William Arthur Baird, at the age of twenty-one, inherited the Erskine Estate when his grandfather Lord Blantyre died in 1900. Shortly after, Baird commissioned Willie Fernie, the Troon professional, to set out an 18-hole course which was duly opened by an exhibition match between the designer and Ben Sayers from North Berwick on 12th March 1904.
In the early 1920s, Alister MacKenzie modified holes 12 and 13 (indeed the 13th is named after him) before Harry Vardon and Arthur Havers (who would win the Open at Troon the following year) played a match on the upgraded course on 3rd June 1922. James Braid then visited in 1937 to make bunker changes, add new holes and redesign others.
Today, the course measures 6,381 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 71. There’s only one par five on the card, at the 513-yard 9th, and only two par three holes, at the 154-yard 6th and 184-yard 11th. Holes 9 to 16 are situated right on the south bank of the River Clyde and these have had extensive work carried out on them in recent times to remedy drainage issues.
The most difficult hole on the front nine is “The Rookery,” a long par four where the bunker to the right hand side of the putting surface can give the impression that the green is closer than it really is. On the inward half, “Westward” at the 12th, is normally played into the prevailing wind and this tough hole is the first of seven successive par fours heading for home.
It was all going so well...a lovely late summer day, beautiful views along and across the River Clyde and fifteen pleasant holes. I was inclining towards an award of four balls. But oh, those last three holes : 16 - a long tedious slog, 17 - an ugly driving hole to a severely sloping fairway and 18 - a complete monstrosity. So three balls it is. Pity really as, without being remarkable, Erskine has quite a lot going for it. The two par 3s are extremely good and 12, 13 and 14 play right along the river. There is also a burn in play at several holes. Perhaps I should have suspected something when the group in front of me walked in from the 14th!
I’ve visited here a few times in recent years and it never disappoints. I was also very impressed when playing the course the other evening, especially on the flatter holes alongside the River Clyde on the back nine, to find next to no evidence of the recent heavy rainfall that had plagued the area in previous days. The land rises and falls dramatically over the opening half a dozen holes (there’s fairway bells to be rung on the 1st, 2nd and 5th holes) and the last in this sequence of holes, “Eden” the uphill par three, is a brilliant short hole that’s more than a match for its Old Course namesake at St Andrews.
The only other par three on the card brings the course down to the river at the 11th, where the fairways then play out for five holes along the Clyde. It’s said Alister Mackenzie modified a couple of holes here but I’m not entirely convinced of this (even the centenary book that professional Peter Thomson kindly gave me is more than a little vague about the Doctor’s involvement). Nonetheless, these holes are beautifully bunkered so maybe Mackenzie visited around the time he was working on the course at Bonnyton in the 1920s?
Unfortunately, the home hole is something of a disappointment - even though it features a terrific two-tiered green – because it plays blind, straight uphill towards the clubhouse. Reading through the aforementioned 100-year history of the club, attempts were made in the past to alter the routing and do away with this closing hole but finances were never sufficient to have the necessary work carried out, which is a real pity. Nevertheless, Erskine’s a fine course that’s well a game. Make your score on the front nine if you can then hang on during a tough closing stretch of punishing par fours from the 12th onward, most of these holes playing into the prevailing wind. Jim McCann.
I just heard today that Erskine GC has become the 57th member club of the Alister MacKenzie Society of GB & Ireland. Apparently the "Evening Times" newspaper of 3 June 1922 mentioned MacKenzie's remodeling work on the course when it reported on the Vardon and Havers exhibition match which was played to mark the changes that had been made. Fair play to the club for this achievement.