The story of golf in Britain has a rich heritage. The railway played a large part in its popularity and contributed some of the most beautiful courses and stunning golfing hotels in the country.
In the 1880s and 1890s the development of golf as a sport and leisure pursuit grew enormously and the railway was quick to court the public who wanted to travel to play at the many golf courses that were being established.
The leisure traveller
The railway companies encouraged the formation of golf clubs in ‘suitable and popular’ areas of their networks and soon even the smallest lines could boast a connection to a number of golf courses.
Railway access to golf courses was quickly established as the railway companies built stations and smaller halts – and even new lines – to cater for this new type of leisure traveller.
As the relationship between the sport developed, the railway companies also built new golf courses and clubhouses and sponsored competitions. They also issued cheap return tickets, via the secretaries of golf clubs, to club members and other golfers travelling to competitions on their lines.
A new market emerges
Railway advertising in the 1920s developed the idea of golf as a modern and glamorous yet accessible leisure pursuit. Some of the most iconic railway posters of the time featured golfers – both men and women – enjoying the game at one of the many famous golf courses the railway company had a connection to.
As women became more independent with their own money and time to develop their own hobbies, many of the railway companies encouraged women to play golf by specifically appealing though their advertising to ‘the Golfing Girl’ who could travel and enjoy the sport at one of the many courses served by its lines.
After World War Two the connection between golf and the railway started to decline. Through the second half of the 20th century many of the small halts and lines that had served golf courses were closed and the big hotels associated with them sold off.
A special railway connection
Gleneagles is the greatest example of a championship golf course with a strong connection to the railway both past and present. The idea to build the golf courses and luxury hotel in this Perthshire valley belonged to Donald Matheson, the General Manager of the Caledonian Railway. The company engaged the services of the celebrated golfer turned course architect James Braid to create courses that would be the best in the country.
The King’s and Queen’s courses opened in 1919 – as did Gleneagles railway station, which for nearly 100 years has delivered golfers and spectators to this championship golf course.
The station was upgraded in time for the 2014 Ryder Cup, making it fully accessible with new lifts to the footbridge, as well as new waiting facilities. A grant from the Railway Heritage Trust enabled it to be restored and painted to its original Caledonian Railway colours.