The Ratho Story
Before migrating from Scotland to the fledgling colony of Van Diemen's Land in 1821, Alexander Reid had been a merchant and insurance dealer in Leith, Edinburgh's port.
His office was less than 200 metres from the public linksland, where archery, markets, horseracing and military drills were regular sights.
Another common use of the links was for a stick-and-ball game known as 'goff' or 'gouff' – and it was at the Leith Links that the world's first organised golf clubs were formed and the first rules of the game drawn up in 1745.
The precise date of the establishment of the links at Ratho is yet to be determined - either in 1822 when the Reid family first settled Ratho, or in 1842, when they returned to Ratho from a trip home to Scotland.
Regardless, either of these dates places Ratho as being home to Australia's oldest golf course. Retired farmer Alexander Reid III was interviewed by a historian in the 1950's and his recollections confirmed anecdotal evidence of early golf in Australia.
He was the third Alexander Reid to have farmed the Ratho Estate near Bothwell - born in 1861, he lived to the ripe old age of 99. In that interview he noted:
"I think my family must have been one of the first to introduce golf out here, and I can remember seeing some very old fashioned golf clubs and golf balls in the early seventies (1870's), before I went to school. They were kept in a long box with some croquet mallets, but were given to a school-master who afterwards went to live in New Zealand, and I have no idea where they are now. They could have been brought out in 1822 with my grandfather's things, but I think more likely they arrived in 1842 when my people returned from a trip to Scotland."
The mention of the clubs and balls being kept in 'a long box' is revealing. Members of those first 4 golf clubs in Leith would arrive at their shared Club House (an upstairs room in a pub bordering the links) in a carriage, with their golfing equipment in a long box. These boxes were then stood on end to take up less space. This practice is attributed as the forerunner to the modern day locker room.
This suggests that whichever Reid (Alexander I or II) brought out the clubs and balls, had been a member of one of those pioneering Leith golf clubs. While minutes of these early clubs remain, their membership rolls have not been examined to confirm a Reid as member.
As well as the Reids at Ratho, at least 4 other farmers established golf courses on their new landholdings. When the Bothwell Golf Club was formed in 1902, its competitions would rotate between the courses, and the club still has good accounts of 4 of the 5 courses it used.
In the early period of golf at Ratho, from the 1840's until the turn of the twentieth century, there was no formalised club - it being more likely that the Reids simply invited friends over for a game. Stick and ball games were interchangeable at this time. Often the same equipment (clubs/sticks) would be used for team sports (such as shinty, hockey & cricket), and individual sports (such as golf and croquet). As well as golf, the Reids mention playing cricket in a letter from 1836.
There may well have been no defined course from week to week at Ratho. At that time the golfing line of play and targets were known to regularly change, from doorways and posts, to holes in the ground. There was no set pattern of play, and no fixed number of holes. As in Scotland, the game was seasonal, played solely in winter (summer golf did not commence at Ratho until the 1980's).