IS ST ANDREWS THE ONLY AULD GREY TOON?

When I asked Etiqus founder, Gary Butler, what he would like me to cover in my start-of-the-season blog, he suggested something about ‘Auld Grey Toons’ as Auld Grey is one of the new colours in the best-selling Sport Tour watch.

Easy I thought – I’ll just cut and paste the blog about St Andrews that I wrote just before The Open last year, change the odd word or two, and hope that no-one notices!

Gary had other ideas! “Everyone knows about St Andrews,” he said, “but what I really want to find out is if there are any other Auld Grey Toons in Scotland.” Hmmm, I thought, for although I knew that Aberdeen was the Granite City, I’d not heard any other Scottish town being referred to as an Auld Grey Toon.

It was time to enlist the help of my Scottish correspondent, Fergus Bisset, a fellow Golf Monthly scribe who lives up near Aberdeen. “Personally, I always think Keith is a rather grey town,” he emailed back, “but it’s difficult to just describe places as grey! Lossiemouth maybe, although again, I've never heard anyone call it that. The only other Scottish town I've heard referred to as an Auld Grey Toon is Dunfermline.”

I decided to investigate Fergus’ three suggestions a little more, partly because I had by chance played golf in both Dunfermline and Lossiemouth in the last year or two, and partly because I had little else to go on!

There is, of course, nothing clever or fancy about the Auld Grey Toon moniker – it is simply the colour of the stonework from which many of the town’s buildings are made. So could Keith be an Auld Grey Toon? A quick online search certainly suggested a degree of greyness to this small Banffshire town at the heart of the Malt Whisky Trail, parts of which date back to 1180.

I’ve not played the town’s golf course, but it does provide a heartwarming story of resilience and revival. The original course was lost after World War II, but the club was resurrected in 1964 after Col G.B. Kynoch, spearheaded a drive to bring golf back to the town. Volunteer labour was largely responsible for making the dream a reality, whether local farmers ploughing and sowing the fairways, or local lads picking stones from the greens to serve as foundations for the next tees.

The club’s history page closes with the feel-good words: “Keith Golf Club thrives to this day, a monument to the spirit of the Keith community who have made it possible.” Grey on the outside maybe, but an altogether warmer colour on the inside.

So what about Lossiemouth, less than 20 miles away on the Moray Firth – the second of Fergus’ suggestions? From memories of my visit a couple of years ago, I don’t recall it being particularly grey, but Fergus will have been there more often than me.

After a little digging, there is some evidence to suggest that part of the town, at least, may be blessed with greyness. The now disused Lossiemouth East Quarry produced the yellow and grey sandstones used to build the new harbour and Branderburgh, which was the final development of the town in the 19th century. That quarry, now an SSSI, is just a mile and a half from Moray Golf Club where Old Tom Morris’ Old Course sits alongside Henry Cotton’s New Course, meaning that those responsible for golf in the town claimed seven Claret Jugs between them. Old Tom’s is a classic Scottish links, which, like St Andrews, starts and finishes in town, weaving through swathes of gorse and heather along the way.

After a few holes, you cross the main road for a spell alongside RAF Lossiemouth - which adds to the grey count - and it isn’t until the 14th that you finally arrive beside the beach. The closing hole’s proximity to adjacent properties on both tee shot and final approach is enough to put the fear of God into anyone if the wind is blowing, or their game has deserted them. The New is a shorter but tighter layout, which also enjoys a memorable stretch along the shore and gets closer to the imposing Covesea Lighthouse. It is also probably the best course in the UK for watching planes close-up as they take off from or land at RAF Lossiemouth. Mercifully, free relief is available from the airfield’s landing lights, which lie dotted about the links!

So shades of greyness then, and another Old course designed by Old Tom – but an Auld Grey Toon? I could find no written evidence.

Finally then, what of Dunfermline - a Fife town set on raised ground three miles north of the Firth of Forth? A quick Google search and, yes, many references to Dunfermline being an Auld Grey Toon! It’s the largest ‘locality’, as they are called in Scotland, in Fife, and even served as the royal capital of Scotland until the 17th century. It is perhaps fitting, then, that Dunfermline Golf Club should boast a castle – or more accurately a tower house - for a clubhouse, although somewhat at odds with our Auld Grey theme, it is actually painted a distinctive shade of yellow!

The mature parkland layout plays over the Pitfirrane estate with an ideal mix of scoring chances and tougher tests and plenty of highlights, among them the 4th, a par 4 playing up and over a crest to a beautifully framed green, and the strong downhill par-3 9th back to the castle. Coming home, the 11th is a clever, almost driveable par 4 with a suitably narrow entrance, while the 15th offers wonderful views of the Pentland Hills before sweeping up to a green with a severely sloping front.

The town’s most famous son was philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who was born in Dunfermline in 1835. Among his gifts to the town were a free library, the public swimming baths and the Pittencrieff Estate, which he converted into Pittencrieff Park. While it may be stretching it a bit to suggest that Gary Butler is a philanthropist in the same mould as Carnegie, when he came into the Golf Monthly offices many years ago to explain the rationale for his pace of play golf watch, his desire was clearly to make golf a better experience for all. The focus may have shifted more towards style and function as the brand has evolved, but it’s worth bearing in mind that at its outset, Etiqus was inspired by a man seeking to make the game just a little better.

So Fergus was right – after a whistlestop tour of northeast Scotland, it transpires that the country’s only other explicitly christened Auld Grey Toon lies just 35 miles east of its more famous namesake at the other end of Fife.

If you want to find out more about the Etiqus range including the Sport Tour Auld Grey, or perhaps quiz Gary about his philanthropic side, why not pop along to the Scottish Golf Show a similar distance further east again at the SECC Glasgow from Friday 18th to Sunday 20th March.

Jezz Ellwood

Contributing Editor - Golf Monthly

If you do visit the Show then look out for ETIQUS on stand B11, see Gary, listen to his story and try on one of his golf timepieces - he'll probably give you a watch case to protect your current watch whilst it's in your golf bag or wherever.