Frederick Augustus McPherson Findlay by Steve Doorey and Dr. Michael Sheret
Fred Findlay (1872 – 1966)
Steve Doorey & Michael Sheret
describe the life and career of Fred Findlay, soldier, top class amateur golfer, professional golfer, golf architect and man of many partsThis research article is reproduced with kind permission from the authors and the British Golf Collectors Society, publisher of Through the Green, where the article appeared in September 2013.
Frederick Augustus McPherson Findlay learned his golf at his home town of Montrose, which has a very old and classic links about 35 km to the north of Carnoustie. He migrated to Australia in December 1909. He became the professional at the Metropolitan Golf Club, Melbourne, from 1910 to 1922. Fred left Australia and arrived in America in 1923. He was joined in America by his only surviving child, his daughter Ruth, who had married American Raymond “Ben” Franklin Loving in Melbourne 1924. Ruth went to America with Ben in 1925 to live with him in Virginia. In America Fred had a very successful career as a golf course architect.
NB:For this research paper we have relied heavily on both Scottish and Australian newspapers.
Fred came from a military family. He joined the army as young man and served for 22 years. As an accomplished musician, specialising in playing the cornet, he naturally became a player in various military bands. As his military career progressed, he became bandmaster to the Hants and Isle of Wight Artillery. For the twelve years leading up to his retirement from the army he was bandmaster to the Forfar and Kincardine Royal Garrison Artillery, stationed at Montrose. In the army he was known as a crack shot. After leaving the army he took over as bandmaster of the Montrose Town Band. Newspaper reports gave Fred high praise for raising the standards of the town band.
Fred was a member of the Montrose Mercantile Golf Club, one of several golf clubs surrounding the public links of Montrose. A winner of many trophies and a stalwart for the “Merky” in their matches against Carnoustie, Monifieth and other clubs, probably Fred’s greatest golfing achievement was setting the course record at Montrose. In 1898 Fred completed the 18 holes in an astonishing 71 strokes. The course at that time had an overall length of 5609 yards, a very long course for the guttie era. To put Fred’s score in perspective, in 1888 the Montrose golf clubs organised an all-comers event. It excited interest because of its large prize pool, and the leading professionals from all over Scotland took part. The event was won by Troon professional, Willie Fernie, Open Champion in 1883, with a score of 74.
In 1908 Fred took on the position of club professional of the Royal Albert Golf Club (predecessor of the current Royal Montrose Golf Club). He took over from his friend and champion golfer Charles “Chay” Burgess, who migrated to America to become celebrated as the coach and mentor to the young Francis Ouimet.
After some eighteen months as professional to the Royal Albert, Fred migrated with his family to Australia in December 1909. Fred therefore became part of that great expansion outwards from Scotland to different parts of the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Fred’s case he was one of many young golfing Scotsman who saw opportunities for a better life as a golf professional in countries where golf was in its infancy and job vacancies existed. Another reason for Fred to leave Scotland was for his son Freddie’s poor health. Freddie probably had tuberculosis, which was rife in the damp cold towns of Scotland. From reports in the Montrose Standard it would appear that Fred did not have a job lined up at the Metropolitan Golf Club before he left Scotland, but he was hardly off the ship when he took up his position at the club. Two of his brothers were already in Melbourne. Albert Findlay was the golf professional to the Victoria Golf Club. James Findlay,the oldest of the eight Findlay brothers, was a ball maker and re-maker for Dunlop. Albert and/or James would almost certainly have recommended Fred to Metropolitan.
The Melbourne newspaper, The Argus, reported with great enthusiasm on 24 January 1910 Fred’s appointment as professional to the Metropolitan Golf Club. We can get insights into how Fred made his mark at Metropolitan, during his twelve years there, from the history of the club. Like nearly all professionals of his time Fred was not only required for teaching duties and running a shop, he was also caddie-master, starter, curator of the green and club maker. He was said to have “brought to his job a mix of iron discipline towards staff and courtesy to members”. Apparently, before Fred’s arrival competition days at Metropolitan were something of a shambles with fields in excess of three hundred playing an assortment of events on the day. In cooperation with club officers, particularly Secretary/Treasurer Percy Whitton, all that changed with Fred on the starting tee, a printed draw and the competition restricted to one event on the day. For Metropolitan’s prestigious Annual Open Tournament in 1914: “Fred Findlay … who officiated at the first tee throughout the morning in his usual well-known civil and courteous manner, finished his duties by getting the big field away well up to time”.
Fred’s playing career in Australia was not remarkable. Opportunities for professional golf tournaments were of course severely curtailed by the 1914-18 war. Military records show that in 1916 Fred made two unsuccessful attempts to enlist in the army. On his second attempt he was admitted in a reserve capacity for about four months. Eventually Fred at the age of 44 years was discharged because of quite severe and continuing dental problems. His golfing abilities, however, remained sharp as the scorecard from his home course shows. A round of 68, 11 below bogey, was quite astonishing for a course of length of 6079 yards in an age when scores below seventy were rare.
Fred’s life in Melbourne was marked by personal tragedy. His son Freddie died in 1912 just short of his seventeenth birthday. Freddie’s health had been one of the reasons for the family to move to Australia. Fred’s wife, Georgina returned to Montrose with Freddie’s remains. Nearly all sources indicate that she never returned to Australia. This must have made Fred become very close to his daughter Ruth, his only surviving child.
When Fred arrived in America in 1923 he was 51 years old. We have found no evidence that he sought to be a professional to a golf club in the state of Virginia, where he settled. Instead he set out seriously to be a golf architect. In that profession he was very successful. Cornish and Whitten16 list no fewer than 41 courses designed by Fred over a period from 1925 to 1965, mostly in Virginia and some in relatively close states.
In the early years there was a partnership between Fred and his son-in-law Ben Loving. Ben is not listed separately in Cornish and Whitten as a golf architect. He is listed only in conjunction with Fred. On this basis we speculate that Ben might have worked on the business side and Fred on the creative side. From 1946 Fred was joined by his grandson, Raymond Franklin “Buddy” Loving Jr. Buddy was clearly going to be a great asset in a golf course design business as he had formal qualifications in landscape architecture, turf grass science and financial management. Buddy was also a top class amateur golfer.
According to an interview conducted in 1959, of all the courses that Fred designed in America the two layouts that he considered to be his finest were the Country Club of Virginia and the Farmington Country Club, also in Virginia.
The Country Club of Virginia has three courses. Best known of the three is the James River course. Built in 1928 architectural credit is generally given to William Flynn, but Fred worked as his construction superviser. After the course was opened, Fred stayed on for several years as the greens superintendent at the Country Club, an arrangement which must have suited him well during the depression years and seems not to have prevented his doing design work on other courses. Cornish and Whitten note that in 1931 Fred was called on to carry out alterations to the James River course, a mere three years after the course was opened. Fred may well have had justification in thinking of James River as his finest layout. Cornish and Whitten note that in 1931 Fred also undertook the renovation of the Westhampton (1908) the oldest course at the Country Club. It is also worth noting that in 1974, after Fred’s death, when the Country Club wanted some refinements made to the James River course they called on Buddy Loving, Fred’s grandson and design partner, to do the job.
Farmington Country Club, established in 1928, is clearly a prestigious club. Few clubs can boast that a carefully preserved part of their clubhouse dates back to 1803 and was designed by no less a person than Thomas Jefferson. The club’s website gives all the credit for the design of their North/South Course to “renowned course architect Fred Findlay”. Credit to Fred is confirmed by the Virginia State Golf Association on the Member Clubs page of their website. The course was laid out on old plantation land, work commencing in 1928 for a grand opening of club and course in 1929.
The Golf Club Atlas has a very thorough review of the Farmington North/South Course. The review was written in 2012 and contains many photographs of the golf holes (and the beautiful Jefferson wing of the clubhouse). What is interesting about the review is that the reviewer, hole by hole, keeps crediting the finer points of the design to Fred with hardly a mention of golf architect Bill Love, who did some renovations to the course in 2003. For the course as a whole the reviewer considers that Farmington is Fred’s masterpiece and that “Findlay’s routing and sequencing of holes at Farmington is exemplary”.
Fred’s strong association with Farmington is borne out by the fact of his living on the course in his later years. At first he lived with Ruth and Ben Loving, at a cottage on the grounds and finally at an apartment above the club’s garages. In 1965 the club added another nine holes, the East Course, engaging Fred’s grandson Buddy Loving as the course architect.
Fred as a Golf Architect in Australia
We first became interested in Fred in 2002 while researching three other Montrose golfers, the Clark brothers, who migrated to America in 1910. While ploughing through hundreds of microfilm copies of the old Montrose Standard, the name of Fred Findlay came up again and again. It is clear that he was one of the best golfers – we might even venture to say the best golfer – playing at Montrose in his time. His leaving Montrose for Australia created a large gap in the musical and golfing life of the Montrose community.
Curiosity aroused, it was fairly easy to find out the basic facts of his time at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Australia and his later career as a golf architect in America. His late blossoming as a course architect seemed rather remarkable. Enquiries as to what course design work Fred did in Australia, before going to America, were made to the two obvious sources of information, the Metropolitan Golf Club and the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects. To our surprise it seemed that Fred had no experience of designing or laying out courses in Australia. Fred certainly knew about course maintenance as he was paid extra at Metropolitan as course curator, overseeing the work of the greenkeeping staff. He showed an interest course architecture in 1920 by sending back from a visit to Scotland an “important book on course architecture” to the Metropolitan, perhaps hinting to the club committee that the course would benefit from some design changes.
When Fred went to America in 1923 he had two brothers already there. David Findlay was a club professional in California. Alex Findlay had been in America for 36 years. Alex was well known as a top class golfer, an arranger of exhibition matches, a course architect and an all-round golf entrepreneur. Most sources assume or imply that it was Alex who got Fred into the golf course design business in America. It is likely that Alex encouraged Fred to seek work in golf course design. However, from what we have been able to find out, all the indications are that Ben Franklin was Fred’s crucial golfing contact. There is a claim that “Alex taught Fred the [golf course design] business …”. Fred, however, did not need to be taught the course design business. We have recently discovered that Fred already had experience of course design in Australia.
Over the last few years the National Library of Australia has placed copies of Australian national and provincial newspapers on its website. The NLA system known as Trove allows for digital searching. While the system is not perfect it allows us to find out more easily what happened in the past. So far we have found out that Fred did course design work on at least three courses in Australia before he left for America. The courses were in Ararat in 1914, Healesville in 1911/12 and another course Healesville in 1919. The two towns are in the state of Victoria some distance from Melbourne.
In 1903 the town of Ararat had three golf clubs: Ararat GC (1900), Asylum GC (1900) and Chalambar GC (1903). The Ararat and Chalambar clubs amalgamated towards the end of 1913 under the name Ararat Golf Club.31
The Ararat Advertiser reported on 14 February 1914.
Mr Fred Findlay, the professional in charge of the Metropolitan golf links at Oakleigh, is at present in Ararat for the purpose of advising the Greens’ Committee of the newly formed Ararat Golf Club, concerning the laying out of a new course.
On 28 April 1914 the Advertiser reported that golf would be played on the new course on 1 May 1914 and that
All members and intending members should be present next Saturday in order to appreciate the course as laid out by Mr Findlay.
Sadly, all that we have been able to find out about Fred’s course at Ararat is in the two newspaper reports above. We do not know its location in Ararat or whether it was 9 holes (likely) or 18 holes. The 1914-18 war clearly disrupted golf in Ararat. In 1920 the name Chalambar Golf Club was revived and seems to have broken away from the 1913 amalgamation. In 1922-23 Chalambar purchased new land and had another course laid out over 18 holes this time by Rowley Banks, the professional at Yarra Yarra Golf Club in Melbourne. In 1924 the Ararat, Asylum (aka the Union Jack Club) and Chalambar Golf Clubs all seem to have been operating independently. We would speculate that Fred’s course continued to be used for some years after 1914 by the Ararat Golf Club, which today no longer exists under that name.
Fred’s first course at Healesville was laid out in Queens Park, which then and now is a public park. The Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian on 10 May 1911 had the headline: EXPERT FINDLAY INSPECTS PROPOSED NEW LINKS. The report goes on to record the generosity and enthusiasm of the President of the Healesville Golf Club, Miss McAuley, to cover the expenses for Fred’s initial advice and the laying out of the course. The newspaper report on 10 May 1912 indicates that the course had been laid out by Fred and had been in play for some time. The course consisted of seven holes. Queens Park was apparently abandoned as a golf course in 1919, when their clubhouse was transported to a new Healesville course, which Fred also laid out.
Fred’s second course at Healesville exists today as the RACV Healesville Country Club. This is a large resort complex owned by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria Limited. RACV owns several resort complexes and city clubs around Australia. In addition to what we have found out from newspaper reports we are indebted to Mr Richard Tweddle, RACV Corporate Solicitor, for generously sharing his private research notes with us.
Interestingly Fred’s course started out as part of a resort complex. The Guardian on 22 November 1919 announced plans for “the erection of a commodious guest house and the lay-out of a first-class golf course of 18 holes, within a few minutes of the railway station … it is fairly anticipated that many people will make day excursions for the enjoyment of golf. The run from Melbourne is a small matter … ”. The report goes on to say that “The work is being conducted under the guidance of Mr. Findlay, one of the best-known golf professionals, who believes that the links will not only be the most beautiful, but one of the best in Victoria, from a golfing point of view.”
Fred in fact laid out a nine hole course on land which is part of the modern course. Since 1919, however, the original course has seen many changes, and ownership of the course has changed hands several times since Healesville Golf House Syndicate was first formed in 1919. RACV purchased the course in 1951. It was not until 1958 that the course finally had its full eighteen holes. In the early 1970s RACV purchased additional land, to enable further work to be done on the course. The course had its most recent makeover in 2008 to plans made by Mike Clayton and it ranks a creditable 53rd in Australia’s 100 top courses. As with so many old golfing sites it is very unlikely that traces of Fred’s original layout still remain.
Apart from a summing up of Fred’s golfing career, what we think is really new in this article is the revelation that Fred had some experience of course design before he went to America. After leaving Australia he did not suddenly transform from a club professional to a golf architect.
The aspect about Fred that we found most remarkable and inspired us to write this article is the diversity of his life and career. Not many professional golfers of his era would have three such distinctly different phases in their life: soldier-musician-amateur golfer in Britain, club professional in Australia, golf architect in America. His diverse skills are also astonishing. Not only was he a skilled golfer and golf architect, we have already mentioned his musicianship and his reputation in the army as a crack shot. In Montrose he was known as a strong swimmer and a good enough footballer to play for Montrose. He also wrote poetry and painted in oils. Painting was one of his great loves. He was painting and golfing – regularly shooting his age – into his nineties, near the end of his days. We finish this article with his painting of the third hole at Farmington alongside a photograph of the same hole as it is today.
Fred Findlay (1872 – 1966)
a golfer who led an interesting and varied life
Fred Findlay, like his father, was a professional soldier and served in the British army for 22 years. He was an accomplished musician, a skilled exponent of the cornet. He rose to the rank of Sergeant-Bandmaster.
He played his early golf at Montrose, a classic old links on the east coast of Scotland. He was good enough break the course record in 1898 with a score of 71 on a course measuring 5609 yards, long by the standards of the guttie era. Towards the end of his time in Scotland he spent 18 months as the professional at the Royal Albert Golf Club, now known as Royal Montrose. Near the end of 1909 he migrated to Australia mainly for the health of his son Freddie, who probably had tuberculosis, a disease rife in the cold damp industrial towns of Scotland.
In January 1910 he was appointed professional at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne. Like professionals of his day Fred was, apart from teaching duties and running a shop, also the starter, caddie-master, curator of the green and club maker. He made his mark in many ways. The History of Metropolitan praises him particularly in his starter role. With a firm hand and a courteous manner, Fred brought much needed discipline and order to the competition days. Playing opportunities for professionals were interrupted by World War I. Fred’s tournament record was unremarkable but his scorecard for his round in December 1918 is preserved in the Metropolitan archives: 68 strokes, 11 under bogey, on a course measuring 6079 yards.
Then in 1922 he resigned amicably from his position at Metropolitan and in the following year took himself off to America. There, at the age of 51, he quickly established himself as a successful golf architect working in the Virginia area. He is credited with being responsible for the design of 41 courses. His masterpiece is undoubtedly the north/south course at the Farmington Country Club. In his twilight years Fred lived in a cottage on the Farmington property. In his nineties Fred was still scoring below his age around Farmington, but he probably devoted more time to poetry and painting, two of his abiding passions.
Our research solved two mysteries about Fred’s career. Golf historians generally thought that Fred had no experience in golf architecture before going to America. This was not the case. In 1914 he designed a course at Ararat in Victoria. Very little is known about this course. It has not survived. In 1911/12 Fred laid out a 7-hole course in a public park in Healesville Victoria. This was abandoned in 1919. On a larger property and with better financial backing Fred built his second course at Healesville. Originally a 9-hole course, it has undergone many changes since Fred’s time. It is now owned by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and in 2012 was ranked a creditable 55th in Australia’s best courses.
The second mystery was what inspired Fred at 51 years of age to give up a secure position at Metropolitan and move to America. Prior to our research the conventional wisdom was that he was influenced by his older brother, Alex Findlay, well established in America as a top class golfer, golf architect and all-round golf entrepreneur. While Alex may have had some influence on Fred’s career in America we do not think he was the major influence. All the evidence points to his son-in-law, Raymond “Ben” Franklin Loving, as the main influence on Fred’s move and subsequent career in America. We don’t know what brought Ben to Australia originally, but he married Fred’s daughter Ruth in Australia in 1924 and took her to Virginia, where Fred, Ben and Ruth were very close. At the beginning of his golf architecture career in America Fred and Ben were partners in the business. Later Ben became the General Manager at Farmington and stayed in that position for 44 years.
Beverley Aberline, great granddaughter of James Findlay, Fred’s brother, for sharing her family scrapbook with us.
Richard Tweddle, RACV Corporate Solicitor, for sharing his research notes on Helesville golf course with us.
Neil Crafter gave us extracts from The Architects of Golf by Cornish & Whitten (1993). This was important in sorting out courses designed by Fred alone, those in partnership with Ben Loving, those in partnership with his grandson Buddy Loving and those designed independently by Buddy.