Baillie, George Lockhart (c. 1848–1922), pioneer of Irish golf, was born around 1848 in Inveresk, Scotland, the son of Lockhart Baillie, an Inland Revenue official of Inveresk, and his wife Margaret (née Telfer). From the age of ten George played golf at the nearby Royal Musselburgh Golf Club. By 1868 he was a teacher in Dundee, where he married Christina Archibald from Musselburgh in 1871. They would have seven surviving children. During the 1870s he also taught at Park School, Glasgow, and at High School, Carlisle.
In 1880 he arrived in Belfast to become head of the commercial department of the Belfast Academy (renamed ‘Belfast Royal Academy’, 1887), where a member of the board of governors, Thomas Sinclair (qv), requested his help in founding a golf course. Captain John Harrison, the ‘laird’ of Holywood, Co. Down, gave them permission to use his land at Kinnegar, free of rent, which became the first home of the Belfast Club (later the Royal Belfast Club), founded 9 November 1881, with Baillie as the honorary secretary. Baillie laid out the course with the assistance of Walter Day, a golfer from Musselburgh. Comprising nine holes on eighty acres of low-lying, marshy ground, the design was unavoidably primitive, with the hazards including whin bushes and a quarry.
The Royal Belfast is the oldest existing and first organised golf club in Ireland, and its inaugural competition, played on St Stephen’s Day 1881, marked the beginning of the modern era of Irish golf. It was an inauspicious start: the prize winners over two nine-hole circuits shot rounds of 121, 130 and 131. Locals, the younger ones especially, would visit Kinnegar to mock what they saw as a bizarre sport for old men. Through Baillie’s unstinting efforts as organiser and golf instructor the membership grew while the scoring improved. Initially the club’s best golfer, he was considered a steady rather than a brilliant player. He won club competitions and developed a rivalry with Ireland’s premier golfer, the Scottish-born Thomas Gilroy. In 1885 he was part of the Royal Belfast selection which partook in Ireland’s first inter-club match when they travelled to play the Dublin Club on its Phoenix Park course. The same year the reclamation of land from Belfast Lough allowed Baillie to extend the Belfast course, following which most of the holes were over 200 yards long.
In 1888 when the flourishing club boasted over 100 members, Baillie resigned as its secretary so he could develop other, less cramped golf venues. Travelling by train with Gilroy to Portrush, Co. Antrim, in 1888, he was impressed by the possibilities of designing a course in the sand dunes, and one, moreover, which was in the vicinity of a railway station. He became a founding member and was elected joint honorary secretary and treasurer of the County Club (Portrush), renamed in 1895 the Royal Portrush Golf Club. He laid out the links, comprising 40 acres and nine holes; the course was extended to eighteen in 1889. The Belfast News-Letter (2 Apr. 1888) reported that it ‘abounds in hazards of the bunker type. The greens are clear and springy and completely free from brackens and from whins … there is now no necessity for our local players to cross the channel for the thorough enjoyment of the game’. On the opening of the links (12 May 1888), Baillie competed with more than forty others for a scratch prize and won the silver cup, which became known as the George Baillie Cup.
Attracted by the beautiful landscape at the terminus of the Belfast & County Down Railway at Newcastle, Co. Down, he laid out a nine-hole course and was a founding member and elected joint honorary secretary and joint honorary treasurer at the inaugural meeting on 23 March 1889 of the (Royal) County Down Club at Newcastle. Baillie thus played a major role in the foundation and organisation of two world-famous golf links (Portrush and County Down). When the great professional Scottish golfer Old Tom Morris (1821–1908) was invited to extend the links at Newcastle in 1890, he wondered ‘why they send for me, this Mr Baillie kens mair about laying golf links than I dae. They had nae need to send for me’ (Early Irish golf, 73).
Elsewhere, Baillie helped in founding golf courses in Ireland at Leopardstown (1891), Lisburn (1891), Rostrevor (1892), Ballynafeigh (1893), Bundoran (1894), Larne (1894), Knock (1895), Massereene (1895), MacGilligan (1896), Greenore (1896), Garron Point (1899), Ardara (1899), Castlerock (1900), Kirkistown (1902), Magilligan (1906), Scrabo (1907), Whitehead (1909), Toome (1909), Omagh (1910), Balmoral (1914) and perhaps elsewhere. Nearly all were in Ulster, particularly on its north-east. In some cases, he was merely consulted on the feasibility of the project; in others he designed the course and oversaw the club’s establishment as its secretary before moving on. By 1909 he had been involved in the creation of twenty-two golf clubs, always with a view to working with nature rather than conquering it. In Scotland he designed the course for the New Galloway Golf Club. Arriving there on 1 April 1902, he inspected the relevant fields and marked out the course that day, drawing up the design in the evening; he also advised on the likely cost and on the level of subscriptions and fees. He charged £4 for his services while the expense of making the course, which opened on 17 May, came to £17.
The first to identify the opportunities provided by railways in the development of golf, he may have been paid a retainer by railway companies; these companies altered their timetables to suit the golfing public and agreed with golf clubs on reduced fares. Baillie promoted golf at home and abroad, advertised in the Golfing Annual and the Belfast News-Letter, and organised golf tours through his relationships with the railway companies and the hotels they owned.
These initiatives were performed alongside his duties at the Belfast School of Commerce, which he had founded after he left the Belfast Royal Academy in 1890. The commerce school offered courses in book-keeping and secretarial work; he wound down this operation in 1915. By 1901 he and his wife were members of the Church of Ireland, though they had been married in a presbyterian church. Playing golf into old age, he died 21 July 1922 at his home, 75 Fitzroy Avenue, Belfast, and was buried at Carnmoney cemetery, Belfast.