Our 125 year history

Ours is a history of two halves. The club was established in 1893 and operated until 1940, when dwindling membership numbers reflected the changing population in the region. The club was re-established in 1962 and continues to serve the community to this day.

Challenge cup

1893 - The CLUB is Founded

In the last two decades of the 19th century, Mr Thomas Pilkington took over Sandside and some of the surrounding estates. While shooting formed the major pastime, the links lying between Sandside Bay and the road west from Thurso provided an ideal location for a golf course.

The course laid out by the Pilkington family consisted of twelve holes varied in both length and design - in fact, the course itself is slightly older than the Club.

On the 27th December 1893 fifteen individuals met at the Reay Inn for the purpose of forming a golf club, including Mr. Alex Manson of Sandside, shown to the left, who became the Club's first secretary.

Competition fixtures quickly became a focus of attention and a number of prizes were presented. Mr Angus Morrison presented a cup to be played for in 1894, over three rounds. The captain offered a boll of meal and the President provided a turkey which were played for on New Year's Day. These latter prizes were to be played for over two separate rounds with the winner of the first being penalised 5 strokes for the second! The donation of prizes, together with many others presented by individuals and local businesses was to become a tradition for the New Year Day event. It was the first competition played at the Club, which developed into one of the most popular annual fixtures, made possible by the rain absorbing sandy soil and frost-free weather.

1899 - The First Clubhouse is erected

In 1899 a clubhouse was erected, almost certainly by George and Colin Mackay who were carpenters for the Sandside estate and the Pilkington family. The building resembled a pavilion, in the style of those found at cricket grounds, with two distinct halves and a veranda at the front. The clubhouse was sited at the start/finish of the course, which coincides with the area presently near the second green.  After the closure of the Club in 1940, the clubhouse was used occasionally by the local football club but it gradually fell into a state of disrepair and by all accounts was finally swept away in the great gales of 1952.


James Braid

1933- James Braid works his magic on the course

James Braid was a club maker, professional golfer and course designer who was born in Fife in 1870 and died in London in 1950. He retired from competitive golf in 1912 and became a renowned golf course architect and regarded as one of the finest ever in his field.  He was responsible for designing over 250 golf courses throughout the British Isles including 101 in Scotland - of which Reay is the most Northerly.

In 1933, James Braid visited the Thurso course at Dunnet. He was invited to visit Reay so that he might suggest how the course could be extended to 18 holes. He walked the course and surrounding land with the vice-captain John Carmichael and suggested sites for tees, including Keoltag. An excerpt of his letter includes the following:

"..I consider the Course very interesting and full of variety... Of course it is on the short side but practically each hole is different in character." 

Braid made a number of recommendations which shaped the course in to its present form.

1962 - the Club is reconstituted

The demise of the Club in 1940 was due to a rapidly declining membership, with an exodus of people from the area.

In the 1950s the county witnessed a large influx of population due to the development of fast reactor technology at Dounreay. Late in that decade, the Taylor family who owned the Sandside estate, suggested to the Dounreay Sports and Social Club golf section that they might wish to lease the right to play golf on the Reay links. This offer was accepted enthusiastically due in part to one member, Donald Carmichael (brother of the pre-1940 vice-captain John). Donald had returned to Caithness and was keen to restore the course he had once played as a boy. By the early 1960s the course had developed to such an extent that a public meeting was held to reconstitute the Reay Golf Club and to return its membership to their old playing grounds - the Sandside links.

In 1963 the Club acquired a new clubhouse and obtained a bar licence, thus completing the 19 holes. Sunday morning golf was also introduced, having sought permission from the estate and local minister.



2018 - The next chapter begins

The club's 125th anniversary year begins with a number of exciting changes. For the first time, the course land is owned by the club having been bought in 2017 after a long campaign of fundraising. Thanks to the hard work of the club members and volunteers, the course will be retained as a community asset for years to come.

We hope that you will join us on the 19th and play a part in the next 125 years of our course history.

Only a fraction of our history has been included here. You can download a more detailed history of the club, including lists of members and prize winners, below.