According to the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland 1885 “The Village of Southerness was built some time after the middle of the 19th century by Oswald of Auchencruive near Ayr, in the expectation of its becoming a mining village and depot for coal. The desired mineral having vainly been searched for in the neighbourhood, the village became transmuted into a sea bathing retreat. Southerness point screens the west side of the entrance to the estuary of the Nith and is crowned by a disused lighthouse”.
The Nucleus of Southerness lighthouse, built in 1748, is the second oldest surviving lighthouse in the country. A 9.1 metre high beacon built by Dumfries Town Council was heightened and altered in the 1780′s and again in 1842. Lack of finance obliged the Nith Navigation Commission to extinguish the light in the 1867. It was restored in 1894 and raised to almost twice its original height and continued in active use until about 1936. The lighthouse is still in excellent state of preservation and became the emblem of Southerness Golf Club.
The Oswald family estates, which Richard Oswald inherited, were founded by his namesake Richard Oswald, the son of the parish minister of Dunnet, Caithness, born in 1705. Having commenced his business career in Glasgow he subsequently moved to London where he became one of the most prominent merchants of his time dealing mainly in tobacco imported from Virginia to this country. He became a prominent diplomat, his career culminating in being the signatory for the British Government to the Treaty of Versailles giving independence to the United States of America.
Major Richard Oswald was the son of a cavalry officer serving in India in which country he was born. After receiving his education at Winchester he returned to India serving in Hudsons Horse with the Bengal Lancers. During the second world war he trained troops in Scotland. At the time he had recently married and lived at Drum Farm near loch Kindar (at the foot of Criffel).
In 1946 Major Oswald decided to create a golf course on the land which he considered suitable due to sandy base. Southerness Golf Course was laid out by Messrs. Sutton and Sons, Reading. The greens were sown from seed. It measured 6,250 yards but tiger tees were available which increased the length to over 7,000 yards. The course was built for the amazing sum of just £2,000.
Major Oswald was a very keen golfer himself and was often seen out on the links, always accompanied by his dog. He latterly had hip problems and became reduced to 9 holes at a time. Major Oswald was known to be a good and generous neighbour contributing greatly to the community. He had a particular interest in the disabled and in 1954 hosted the British one armed golf championship over Southerness.
Major Oswald eventually spent most of his time in London where he found it difficult to maintain adequate contact with Southerness. He sold the property to Southerness Development Company in 1961 and died in 1968.
In the 1960′s when it became apparent that there would be the development of a caravan park to the East of the main road to Southerness, Mr David Keswick, a man of great influence in the area, bought the land to the west of the road, (the golf course), in his wife’s name, to protect it from further development. The club subsequently rented the course in a very amicable arrangement. The golf course has since been left to Mrs Keswick’s grand daughter, Miss Catherine Weatherall (now Mrs Soames) after the original owner died in 1969. Mrs Soames is still the honorary president of the club.
As originally laid out, the first tee was the present 14th. At 400 yards this was 18 yards short of the present yellow tee but what is now a normally dry hollow short left of the green was a large water hazard.
The second (15th) is little changed although generally played from the present white medal tee.
The third (16th) was a little longer than now at 450 yards and declared a par 5.
The fourth (17th) was played from the present yellow marker but had a deep bunker to the left of the green.
The fifth (18th) was measured at 485 yards but a longer carry from the tee was required, particularly down the right hand side where the heather encroached further into the present fairway.
The sixth (1st) had a wide cross bunker on the right of the first fairway which is now a grassy hollow.
The seventh (2nd) was 410 yards, marginally longer than from the present yellow tee. The fairway was bunkered to the right as well as the present left side bunker. This was a par 5 on the card.
The eighth (3rd) was also a par 5 and at 420 yards was 12 yards longer than the white medal tee of today.
The ninth (4th) was 175 yards, again some 6 yards longer than from our present white medal tee.
The tenth (5th) at 485 yards was something between yellow and white tees but a large cross bunker 50 yards short of the green made it even more difficult to get home in two.
The eleventh (6th) was shorter at 350 yards but an early description mentions a long carry to the fairway. The deep depression on the right of the green was originally a massive bunker.
The twelfth (7th) was also slightly shorter at 200 yards but there was no fairway, all carry from tee to green.
The thirteenth (8th) is little changed from the original which was played from the present white medal tee.
The fourteenth (9th) was played from our present yellow tee but the carry to the fairway then was 170 yards. There was a short scrub at the left entrance to the green and a second shot with a slight draw was required.
The fifteenth (10th) was played from the white medal tee with the first two bunkers to the front right of the green joined up in one with a long snaky shape.
The sixteenth (11th) at 360 yards was somewhat shorter than now but there was a wide cross bunker to contend with.
The seventeenth (12th) is little changed from the original although this was 12 yards shorter than from our present yellow tee.
The eighteenth (13th) was a par 5 of 450 yards. From old photographs it appears that the heather on the left has grown considerably in the intervening years.
Overall there is much more fairway now particularly in the extension of fairways towards tees. Bunkers were originally of irregular shapes often with heather surmounting the tops as well as tufted grass.
The problem of sea erosion, particularly near our present twelfth green, was a very serious one. At one time it was feared that the whole green would slip into the sea. A great deal of effort was put into shoring up the banks with sleepers and a retaining wall, much of this by voluntary labour.
From a hopeful and enthusiastic beginning the management of the Club became increasingly difficult and the Membership remained at an unsatisfactory level. The Course was very little used and was being maintained at a financial loss. At this time there was a green staff of five.
To stimulate interest an exhibition match was played in October 1952 in which the Ryder Cup player John Panton and Dr. W. R. Thomson of Dalbeattie (Club Champion) defeated Jack McLean (former Scottish Amateur Champion and at the time professional at Gleneagles) and Mr. Sam Hastings, Kirkcudbright. Mr. R. G. J. Kirk, Captain of the Club, refereed the match. It was a very wild day with showers and a strong west wind. Panton was the only player to hole-out the Course and returned a 78. McLean in his concluding remarks thought the Course was magnificent “but too long”.
After a few years the Clubhouse ceased to be available to golfers and became accommodation for the Paul Jones Hotel staff. Golfers were given the use of 2 rooms at the north end of the hotel. Then the hotel closed, the original Clubhouse was sold and became the new Paul Jones Hotel. With a membership of 122 and no money to speak of this was the situation from which the new Club commenced activities.