Student Hits Hole in One With Golf Research

Guelph Grads on the Go – History of golf goes back 400 years in Scotland

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Wade Cormack

Wade Cormack

Wade Cormack went from PhD student to celebrity in a matter of minutes.

The recent U of G graduate garnered international media attention when he was selected by Scottish golf experts to take on the scholarly task of researching the origins of their culturally sacred sport.

The 25-year-old is the recipient of the Royal Dornoch PhD studentship, a unique one-time doctoral research program funded by Royal Dornoch Golf Club and the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness.

Under the studentship, Cormack will be researching the history of sport and culture from 1600 to 1800 in the Moray Firth region, which is just northeast of Inverness. But what’s of particular interest to the funders is the history of golf in that area during that time period. The goal is for Cormack to have his research on the history of golf complete in time to be showcased in a historical exhibit commemorating 400 years of golf in Dornoch in 2016.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” says Cormack. “Scotland is seen as the birthplace of the game of golf, and the area along the shoreline facing the North Sea where I am studying has one of the earliest recorded histories of the game. As a result golf is held in high esteem in this area, so I feel very fortunate to be a part of such a valued project.”

Scottish golf star and 1999 British Open winner Paul Lawrie along with the Dornoch Golf Club president and the Highlands and Islands principal were all at Cormack’s side for the official announcement of the studentship last summer. Media from across the globe covered the event held at the Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

Once the news was out, Cormack was bombarded with interview requests, and stories appeared on BBC in Scotland, the Scottish television news programs Reporting Scotland and STV News as well as in numerous Scottish newspapers. The announcement even made its way to several papers across Canada, including the Ottawa Citizen.

It was a new experience for the Huntsville native.

“It was nerve-wracking but also really exciting.”

For Cormack, the studentship is a combination of two of his favourite things: Scottish history and golf. He has been playing golf since he was 10, and his passion for Scottish history stems from the fact that he has ancestors from the country on both sides of his family.

After completing his BAS at U of G in 2011, Cormack decided to follow his passion and pursued a master of history under Guelph’s Centre for Scottish Studies. His master’s thesis examined the history of Scottish tourism and sport.

Cormack learned of the international competition for the studentship just months before his graduation last June and decided to apply.

He will spend three years in Scotland conducting his research with the University’s Centre for History in Dornoch.

Since hardly any research has been done on the topic, he will spend most of his time at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh scanning family letters from people who lived in the area, church documents detailing what was happening in the community and town council records about building developments.

“There hasn’t been much academic research in this area,” he says. “It’s somewhat of a dark spot until the Royal Dornoch Club was formed in 1877.”

Although little is known about the evolution of the sport in the Moray Firth region, researchers do know the game of golf was played as early as the 1600s. One of the earliest documented references to the sport in Dornoch dates back to 1616 when 10-year-old John, the 13th Earl of Sutherland, bought golf clubs and golf balls, says Cormack.

But it’s up to Cormack to try and dig up what happened from that point to the 1800s.

In between his hours of research, he also hopes to hit the links. Some of the top golf courses are located along the coast, including Dornoch Golf Club’s champion course, which was ranked fourth in the world in 2011 and is consistently in the top 20.

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