 1820, when two of the members, said to be representing Scotland played two others who represented England. The Scotsmen, William Mitchell and George Fraser managed to defeat the Englishmen, George Hole and Michael Harbottle, in what was considered to be one of the best contested matches ever played on Kersal Moor. Bets were placed on the outcome of the match by both teams, to the tune of one shilling per hole and one pound for the match. Many strangers with more than a passing interest, had also placed bets and came along to watch. These challenge matches were repeated twice the following year with both teams winning a match each. Match play was the accepted format for all the golf played on the Moor until 1833 when the first recording of a stroke play event shows a winning score of 71 for the seven holes played. By today’s standards, such winning scores would more than likely raise an eyebrow or two. This can be attributed to the fact that the playing surface throughout the moor was at times full of grass or reeds, thought to be over six inches long and striking the ball became almost impossible at times. Added to this, there were no Titleist golf balls or carbon/steel shafted clubs. Back then, clubs were made with hickory shafts and golf balls were “feathery”.

For the next thirty years or so, despite concerns over the use of the course on the Moor, golf continued to be played under the conditions that they had become accustomed to, but it is evident that the course was adapted in 1850 due to the loss of some land on the south side of the moor. It was noted in the Minute Book that the holes, in general, were shorter. However, in 1869, through the generosity of an adjacent land tenant, the Club managed to access more ground which allowed for a further four holes to be designed, resulting in a nine hole course. A land-agent and surveyor from Shrewsbury, William Bourne, was responsible for the layout design, which was accepted by the committee, who subsequently determined that a round of golf should be played over ten holes.

To emphasise the difficulties the golfers faced, examples of winning scores for the ten hole competitions played during the 1840’s included a 77. Yet more alarming was that a score of 92 proved good enough to win, including a 12 at the second, a 13 at the 5th and a 16 at his final hole, the tenth.

The highest score ever recorded throughout the Club’s history was returned by one its most outstanding characters, Malcolm Ross. By his own admission, he was not deemed to be a very good player and in 1846 it took him 160 strokes to complete the ten holes. He was a member for over forty years, serving as both secretary and treasurer for almost thirty of them. He was well known in business circles in Manchester, holding down positions of considerable distinction. Malcolm was an active member of the Royal Exchange and chairman of several committees, including the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, of which he was also a director for many years. He was also a major driving force behind the creation of public parks, in particular, serving the poorer people of Manchester and Salford and had the honour of turning the first sod of grass in the creation of Queens Park in Harpurhey. A fountain was erected to depict where Malcolm’s spade first cut the soil.

Dinner for One ….

Malcolm Ross is also fondly remembered as the sole attendee at “the dinner for one”.  A tradition introduced into the Club meant that every Friday evening the members would dine together. A cold dinner was provided by each one in turn, washed down with the appropriate amount of wine. To signify the number of people present, a candle for each person was lit. As a member you were granted the privilege of inviting a guest to the dinner and often this would include well known dignitaries, notably the Mayors of Manchester and Salford. Guest’s names were entered into an Introduction Book and five shillings would be paid. In August, 1864, another notable entry in the book was Tom Morris. It is presumed that it was the very gentleman who we know today as Old Tom Morris and who only weeks earlier had won The Open Championship at Prestwick. Old Tom MorrisHowever, it was six years prior to Old Tom’s visit and the turn of Mr J Simpson Young, who had only become a member the year before, to cater for that week’s dinner. A significant amount of food was on offer but inexplicably the only person to attend dinner was Malcolm Ross, the Secretary. Quotes from his entry into the Minute book included  ” Perhaps this is the first time that any member had dinner, toasts, and repartee all to himself”. After lighting one candle, he proceeded to eat dinner and drink port before carrying out customary duties, including a “Toast to Her Majesty”, Queen Victoria and “Golf Clubs all over the World”. After finishing his third bottle he wrote “Don’t smile at it gentle stranger, such discrepancies don’t occur every day”. His “dinner for one” was sure to leave a lasting legacy and has received Press publicity over the years.