Scottish flavor plays role in area courses
Most people know Scotland as the home of golf. The modern game originated there in the 15th century and has been the country’s national pastime for centuries.
During the late 1800s, when golf started becoming popular in other countries, a multitude of young Scottish golf professionals found their services to be in great demand.
Their expertise was needed to teach newcomers the required swing techniques, rules and etiquette of this curious new game.
By the 1890s, U.S. immigration logs were filled with the names of Scotsmen adventurous enough to cross the Atlantic and share their knowledge.
The Altoona area was one of many communities that reaped the benefits.
In fact, as early as 1896 native Scotsman John Reid arrived in nearby Cresson to help lay out a modest-sized nine-hole links at the Mountain House resort.
Reid actually came to the United States in 1895 and played in the first official U.S. Open later that year.
In early 1896, he was named head professional at the Allegheny Country Club in Pittsburgh, which included the responsibility of overseeing golfing operations at the Cresson resort.
During the entire month of August 1896, Reid spent his time in Cresson giving lessons to the many guests of the Mountain House resort.
Reid would go on to serve as head professional at many of the top clubs in the Philadelphia area.
The next Scottish pro to make an impact in central Pennsylvania was Dave Kirkaldy, who was hired by Hollidaysburg’s Blairmont Club in 1925.
As a young man, Kirkaldy apprenticed at the famous St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Scotland before immigrating to the U.S. in 1921. He began his career his career in America at several clubs in the Philadelphia area, including the renowned Aronimink Golf Club, before being recruited by the Blairmont Club.
Kirkaldy came from a strong golfing pedigree. His father, Andra, was the head professional at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews, while two uncles, Hugh Kirkaldy and Sandy Herd, were winners of the British Open.
Kirkaldy served as Blairmont’s head pro for four years before moving to the same position at Park Hills Country Club in 1929.
Shortly thereafter, Kirkaldy returned to Scotland to work as a golf professional in Glasgow until his untimely death at age 45.
By the early 1930s, fewer Scottish golf pros were filling posts here in the U.S. as Americans were becoming more expert at the game.
One of the exceptions was at Summit Country Club, where the club’s pro shop was run by a golfing expert who could hardly deny his Scottish heritage. Throughout the 1930s, Mack McDonough endeared himself to the Cresson members, providing golfing lessons and advice in his own, thick Scottish brogue.
One of the last Scottish pros in the Altoona was George Balfour, head pro at Park Hills during the early 1930s.
Balfour, also a native of St. Andrews, worked as an assistant at the Blairmont Club before serving two years as head pro at Park Hills. Eventually, he left to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, retiring after 43 years.
As late as the mid-1970s, Balfour could be found at Scotch Valley Country Club, working part-time and sharing old golf stories from his native Scotland.