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- William Watson
William Watson was born in his family’s Dura Den Cottage, outside Cupar in Fife, in 1860. He was the first of seven children – three boys and four girls – brought into the world by Mary and John Cobb Watson. His father operated farms and mills in the local area, spending his leisure time playing golf on the links at St Andrews, where he was a member of the R&A.
When not playing golf, Watson helped to look after his father’s flax seed mills whilst also studying at St. Andrews University. His parents often entertained visiting golfers and one of these guests was Judge Martin B. Koon from Minneapolis, who was introduced to the family by banker David R. Forgan, a former resident of St. Andrews.
The judge was suitably impressed by Watson's golfing knowledge. After returning to Minnesota, Koon and a number of influential Minneapolis businessmen met to discuss setting up their own golf course and it didn’t take them long to decide the best man to lay out their initial 9-hole course.
William accepted their invitation to leave home and set sail for the United States, boarding the RMS Etruria at Liverpool in England in October of 1898 then crossing the Atlantic to assist with establishing what became the Minikahda Club in Minneapolis.
This was Watson’s first American project and he would go on to design or redesign over a hundred courses from Virginia in the east to California in the west. He started out when most people in the United States knew little about the game, soon becoming known as a golfing authority.
The following is an edited extract from an article written by Marty Joy, the Head professional at Belvedere Golf Club in Michigan. Marty also kindly supplied the photo of William Watson and the clipping from The Country Club Magazine and Pacific Golf & Motor:
The Chicago Club appointed William as its head professional in 1914, to be in charge of its course on the north side of Charlevoix, which had a good reputation for its superior routing and excellent conditioning. Watson would return seasonally to the Charlevoix Golf Club for the following twenty years.
Opposite the Chicago Club, on the south side of Pine River in Charlevoix, stood the Belvedere Club, which had started out in 1878 as a Baptist summer camp and developed into a 100-acre resort destination with clay tennis courts, a beach frontage and 90-room hotel.
What Belvedere didn’t have was a golf club so, in 1925, two large, marshy parcels of land outside Charlevoix were acquired for the purpose of building a golf course. William Watson had spent the previous twelve summer seasons in the area and his reputation as a golf course architect was known nationwide.
Indeed, his advice was requested by some of the best golf designers of the time, including Billy Bell, Tom Bendelow, Robert Hunter, Donald Ross, George C. Thomas and Sam Whiting. The Belvedere committee had only one man on its short list to design its course and that person was William Watson.
He surveyed the property, laying out tees, bunkers and greens. By the start of 1926, the design work was finished and it was time for the Lavern A. Miller Landscape Company – which had worked on other Watson projects – to do the construction.
In the summer of 1927, Belvedere officially opened and William Watson was engaged as its first professional. Watson worked at both Belvedere Golf Club and the Charlevoix Golf Club seasonally from 1927 to 1930, arriving in Charlevoix in late June and leaving for California in early September.
The stock market crash of 1929 curtailed Watson’s career and his last known design was the course at El Sobrante Golf Club in San Pablo, California that same year. He spent his later years at home in Los Angeles with his wife Ada, until his death on 2nd September 1941.