"At a meeting between John Ramsay Esq of Kildalton and Peter Jeffrey Mackie at Lagavulin in September 1890 it was agreed...that a Golf Club would be formed on Islay and a lease of Machir links for five years at the annual rental of £1 per annum"
Willie Campbell, who was the professional at the Bridge of Weir and a renowned match play competitor, was asked to design a course and said that the Machrie with its natural links features had tremendous potential. It is said that Willie stood on one of the sand dunes overlooking Laggan Bay and said "this place was made for Gowf".
In 1886 Willie had lost the Open Championship by two strokes at Musselburgh where he had been born in 1862. After he had built the course on Islay, he was lured to the States by a salary of $300 a year to build the course at Brookline Country Club in Massachusetts. That same year he lost the first unofficial US Open by two shots in 1894 to Willie Dunn. Sadly Willie died at the early age of 38 in 1900 but his wife Georgina who had assisted him in the shop and in teaching the ladies took over and became the first female golf professional in the United States.
Labourers were paid nearly £5 for beating the greens and erecting poles so that the golfers could find the greens amongst the hidden hollows and valleys of the links or "machair". The grass was kept short by rabbits and sheep.
P.J. Mackie of the Lagavulin Distillery had donated the Lagavulin Quaich to the Islay Golf Club in 1894 as a way of attracting top golfers to Islay. Unfortunately, the rules stated that anyone winning for a third time could keep the Quaich. In 1899 H C Cameron did exactly that and the Quaich was taken to the Mainland.
Mrs Lucy Ramsay - the widow of the original landowner of the Machrie - then presented the silver Challenge Kildalton Cross to the Club in 1900 to make up for the loss of the Lagavulin Quaich. It is a replica of the 8th century Kildalton High Cross which is one of the finest examples of ancient carved stones in Scotland. To this day there is still an annual tournament for the Kildalton Cross and the Cross Week is a highlight for golfers.
In 1901 in order to attract publicity to the golf course, a tournament was conceived where the prize money was to be a record £100 . This was four times greater than the prize for the British Open and it took 45 years for the Open to match this.
As the new century began, there were three professional at the peak of their game.
James Braid, an apprentice joiner who became a scratch golfer while working at St Andrews before he moved to London to become a club maker to the Army and Navy Stores in London. Braid won 5 Open titles in 9 years from 1901.
John Henry Tayor - known as JH - came from a labourer's family near the Royal North Devon Golf Club where at 10 he became a caddie. Between 1894 and 1913, JH won 5 Open titles.
Harry Vardon was brought up on Jersey as a gardener at the Royal Jersey golf course but became a professional in England. His six Open wins were spread over 18 years from 1896 to 1914.
The tournament was match play and began on the Monday after the Open at Muirfield which had been won by Braid, with Vardon second and Taylor third. Two more Open champions were in the field.
Taylor and Braid each won four matches to reach the final. Taylor defeated Vardon in the 3rd round after 6 extra holes in what "The Scotsman" called "one of the most exciting finishes ever witnessed in a golf competition".
The final was over 36 holes, with both players shooting 79 in the morning round. The match went to the final green, with Braid missing a 30 foot putt to halve the match. Taylor shot 83, Braid 85. "The Scotsman" said that Braid's putt on the 18th bounced out of the back of the cup. One local report said that his ball had been deflected by a sheep's dropping on the green.