Norman Richardson identifies a family that helped spread golf on three continents.
Although St Andrews is known as the Home of Golf, the commons of Bruntsfield and Leith at Edinburgh , have a claim to being the cradle of organised golf. Some of the earliest references to club-makers in the 1600s and 1700s were from Bruntsfield and Leith: William Mayne, Thomas Comb, and the Dickson, Clephan and Cossar families. Club-making at this time was a part-time occupation. They shared these duties with such trades as bow-making, joinery and cabinet-making. In 1770 in Edinburgh, James McEwan, a joiner by trade, established the McEwan club-making business – a business that existed for four generations until 1897. When the Bruntsfield and Leith Golf Societies relocated to Musselburgh, the McEwans followed soon after in 1847, leaving opportunities for new clubmakers at Bruntsfield.
The descendants of William Hunter and his wife Janet are one of the unheralded families of club makers, ball makers, professionals and course designers, whose influence extends to the early days of golf in England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Not a lot is known of the Hunter family and little appears in golf reference books.
William Hunter, b.1828
William Hunter was born in Newton, Edinburgh in 1828. He was listed in the 1851 census as a cabinetmaker and journeyman, married to Janet, living at Randolph Place Lane, Edinburgh. At the time of the 1861 census, William Sr. is listed as master cabinetmaker employing three men, and living at 21 Leven St, about 150 yards from the Bruntsfield Links and from the Golf Tavern, used as one of the city golf club houses until the 1890s.
By 1871, William had commenced training his sons, and by 1881 all three of them, Ramsey, Henry and William were all working as joiners for the family business, which was still operating from Leven St.
Ramsey Hunter (1852-1909)
Ramsey Hunter was born in 1852 at Edinburgh, and had his early training as a carpenter and joiner. His introduction to golf was at Bruntsfield Links and in 1887 he was recruited by Dr W Laidlaw Purves (Edinburgh-born and another former Bruntsfield golfer) as greenkeeper, club-maker and caddies superintendent for the new golf links at Sandwich, Kent (later to become Royal St George’s). He laid out the course with Laidlaw Purves and in addition to club-making, Ramsey also produced guttie balls named The Hunter Special.
In 1891, he had his brother William working as a clubmaker at Sandwich and had, as an apprentice, Albert J Milliner, who was to become the first professional at The Australian GC, Queens Park, Waverley, in 1897. Milliner soon left for Dunedin, New Zealand, becoming one of that country’s earliest professionals. In 1902, Ramsey, sacked by Sandwich GC for ‘being worse for drink’, became professional at Shooters Hill, GC London. In 1892 Ramsey designed the first nine holes at Deal GC, Kent; in 1895 he designed the course at Royal Porthcawl GC in Wales; and he laid out the first nine holes at Hythe GC in Kent. In 1909, he advised improvements for St Augustine GC in Kent and also for Mid-Kent G C, Gravesend, the latter with the help of Willie Park Jr. Horace Hutchinson and Bernard Darwin acclaimed Ramsey for his role as greenkeeper at Royal St Georges. He joined the British PGA in 1902. Ramsey died in 1909, whilst professional at Mid Kent GC, Gravesend.
William Hunter, b.1858
William Hunter was born in Edinburgh in 1858 and was apprenticed to his father. By the time of the 1881 census he was working as a joiner and was married to Ellen, with whom he had sons William (born 1878) and James (born 1880). Ten years later the census lists him as living in Sandwich, Kent with his son William and working as a club-maker for his brother Ramsey. His two sons would become golf professionals.
Henry Hunter (1860-1935)
Henry (Harry) Hunter was born in 1860 in Edinburgh and was working as a joiner at the time of the 1881 census. He was a member of the Bruntsfield & Allied GC (also known as the ‘Club-makers Golf Club’) in the 1880s, playing in team challenge matches against other Edinburgh clubs. In 1887 Harry (left – at Cinque Ports GC c.1897) travelled with Ramsey to join the workforce laying out the Sandwich links, and he became an assistant to Ramsey once the course was finished. Harry commenced work as a club-maker/professional at Ashdown Forest GC in Kent in 1890. By 1892 he was employed at Cinque Ports GC, Deal, Kent where he was professional, club-maker, greenkeeper and caddy master. He began by constructing the first nine holes then designed and built the second nine. Harry was also a guttie ball-maker – the Cinque Ports ball – and was to remain at Deal for 43 years. Harry also designed and constructed the course for Sittingbourne and Milton Regis GC between 1929 and 1931. Two of his sons, two of his grandsons and a great grandson would later become golf professionals. Harry died in July, 1935 aged 75.
William Hunter b.1878
William (Willie) Hunter was born 1878 in Perth, Scotland was the son of William (b.1858) and Ellen Hunter. Willie was apprenticed to his uncle Ramsey at Sandwich. He commenced professional duties at the Glamorganshire GC, Wales in 1896, laying out the second nine holes of their course in 1897. Willie spent the summer season at Shelter Island GC, New York in 1897 and North East Harbour, Maine in 1898. A Mr Martin of James Martin and Co (a store in Sydney, Australia, importing and selling golf clubs, balls and bags) acted as a go-between for The Australian GC and Ramsey Hunter. As a result, Willie was appointed professional for The Australian GC, at Botany, arriving by the Orotava in June, 1899. He was appointed ahead of WD More, who had applied for the professional’s position from Johannesburg, South Africa, and who later became professional at Royal Melbourne Golf Club over the period 1900–01.
Willie was described by the golf columnist, Foozler in the Sydney Mail of May 6, 1899, as being
‘young and a player with an easy style much like that of the Bondi (Royal Sydney GC) Professional, James Scott’. (Scott was a brother of AH Scott, the well-known professional and clubmaker from Elie, Fife.) In July 1900 Willie played in the first professional match in New South Wales against James Scott, over 72 holes (36 at Botany and 36 at Bondi) running out as 9/8 winner. He impressed spectators with his approach play and putting, and won fourteen pounds stake money. At the completion of the match, Willie (pictured here on the right) and his fellow-Scot James Scott issued a challenge to the two Victorian professionals, Richard Taylor (Surrey Hills GC) and More of Royal Melbourne, both Hoylake men, to a match, which was declined.
Willie lowered the course record at the Botany Links on four occasions, his lowest being a 74 (with guttie balls) after the course had been extended. These links at the time were acknowledged as the longest and toughest links in the colonies. Willie and James Scott jointly designed and laid out the first nine-hole course for Lindfield GC (now Killara GC) in December 1900.
Willie left The Australian in 1901, went back to the USA to Shelter Island GC, New York and competed in the US Opens of 1901 and 1902, before being appointed professional at Richmond GC in Surrey in 1903. At Richmond in 1906, Willie played in probably his strangest challenge match, competing against Richmond GC member and eccentric, Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey. Payne-Gallwey was an expert on golf balls, ballistics, crossbows and other weapons. In a match similar to one played by Tommy Morris some 30 years earlier, Willie used his normal set of golf clubs while Sir Ralph used an antique Turkish bow and arrow. Taking turns, Willie hit the ball and Sir Ralph fired his arrow towards the holes. Willie won the match, 71 to 73.
Willie left Richmond GC in 1915, and travelled with Wilfred Reid to the USA. In Golf Illustrated, 1915, Bernard Darwin wrote:
“I see you are taking two very good professionals from us, Wilfred Reid, who goes to the Seaview Golf Club and Willie Hunter to a St Louis Club. … Hunter is somewhat older than Reid having been born in 1878 as compared with 1884, is likewise an international player having represented Scotland in four matches. … He has played some wonderful rounds and his game is essentially a graceful and accomplished one. “
Willie was appointed professional at St Louis, CC, Missouri and was Professional at Onwentsia, CC, Lake Forest Illinois from 1919. In 1921 at Onwentsia, CC, Willie and his assistant Willie Marshall, played an exhibition match against the Australian pair Joe Kirkwood and J Victor East, who were touring the US. The match was tied. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported on September 5th:
“Excellent putting from Hunter and terrific driving by Kirkwood were the features of the match. Hunter won the second hole by sinking a long putt. Marshall made it 2 up at the Sixth. At the Eighth, or Boomerang hole, Kirkwood lofted high over the trees for 260 yards and won with a birdie 3. He squared the match at the Eleventh. A 40ft putt by Hunter at the Sixteenth gave a short-lived advantage, as Kirkwood evened the count at the Seventeenth with a fine drive and a good approach. As a bit of history Hunter played the first professional match in Sydney, Australia 21 years prior against Jim Scott, and East was his caddy that day.”
Individual scores were Kirkwood 71, Hunter 72, Marshall 79 and East 80. Willie was the inaugural President of the Missouri PGA and spent two terms as president of the Illinois PGA. He finished as Professional at Onwentsia in 1930, but continued as Greenkeeper. Willie was a regular entrant in The Open, the US Open and the PGA Championship, his best finish being twelfth in the Open at Muirfield in 1906. East later went on to make clubs for Bobby Jones and design clubs for both Spalding and Wilson.
James Stevenson Hunter (1889-1926)
James Stevenson Hunter was born in 1880 at Newington, Edinburgh, the second son of William. He learnt clubmaking and greenkeeping at Sandwich with his Uncle Ramsey before being appointed professional at New Brighton in 1897. In mid-1899 James travelled with his brother Willie hoping to secure a position in Australia. He attained several short-term teaching appointments at Brisbane GC, Chelmer, Queensland in 1899. Whilst there, he also supervised the laying out of the tee grounds and gave instructions for maintenance of the course. James also travelled to Townsville, Bundaberg and other North Queensland courses to fulfil coaching engagements. Being the only professional in Queensland, he was much in demand. The Queenslander newspaper in April 28, 1900 described the tuition:
‘Hunter is fortunate in combining, with a clear and convincing method, a courteous patient manner, which will help him get some improvement out of the dullest pupil. He is most popular. I see his elder brother, who came out under engagement to a Sydney club is appreciated there.’
Impressed by his coaching, Brisbane had hoped to offer James a full-time position, however, it was Hobart GC at Newlands, Tasmania that secured his services in 1901. James Hunter became Tasmania’s first golf professional. While he was there, James taught champion amateur golfing brothers Clyde and Bruce Pearce. Royal Melbourne GC, Victoria approached James in 1902 following the death of their professional, WD More. He took up the position there and remained until 1903, resigning when Royal Melbourne refused his request for two months leave of absence. He was working for James Martin and Co in 1904 and competed in the first Australian Open that year.
James next turns up in the 1911 UK census working as a club-maker for brother Willie at Richmond GC, Surrey. After serving in the Great War with a Scottish Infantry Regiment, James followed his brother to Illinois to be assistant to Willie at Onwentsia GC in 1919, before becoming professional at the Monroe Country Club during the summer months and conducting winter golf schools with Willie at a department store in Chicago. James died suddenly in his hotel room in March 1926 while teaching at the winter school. He left a wife and three sons.
William Irvine McGregor Hunter (1892-1968)
William Irvine McGregor Hunter was born in 1892 at Forest Row, Sussex, the son of Harry Hunter. Wee Willie, as he was known, learnt his golf at Deal, Kent, where his father was the professional. He enlisted in the Royal Engineers and served in France in the First World War. Willie departed from the usual Hunter profession of golf, instead working as a telegraph operator for the Post Office. He forged a successful amateur career whilst a member of Walmer and Kingsdown GC, Kent. Willie played in the 1920 Open Championship at Deal and finished top Amateur, in 26th overall place, to win the Silver Medal. In 1921, he won the Amateur Championships at Hoylake, defeating home club member, Alan J Graham, 12 and 11 in the final, a record at the time. Grantland Rice, writing in the American Golfer, described Willie as:
“… a lithe a slender Scot who has a firm, compact style, hits the ball crisply and yet only takes about a three-quarter swing. He is a very good putter indeed and handles an iron in the firm professional manner. He has the same tawny-coloured hair that Jock Hutchison wears but lacks Jock’s nervous eagerness. He is without question a very good player, he is a trifle fast on the backswing, but there is no jerky motion attached and keeps the ball straight on the pin.”
Willie travelled to the US with the 1921 Scottish Amateur Champion, Tommy Armour, to compete in the US Amateur Championship at St Louis. On arrival, he was described in the August 30th edition of the New York Times, as ‘sandy-headed, a little below average height and weight but with a “springiness” in his step that denotes the athlete’. Willie reached the semi-finals, defeating Bobby Jones 2/1 in a memorable match along the way. The Atlanta youth was 2 up after eighteen; in the afternoon Hunter had a lion heart however, winning the Third, Ninth and Fourteenth before taking the lead at the Fifteenth for the first time in the match.
In 1922 Willie reached the semi finals of the British Amateur and won the Lord Brassey Challenge Cup at Deal. If the repetition of the name Willie is confusing throughout this article, readers will understand how in 1922, when Willie returned to the US, he was declared by the USGA to be ineligible to compete in the US Amateur Championship one month before it was to be conducted in Brookline Massachusetts. The confusion came about from his cousin Willie Hunter, the Onwentsia Professional, entering the US PGA Championships, the following week. However, after clarification, Willie Irvine Hunter was reinstated in the US Amateur. Willie did turn professional in 1923 and won numerous titles in the USA, including the Californian Open in 1926 and 1927.
He served at Brentwood GC, Montebello Park GC, California CC and Fox Hills GC before settling at the Riviera CC in 1936. It was at Riviera that Willie rubbed shoulders with movie stars, moguls and millionaires. He saw the filming of Pat and Mike, Follow the Sun and The Caddy on the Riviera Course. It was also here that his Scottish bluntness saw him lose his richest, most obsessive client, Howard Hughes. A three handicapper, had been having lessons every day for three months when Hughes asked Willie if he could win the US Amateur. Willie replied: ‘qualify maybe, win, definitely not!’ On hearing this Hughes left the course, never to play golf again.
In 1932 torrential rain sent a six-foot wall of water through the Riviera golf course, destroying the seventh to thirteenth holes, which Willie rebuilt. He was also responsible for preparing the Riviera course to meet USGA specifications to host the 1948 US Open. He was criticised for making the course too hard; however Ben Hogan tamed the course to win his first US Open. Willie’s two sons became golf professionals. In the late ‘40s and ‘50s Willie played many tournaments with either one or both of his sons. In 1949 he returned to England for the first time in eighteen years to play in The Open, to be played at Royal Cinque Ports at Deal – the course where he first learnt to play. Unfortunately the sea wall broke, inundating and ruining the course; The Open was moved to Royal St George’s.
In the 1952 Open at Lytham and St Annes, as a 57-year-old, Willie shot 74, 83 finishing 69th. As a 65-year old Willie shot his age in 1957 on the Riviera course. In 1964, aged 72, after 28 years at Riviera, Wee Willie announced his retirement. The highlights of his career included winning the 1921 British Amateur, winning the Southern Californian Open six times, the Southern Californian PGA Match Play once and twice coming runner-up in the LA Open. His best finish in a major was eighth in the US Open in 1926, at Scioto CC, Ohio. He served as President of the Southern Californian PGA thirteen times. He also wrote the instructional book Easy Way to Winning Golf. Willie died in 1968, aged 76 at Palm Springs.
Ramsey Hunter b.1894
Ramsey Hunter was born in Deal, Kent in 1894 – son of Harry Hunter, professional at Royal Cinque Ports GC. At the time of the 1911 census, seventeen-year-old Ramsey was listed as assistant to his father and as a club-maker. In 1914 he followed his cousin Willie Hunter to the USA and worked as assistant to Jim Barnes at Whitemarsh Valley GC and then at Rivercrest CC, Texas in 1917. He served in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps during the Great War.
On being discharged in 1919, Ramsey became assistant to Jock Hutchinson at Glenview GC in Chicago. In 1920 he was professional at Fort Wayne CC, Indiana, where a young Gene Sarazen was Ramsey’s assistant. His next move in 1921 was to Shannon CC at Pittsburgh. While at Shannon, Ramsey had a visit from his brother Willie, then current British Amateur Champion. The two brothers paired in an exhibition match against Shannon Professional Eddie Towns and Richard C Long, President of the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association.
In the same year he moved to New Castle, Pasadena, as assistant pro, and then on to the Westchester-Biltmore CC in 1923. He followed this by becoming professional at Linwood GC in 1925. In 1930 Ramsey took over duties at Whitter GC, California, before opening a golf shop in Los Angeles in 1944. Ramsey played in the 1917 National Open Golf Tournament, the 1921 US Open and Western Open, and the 1925 US Open. Ramsey also played in a four-ball team tournament in 1921 that pitched home-bred against foreign-born professionals. Ramsey and Carnoustie-born Willie Ogg won their match. The event was one by the home- bred professionals 4 matches to 2.
William Hunter (b. 1924)
William Hunter Jr was born in California in 1924, son of William Irvine Hunter and his wife Josephine, née Koch. After the 1929 LA Open the Los Angeles Times reported:
“Willie Hunter Jr, approximately four years of age, provided the gallery around the scoreboard with a fine exhibition of stance and driving. The Montebello Park pro’s infant son has a driver all his own and knows how to use it”.
After serving in the US Army in the South Pacific during the Second World War, he attended UCLA and played local amateur events. Willie Jr played in the US Amateur in 1947 along with his brother. In 1948, the ‘husky 24-year-old’ turned professional and served as his father’s assistant at the Riviera, CC. He was a regular on the US PGA tour in the late 1940s and 50s and still knew how to use his driver.
At the 1950 LA Open, the tournament committee measured all week the drives on the 575 yd Seventeenth, Willie Jr averaged 262 yards and was a close second to the longest hitter Sam Snead who averaged 265 yards. He was assistant professional to his brother at Riviera, after his father’s retirement in 1964. He played in the qualifying rounds for the 1962 Open at Troon, finishing two over the qualifying mark.
Harry McGregor Hunter (b.1929)
Harry McGregor Hunter, known to his friends and family as Mac, was born in California in 1929, the son of Willie Irvine Hunter and his wife Josephine. Mac was a talented amateur, winning the Riviera GC Championship at the age of fourteen in 1943, and again in 1947 and 1949. In 1946 Mac became the US National Junior Champion beating a seventeen-year-old Arnold Palmer in the finals by 6/5.
In 1949 Mac won the Mexican Amateur and the Californian State Amateur Championships, defeating Gene Littler, in a nail-biter, all square after 36 holes. On the first play-off hole Mac caught a bunker with his approach shot and Littler was 40ft from the hole. Mac played first holing his bunker shot. Littler then halved the hole by chipping in. Mac won at the 39th hole.
In 1950 Mac enlisted in the US Marines then in 1952 he relinquished his amateur status to become Riviera GC’s playing professional. Mac played US PGA tour events including championships, and in US Opens and The Open, his best finish was tied nineteenth in the 1959 Open at Winged Foot GC. Mac became Riviera GC’s professional in 1964 on his father Willie’s retirement – a position he held until 1973, when he resigned to become Director of Marketing for Aldila Golf Shaft Company.
He soon left this position to set up Mac Hunter Golf Inc, designing and making clubs along traditional lines. His Auld Classic Irons retro-looking blades, putters with hickory shafts that were named after forbears, one a bullseye style putter called Auld Jessie – the name of his Aunt and great Aunt. His shaft labels had the slogan, ’Mac Hunter Company – a family tradition since 1887’, the date his Great Uncle Ramsey and his grandfather Harry left Edinburgh for Sandwich.
Due to a setback with his health and poor sales, Mac sold the company and returned to duties as a head professional. In the 1980s Mac was Director of Golf at the Princeville Makai Golf Course in Hawaii. As a golf course architect, Mac designed the Bridger Creek Golf course in Montana in the early 1990s. Mac won the Southern California PGA title in 1967, the same event his father had won in 1939 and 1942. In 1973 he wrote an instructional book: Golf for Beginners.
McGregor Hunter Jr, (b.1956)
McGregor ‘Mac’ Hunter Jr was born at Pacific Palisades, California in 1956, son of Mac Hunter Snr, professional of Riviera GC and his wife Doris. Mac Jr followed in his father’s footsteps as a talented young amateur. 1972 was a stellar year for sixteen-year old Mac Jr. He won the Californian State Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach GC, where he squandered a 5-up lead but hit three perfect shots on the final hole to beat Bob Roos, 2 up and became the youngest-ever winner of a title that had been won by his father in 1949. A few weeks later he won the Riviera CC Championship and soon after he equalled the Riviera course record with a 66 from the back tees.
He then won the Southern California Amateur Title, also won by his grandfather Willie Irvine Hunter in 1923. Mac Jr turned pro in 1973 and won his US PGA tour card at qualifying school in 1977.
Further investigation needs to be done on the family and there is an intriguing possibility of a link to the famous Hunter family of Prestwick, at this stage unconfirmed. Two references hint at this: one, an 1898 article in an American magazine, Outings Monthly, describing Shelter Island professional Willie Hunter as ‘a newly-arrived scion of the Hunters of Prestwick’. And in the Australian newspaper in 1902, on James’ appointment as the Royal Melbourne professional:
‘his name is Hunter and he is the brother of the late professional of The Australian Club, Botany, who went to America. His uncle has been keeper for many years of the celebrated green at Prestwick in Ayrshire. Hunter therefore comes of a good family for golf.’
The Hunters were a close-knit family, looking after one another, who rode the wave in the growth of golf from the 1880s to the 1920s. Importantly, William, (b.1828) was a master cabinetmaker, whose skills were passed on to his sons ready to be adapted to clubmaking. The location of his business a short stroll from Bruntsfield Links, where they were exposed to golf, was significant. William’s grandsons were good ambassadors for the game, taking playing, greenkeeping and clubmaking skills to the New World. On the course, the Hunters have played alongside the Who’s Who of the sport; they were supporters of their professional associations and participated in the transition of old-time professional/greenkeeper/clubmaker, to full-time playing professional on a PGA tour.
(This article first appeared in the June 2010 issue of ‘Through the Green’, the journal of the British Golf Collectors Society, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Society, and the author).