Johnny LAIDLAY



Date of Birth - 5 November 1860

Died - 15 July 1940

Place of Birth - Seacliff, North Berwick, Scotland


John Ernest Laidlay born 5th November 1860 at Seacliff House, two miles

 east of North Berwick, son of John Watson Laidlay, a landed proprietor

 and his wife Ellen Hope. His father was an Indigo manufacturer in

Calcutta before he acquired the estates of Seacliff, Auldhame and

 Scoughall which then passed to John's brother Andrew Laidlay who

perished in a fire which destroyed Seacliff House in 1907.

Johnny Laidlay dominated the Amateur Championship for seven years

 from 1888, winning twice in 1889 and 1891 and runner-up 1888, 1890 and

 1893. Laidlay was a member of a number of golf clubs and throughout

 his career won over 131 medals. In 1887 alone he won eleven first

 medals and two seconds, three of these being won with record scores -

 83 at St Andrews, 72 at North Berwick and 79 at Musselburgh. In 1885 at

 Carnoustie he set a new course record 77 which stood for several years.

 Many of his medals are now on display in the British Golf Museum.

Laidlay learned to play the game over the links at Musselburgh while

 attending Loretto School. He was tutored by local pro Bob Ferguson,

 three times Open Champion. Laidlay was an advocate of physical

 fitness for all sports and at school he was the only boy who could draw

 himself up on a horizontal bar by the use of one hand alone. At the age

 of sixteen, Laidlay went round the nine-hole course at Musselburgh in 36

 strokes, scoring four at each hole. He used a cleek head putter got from

 old Willie Park at Musselburgh which he reshafted over the years.

Laidlay's caddie was Jack White who apprenticed as a club maker with

 Tom Dunn at North Berwick before joining the professional ranks at

 Sunningdale.

The first open amateur competition he entered was in Yorkshire in 1878,

and that year he played his only game for the Scottish Cricket Team. His

 brother W. J. Laidlay also played cricket for Scotland. In 1885, Johnny

 Laidlay played in the first Amateur Championship at Hoylake and was

 defeated in the early rounds by John Ball. This was the first of many titanic

 encounters Laidlay was to have with the talented Englishman. They were

 of a similar age and died within a few months of one another in 1940.

 Laidlay was eighty at the time of his death and Ball seventy-nine when

 he followed his rival to the grave. At the first championship Laidlay was

 using a mashie which was a new club at the time. He used it very

 effectively on his approach shots, slightly cutting the ball with a laid back

 face which landed softly, ideal for the elevated greens on the early

 course at North Berwick.

Laidlay had an amazing record which included wining ten gold medals

 at Musselburgh, ten at Muirfield and a further nine silver medals. In 1878,

 at the age of eighteen he joined Luffness Golf Club playing over the old

 course near Aberlady. In 1883 he became a member of the Honorable

 Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Leith, and two years later he joined the

 Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews.

In 1884, he was playing so badly he made a number of fundamental

 changes to his set up including playing the ball off his left leg and using

 an overlapping grip. In an interview published in the American Golfer,

 Laidlay said, "At the time I believed it was a good thing to do, and I think

 it helped me in my putting especially. The reason which started the view

 in my mind was that my hands being more opposite each other, were

 more likely to work together and swing the club like a pendulum, and

 not likely to operate against one another."

These alterations changed Laidlay's game immeasurably and in a two-

week period in 1885 he won a tournament at North Berwick, another at

 Carnoustie, and the King William IV Medal at St Andrews. The overlapping

 grip used by Laidlay was erroneously credited to Harry Vardon but

 historians now agree that Laidlay was the first to use the overlapper.

In Willie Park Jnr's book 'The Game of Golf' published in 1896 he remarked

 that there were only two players he knew who adopted the overlapping

 grip and they were J. E. Laidlay and J. H. Taylor. It was in the year the

 book was published when Harry Vardon leapt from obscurity into fame

 by becoming Open Champion, eight years after Laidlay was using the

 overlapping grip. Vardon has never claimed to be the first to discover

 the grip, all that he knows is that he worked it out for himself in the period

 when he was at Bury and Ripon. It was Vardon's use of it, however that

 brought it into general acceptance, and with minor variations it is the grip

 used by the vast majority of golfers today.

During practice before the 1889 Amateur Championship at St Andrews,

 Laidlay had lost his game and could not hit a ball. In desperation he took

 out Willie Campbell to try and find out what was wrong. They tried

 everything and as a last resort Campbell suggested that he should hold

 his driver at the bottom of the leather - and it worked. Laidlay won the

Championship and held his clubs short ever since. In the final he

 defeated Leslie Balfour Melville at the nineteenth hole. Laidlay's caddie

 at St Andrews was Jack White who apprenticed as a clubmaker with

 Tom Dunn at North Berwick before joining the professional ranks at

 Sunningdale.

As the public began to lose interest in the professional money matches

 with rumors of match fixing, the top amateur players began to attract

 thousands of paying spectators in exhibition matches. In 1888, the North

 Berwick Town Council organised an Open competition for amateur

 players to attract more visitors to the town. Laidlay persuaded Horace

 Hutchinson to be his guest at Seacliff for the week and enter the

competition. They both reached the final and after extra holes Laidlay

was the winner.

Horace Hutchinson wrote later about his great friend Laidlay "He

 addressed the ball off his left leg which looked ungraceful and cause his

 driving to be erratic, but his hand and finger work of his iron clubs was

 beautifully delicate. His clubs were all curiously thin in the grip and one of

 his great theories was that the club should be held as lightly as possible."

Laidlay won the Amateur Championship again in 1891 after defeating

 Harold Hilton in the final at Hoylake. Laidlay played in the Open

 Championship thirteen times from 1885 to 1901. He was leading amateur

 four times in 1887, 1889, and 1893 when he finished two strokes behind

 the winner, Willie Auchterlonie and again in 1901. He played for Scotland

 against England ten times between 1902-1911 and his handicap was

 plus four at the age of 58. He was Captain of the following clubs,

 Prestwick (1894); Honourable Company (1904); North Berwick Golf Club

 (1906) ; North Berwick New Club (1913-15); Tantallon Golf Club (1906-08).

 Laidlay was also a member of Dunbar Golf Club and in 1884 he won

 both the Roxburghe and Club Gold Medals.

Sir Hew Dalrymple of Leuchie presented Laidlay with a set of nine Hugh

Philp clubs, either for wining a competition at North Berwick which was

 the practice or in recognition of his triumph in the Amateur

 Championship. The clubs were crafted in the early 1850s at St Andrews

 when Robert Forgan was Philps assistant. They were displayed at the

 Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901. Unfortunately in 1981 the set

 was broken-up with each club sold individually at Sotheby's in London.

Johnny Laidlay played the North Berwick course daily and his regular

 foursome partners were Walter de Zoete, John Penn M.P. and Arthur

Balfour. In 1886, Arthur Balfour, as Chief Secretary for Ireland was obliged

 to have two detectives with him at all times. They would shadow him on

 the West Links, disguised among the sandunes. Laidlay supported the

 Ladies Golf Association and refereed many of their important matches

 along with Robert Maxwell, Leslie Balfour-Melville and Captain Charles

 Hutchings. He was also a skilled photographer and often visited the Bass

 Rock, capturing the young gannets on camera. The rocky stack lay a

 mile offshore and dominated the views from Seacliff House. He also

 enjoyed catching lobsters from his boat in the harbour below the

 mansion.

Laidlay was a Justice of the Peace and attended Haddington Sherriff

 Court. In 1899 he built Invereil House overlooking the eighth fairway on

 the West Links , North Berwick where he resided with his sister Miss Faith

 Laidlay. Following the First World War, he moved to Sunningdale with his

 wife Eileen where his former caddie Jack White was the professional and

 they called their house 'Auldhame' after his family estate at North

 Berwick.


  ACHIEVEMENTS


1889  The Amateur Championship

1891  The Amateur Championship


Handwritten letter by Johnny Laidlay 1925

Handwritten letter by Johnny Laidlay 1926