LONG before Gene Sarazen had conjured his “shot that rang round the world” on his way to a thrilling victory in the 1935 Masters, the decorated, celebrated American had clattered a few that echoed round Lethamhill.

Who needs the iconic majesty of Magnolia Lane and Rae’s Creek when you can have Cumbernauld Road and Hogganfield Loch eh?

Perched just off the A80 in the north east of Glasgow, the old municipal course has been attracting considerable coverage recently with the news that the R&A is set to spend some £10million transforming it into an all-singing, all-dancing golf facility of jaw-dropping wonder.

Back in 1923, though, Lethamhill, which was at that time the site of the Alexandra Golf Club before becoming a public course in 1932, was also generating headlines as it welcomed two of the world’s greatest players for a series of exhibition matches the week before that year’s Open at Troon.  

Sarazen, the reigning US Open champion, went head-to-head with his fellow American, Walter Hagen, who was the holder of the Claret Jug. It was quite the shimmering showdown.

“Lord Provost, Sir Thomas Paxton, welcomed the American players to Glasgow and congratulated the Alexandra Club in having two such distinguished exponents of the game on their course,” read the newspaper jottings of the day.

The scribblings of recent years have tended to focus on withering council budget cuts and threats of closure as the future of Lethamhill, along with other Glasgow ‘munis’ like Littlehill, Ruchill, and Linn Park, became mired in uncertainty.

The history of these courses, though, remains fascinating if largely undervalued and not fully explored. “There is a big black hole in the history of a lot of the Glasgow courses,” said the indefatigable Lanarkshire golf historian, Harry Ward. “I’ve had conversations about these places with people who say ‘well, these courses are not that old’ and I have to say ‘now wait a minute there, there’s a huge amount that people just don’t know’.”

The aforementioned Alexandra Club had been formed in 1894 and, for a spell, was sited at Riddrie Knowes before the Glasgow Corporation leased the nearby land of Lethamhill.

“What golfers in the East End have so long desiderated, a high class 18 holes situated within easy reach of the city, will shortly be placed at their disposal when the Alexandra Club opens Lethamhill,” reported the Glasgow Times prior to the course’s unveiling in 1907.

HeraldScotland:

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The blow-by-blow account of the layout itself, and the flooery phraseology used, painted a tranquil picture of rewarding golfing endeavour. “At the ninth, the golfer has attained the geographical summit of his ambition, whence he may tarry to ponder over the pretty scene spread out before him.”

No doubt, a cursing, muttering shank swiftly followed this moment of idyllic reflection. T’was ever thus.

The ceremonial opening of Lethamhill, meanwhile, was not without incident.

“I found an old newspaper cutting which documented how two men were struck by lightning on the course the day it actually opened,” noted Ward. “Unfortunately, one of them was killed.”

Mercifully, there were no such bolts from the blue when Sarazen and Hagen came to town.

Indeed, their duel was just one of a number of alluring fixtures which would light up Lethamhill. James Braid and Harry Vardon, two thirds of the Great Triumvirate, had a match there while George Duncan, the 1920 Open champion, also took part in a couple of exhibition outings.

“These types of matches were a good way for the pros to make a bit of money, particularly for the Americans who were coming over for the Open,” added Ward. “It was a common thing to do. Lethamhill would have been an excellent track with real credibility. The Sarazen and Hagen match would have been a big, big thing.”

Ward’s enthusiasm and passion for researching golf in his homeland is unbridled. He has spent so much time rummaging and guddling in the archives over the last 30 years, his fingertips are probably covered in a light dusting of sepia. Ward’s book, Forgotten Greens, is a diligent, fascinating historical chronicle of hundreds of abandoned golf courses throughout the game’s cradle and remains an essential, eye-opening resource. “There are so many sites in the Glasgow area alone where courses once lay but nobody knows they were there,” added Ward.

With the R&A poised to plough in vast sums, Lethamhill is now set for a revitalising new dawn. Its past, however, deserves to be preserved and cherished.

More information can be found at www.forgottengreens.co.uk.