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Golftown Journal

The Scottish Invasion

When golf put down roots in the Sandhills

By Lee Pace

There’s the town of Aberdeen right in our midst, the county of Scotland to the south, the village of Dundarrach to the southeast, roads we drive every day named for McDonald, McCaskill, McKenzie and Dundee. The Old Scotch Graveyard is off Bethlehem Church Road west of Carthage.

This area of south central North Carolina has deep Scottish roots dating to the 1700s, when droves of Scottish emigrants fled the Highlands to the shores of North Carolina, and moved up the Cape Fear River and its tributaries to the pine forests of Moore County. They found land for the taking and plentiful game for hunting.

It’s only fitting that in time the ancient game of golf would become the backbone of the Sandhills economy.

Man has enjoyed games of sticks and balls throughout history, and Europeans in the Middle Ages even played from one village to the next by striking an object, finding it and hitting it again toward a pre-determined target. Golf was played in Scotland as early as 1457, when the Scottish parliament of King James II banned the sport (along with football) because it was distracting the men of Edinburgh from their archery training. The first printed reference to golf in Dornoch, a village on the northeast coast of Scotland, came in 1616.

So in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when golf was taking root in the United States, young men from Scotland who knew the game found opportunity in America to foster its growth. Chief among them was Donald Ross, who traveled from Dornoch to Boston in 1899, found work at Oakley Country Club, and a year later moved to Pinehurst, where he ran the golf operation and began building new golf courses for Pinehurst owner James W. Tufts. By 1919, Ross had built seven courses in Pinehurst and Southern Pines as his design career blossomed and would eventually number some 400 courses across the eastern United States. 

“Pinehurst was absolutely the pioneer in American golf,” Ross said. “While golf had been played in a few places before Pinehurst was established, it was right here on these Sandhills that the first great national movement in golf was started. Men came here, took a few golf lessons, bought a few clubs and went away determined to organize clubs.”

It’s fitting that the Country Club of North Carolina, one of the premier Sandhills golf clubs, was founded by a man with deep Scottish bona fides. Dick Urquhart’s ancestors evolved from Clan Urquhart, which held power over lands in the northeast of Scotland many hundreds of years ago. Urquhart in the early 1960s ran a prosperous accounting firm in Raleigh and loved the golf-centric environment of Pinehurst. He envisioned a venue for successful North Carolina businessmen and power brokers to gather away from home for long weekends and holidays.

“What could be better than a good club centrally located for nearly all of us, ideally suited for golf, horses, hunting or just plain socializing?” Urquhart asked in a 1962 letter to charter members of his new club.

Richard Tufts, who had traveled to Scotland extensively and made the long trip north to Dornoch several times, suggested to Urquhart that he name the club Royal Dornoch, and in fact the real estate development around the golf course was named Royal Dornoch Golf Village.

Because of the club’s appeal across the state, Urquhart preferred a broader approach and christened it the Country Club of North Carolina. It opened in 1963 with a golf course designed by Ellis Maples and Willard Byrd (it would be named the Dogwood Course when a second course followed in 1981 and was named the Cardinal).

CCNC was one of the original members of Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses and was the site of the PGA Tour’s Liggett & Myers Open Match Play Championship won by Dewitt Weaver in 1971, and recast in ’72 as the U.S. Professional Match Play Championship won by Jack Nicklaus. Hal Sutton won the 1980 U.S. Amateur at CCNC. The Dogwood Course was renowned for its back nine, with seven holes wrapped around Watson’s Lake.

Vestiges of the club’s original Scottish connection have remained for 60 years.

Lake Dornoch sits to the left side of the fourth hole of the Dogwood Course, and the main road through the community is called Lake Dornoch Drive. There is a restaurant in the club called the Dornoch Grille.

What has become a deep and enduring relationship between CCNC and Royal Dornoch Golf Club began in 1971 when a Dornoch member visited and brought a plaque and hole flags to commemorate the friendship. “With this message of greeting goes our hope that Dornoch, Sutherland, and Dornoch, North Carolina, may continue to have close and increasingly friendly relations for many years to come,” reads the plaque signed by Dornoch captain W.B. Alford.

There was an informal series of couples’ visits to both clubs dating to the late 1990s, but the union took on a formal approach when CCNC member Ziggy Zalzneck and Dornoch member Roly Bluck became good friends after meeting during one of Zalzneck’s trips to Dornoch. Bluck was visiting Pinehurst in 2008, and Zalzneck drove him to Raleigh to visit Urquhart, who was failing in health (and not far from his death that October).

“Mr. Urquhart was dressed in pajamas but had his CCNC blazer on. I thought that was fabulous,” Zalzneck says.

They talked about golf, Pinehurst and Scotland, and when it was over, Urquhart put his arm around Zalzneck and said, “Ziggy, I want the club to have matches with these guys. Will you work it out?”

Twelve players from Dornoch traveled to CCNC in 2011, and the matches have been held since, alternating venues (the 2020 and ’21 matches were canceled because of COVID-19). They play a Ryder Cup format, and at stake is an antique wooden putter now named for Bluck, who died in 2014.

“We look forward to the matches every year,” says Dornoch general manager Neil Hampton. “Visiting Pinehurst is lovely. It’s so different for us. He have to adjust our game, the ball doesn’t run and bounce like it does at home.

“Each club seems to have the advantage on their home course. Does somebody win? Yes. But it’s a friendship thing. It’s a social event with golf involved. It’s all about like-minded people enjoying a bit of fun.”

Adds Dornoch club captain David Bell: “Royal Dornoch members relish the annual contest with their friends from Country Club of North Carolina. While they may leave some of that friendship behind in their quest to win the Roly Bluck putter, it is soon restored over one, or several, glasses of whisky in the bar.

“This is a competition which embodies the comradeship and sportsmanship which make golf such a great game.” PS

Golf writer Lee Pace wrote about the Dornoch and Pinehurst connections in his 2012 book, The Golden Age of Pinehurst.