William Doleman: Scottish Golfer Who Was First in Canada?

Scottish golfer William Doleman
William Doleman was a Scottish golfer and one of the earliest amateurs to make an impact in the British Open. He began playing that tournament in the 1860s and still holds a record today relating to amateurs. Doleman might also be, some sources claim, the first person to play golf in Canada.

Date of birth: September 16, 1838
Place of birth: Musselburgh, Scotland
Date and place of death: July 8, 1918, in Glagow, Scotland

Doleman in the British Open

Trivia question: Which golfer was low amateur in the Open Championship more than any other? Answer: William Doleman. Doleman was low amateur nine times, including every year from 1865 through 1872, plus in 1875 and 1884.

The first time any amateur had an impact on an Open Championship, it was Doleman when he was the first-round leader (55 for 12 holes) in the 1867 British Open. Doleman finished third in the 1872 British Open, the first one played for the Claret Jug. His other finishes included fifth (twice), sixth (twice) and seventh.

How impressive is that? The time frame is key. In 1865 — the sixth Open played — Doleman was first among three amateurs in the field, but one of only 11 golfers total to finish the tournament. In 1868, Doleman finished 11th and low amateur, but he was the only amateur among 12 golfers who completed play. So it's important to consider the context of when Doleman was playing when looking at his on-the-surface very impressive list of finishes.

Doleman's final appearance in an Open was in 1884, when he finished tied for 16th. He went out as low amateur once again.

Was Doleman the First Person to Play Golf in Canada?

Trivia question: Who was the first person to play golf in Canada? Answer: William Dole-... wait, the real answer is: nobody knows. But some sources will tell you it was Doleman.

A website that focuses on the golf courses of North Berwick, Scotland, and their history, states that "William Doleman was reputedly the first person to play golf in Canada. It was said that he went ashore with his clubs as a young sailor, aged sixteen on the Plains of Abraham above Quebec in 1854."

An article on the website of the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail says that "a young Scottish sailor, William Doleman, became the first golfer on this side of the Atlantic (at least the first historians can name) when he came ashore in 1854 to practise his swing."

How likely is it that Doleman, in 1854, was the first person to golf in Canada? No very likely, in our view. In fact, it's close to impossible. Golf was known to be played in the United States, after all, by at least the 1790s, and the same Scots who were immigrating or visiting the U.S. (and the Colonies before) were also settling or visiting various areas of Canada. The odds of none of those Scots bringing golf clubs, or fashioning golf clubs after arriving? We say close to zero.

In a 1974 issue of the Journal of Sport History, author Gerald Redmond cites reports of Scottish troops stationed on those same Plains of Abraham at Quebec City bringing the game with them in 1759-60. There is also a reference to Scottish settlers near Montreal staging a Christmas Day game of golf in 1824.

Those incidents aren't (as far as we know) confirmed, and, perhaps, aren't even confirmable. But they do show that reports of golf in Canada go back many years prior to Doleman's shore leave in 1854.

However, one thing we can say about William Doleman and golf in Canada: He is the earliest golfer we know by name (at least that's been discovered to this point) who played golf in Canada.

More About William Doleman

William Doleman is said to have taken up golf on the Musselburgh links almost as soon as he could walk, and, according to local lore, by the age of six he was able to drive a featherie ball over the grandstand, which included, at that time, the headquarters of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

He had three brothers who were also golfers, one of whom, Alexander Doleman, finished ninth in the 1870 British Open.

William became a sailor while still in his youth and visited various parts of the world, including, as we've already seen, Canada. By the time Doleman got back to Scotland, the Open Championship had been founded (in 1860). Doleman became a "jobmaster," a person in charge of hiring out cabs, all the while still playing and practicing golf.

The Open might have been the first professional golf tournament (and did not allow amateurs in its first year), but Doleman never became a pro. He was, throughout his later life, associated with Glasgow Golf Club and served stints as the club secretary.

In addition to the Open Championship, Doleman regularly played in the Amateur Championship (founded in 1885 when Doleman was already nearing his 50s). He never came close to winning the Amateur, but he kept playing it until 1912, when he was 73 years old.

After Doleman stopped playing the Amateur, he still attended the matches for several more years. His presence was always noted by the (generally) much younger players, many of whom enjoyed listening to Doleman's stories about competitors of yore.

An obituary published in a Scottish magazine titled Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News in July of 1918 stated that "William Doleman was one of the greatest of amateur golfers. For one thing he was the doyen of them all. No Amateur had been associated with the game, the big part of it, so long as he, and I believe he was the last survivor but one of those who played for the old Championship Belt away back in the 'sixties."

Those "sixties" were the 1860s, and the "the old Championship Belt" was the Challenge Belt the preceded the Claret Jug as the Open Championship "trophy."

The obituary's author also stated that "during a period of 30 years he was considered to be the leading amateur golfer in the country and, it must follow, in the world."

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