Archie Baird, Scotland’s ‘ambassador for golf’, dies at 95

Archie Baird, beloved ambassador for golf who lived in Gullane, Scotland, died Sunday, Dec. 7, 2019. He was 95. He passed away very peacefully at Edington Cottage Hospital in North Berwick.

Mr. Baird, a former RAF fighter pilot and veterinary surgeon, is survived by his wife, Sheila, a medical doctor and great-grandaughter of the legendary Willie Park Sr., first winner of the Open Championship, Prestwick in 1860. The couple had four great-grandchildren.

Early in their marriage the couple shared a small flat in Edinburgh. Their tight budget forced the couple to search second-hand shops and auctions for furnishings. It was during one such excursion that Mr. Baird came upon a dusty bag of hickory shafted clubs. One of the log-nosed woods bore the name of Park. Excited by the find of a club connected to a family member, he bought the club for five shillings (less than a dollar), and thus began a lifelong love of golf collecting.

Mr. Baird began to scour shops throughout England and eventually amassed an enormous number of especially prized ancient clubs before turning his eye to other golf collectibles such as books, medals, and other odds and ends. His keenest interest turned out to be artwork.

His home was a gallery of landscapes, golfing scenes, portraits, sketches, prints, and caricatures. The artist names were a who’s who of the genre – Major Francis Powell Hopkins, W.D. McKay, John Smart, J. Michael Brown, John Hassell, “George Pipeshank,” John Barclay, Lawson Wood, Harry Rountree, and William S. Nicholson. One of the oldest pieces was a tempura painting from the 1850s of the Bruntsfield links. He had also acquired a portrait of W. Goddard. Esq. painted by Charles Lees, RSA as a study for his later masterpiece “A Grand Match Played Over St. Andrews Links.” 

 Archie Baird in an early 1980s photo of the Golf Heritage Museum.

In 1980 wishing to share some of these treasures, and with fellow collector Ben Crenshaw cutting the ribbon, Mr. Baird opened the Heritage of Golf Museum nearly adjacent to the 18th green of the Gullane No. 1 golf course in Aberlady. Thousands of visitors have come through the museum these past 40 years. Mr. Baird charged not a penny, rather wanting visitors to come away with a deeper appreciation of the game’s rich history. He delighted in giving those tours, all delivered in a concise, entertaining style punctuated with dry humor and memorable one-liners. In an interview with Links Magazine he spoke of the Dutch as inventors of the game:

“They were ahead of the Scots, but they couldn’t make decent clubs—they didn’t need to because they played on iced-over canals, so everyone hit the ball a long way. Nonetheless it was the Scottish craftsmen, with their fine woods of beech and ash, who made the first great golf clubs, and it was the Scots who spread the game.”

He would often appear at golf functions wearing an original red golf play coat, c. early 1800s, worn by members of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, a coat he was said to have found at a Boy Scout rummage sale.

Mr. Baird was the author of Golf on Gullane Hill, published in 1982, which recounts 350 years of golf on Gullane links. He was a member of Muirfield Golf Club and assisted in the development of exhibits that display the club’s rich history. He also donated the pocket watch that Old Tom Morris gave his son, Tommy, after he won his first Open Championship, to the St Andrews Golf Club, whose clubhouse faces the 18th fairway of the St Andrews Old Course. A small plaque commemorates the gift.

Among many other memberships and honors, Mr. Baird was a founding member of the British Golf Collectors Society, latterly an Honorary Life member and an original committee member. He won the BGCS’s Murdoch Medal in 2000 and in June 2018 was honored with the British Empire Medal, both in recognition for services to the history of golf. The BEM was bestowed as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours, which annually recognizes individuals for a variety of services to the Crown.

He was a past Captain of Gullane Golf Club, and an honorary member the Society of Hickory Golfers, the latter a modest honor, but a testimony to the esteem in which he was held by those around the world who value golf’s traditions.

Mr. Baird will long be remembered for his kindness, his keen appreciation for golf’s heritage and his expertise in sharing that knowledge.

Additional information will be added here as it becomes available.