Fred Findlay (1872 – 1966)

a golfer who led an interesting and varied life

This is a summary of a research article by Steve Doorey and Michael Sheret in the September 2013 issue of Through the Green, magazine of the British Golf Collectors Society. The full article, which describes the research processes and references to the sources of evidence, may be obtained by contacting Michael or Steve via the website (see ‘Contacts’.).

Fred Portrait of Fred Findlay in his later years, reproduced by kind permission of Farmington Country Club

Fred Findlay, like his father, was a professional soldier and served in the British army for 22 years. He was an accomplished musician, a skilled exponent of the cornet. He rose to the rank of Sergeant-Bandmaster.

He played his early golf at Montrose, a classic old links on the east coast of Scotland. He was good enough break the course record in 1898 with a score of 71 on a course measuring 5609 yards, long by the standards of the guttie era. Towards the end of his time in Scotland he spent 18 months as the professional at the Royal Albert Golf Club, now known as Royal Montrose. Near the end of 1909 he migrated to Australia mainly for the health of his son Freddie, who probably had tuberculosis, a disease rife in the cold, damp, industrial towns of Scotland.

In January 1910 he was appointed professional at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne. Like professionals of his day Fred was, apart from teaching duties and running a shop, also the starter, caddie-master, curator of the green and club maker. He made his mark in many ways. The History of Metropolitan praises him particularly in his starter role. With a firm hand and a courteous manner, Fred brought much needed discipline and order to the competition days. Playing opportunities for professionals were interrupted by World War I. Fred’s tournament record was unremarkable but his scorecard for his round in December 1918 is preserved in the Metropolitan archives: 68 strokes, 11 under bogey, on a course measuring 6079 yards.

Then in 1922 he resigned amicably from his position at Metropolitan and in the following year took himself off to America. There, at the age of 51, he quickly established himself as a successful golf architect working in the Virginia area. He is credited with being responsible for the design of 41 courses. His masterpiece is undoubtedly the north/south course at the Farmington Country Club. In his twilight years Fred lived in a cottage on the Farmington property. In his nineties Fred was still scoring below his age around Farmington, but he probably devoted more time to poetry and painting, two of his abiding passions.

Our research solved two mysteries about Fred’s career. Golf historians generally thought that Fred had no experience in golf architecture before going to America. This was not the case. In 1914 he designed a course at Ararat in Victoria. Very little is known about this course. It has not survived. In 1911/12 Fred laid out a 7-hole course in a public park in Healesville Victoria. This was abandoned in 1919. On a larger property and with better financial backing Fred built his second course at Healesville. Originally a 9-hole course, it has undergone many changes since Fred’s time. It is now owned by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and in 2012 was ranked a creditable 55th in Australia’s best courses.

The second mystery was what inspired Fred at 51 years of age to give up a secure position at Metropolitan and move to America. Prior to our research the conventional wisdom was that he was influenced by his older brother, Alex Findlay, well established in America as a top class golfer, golf architect and all-round golf entrepreneur. While Alex may have had some influence on Fred’s career in America we do not think he was the major influence. All the evidence points to his son-in-law, Raymond “Ben” Franklin Loving, as the main influence on Fred’s move and subsequent career in America. We don’t know what brought Ben to Australia originally, but he married Fred’s daughter Ruth in Australia in 1924 and took her to Virginia, where Fred, Ben and Ruth were very close. At the beginning of his golf architecture career in America Fred and Ben were partners in the business. Later Ben became the General Manager at Farmington and stayed in that position for 44 years.

FredandFreddie Fred with his son Freddie at the Metropolitan Golf Club, reproduced by kind permission of Mrs Beverley Abeline, great great granddaughter of James Findlay, Fred’s brother. The family’s move to Australia was driven by Freddie’s poor health. Freddie, a promising young golfer, died in 1912 just 16 years old.

Beverley Aberline, great granddaughter of James Findlay, Fred’s brother, for sharing her family scrapbook with us.
Richard Tweddle, RACV Corporate Solicitor, for sharing his research notes on Healesville golf course with us.
Neil Crafter gave us extracts from The Architects of Golf by Cornish & Whitten (1993). This was important in sorting out courses designed by Fred alone, those in partnership with Ben Loving, those in partnership with his grandson Buddy Loving and those designed independently by Buddy.