Baillie, George L. (d. 1922), pioneer of Irish golf, was born in Musselburgh, Scotland; nothing is known about his parentage or early life except that he played golf from childhood at the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club. He taught English in Scotland before serving (1880–90) as head of the commercial department of the Belfast Academy (renamed ‘Belfast Royal Academy’, 1887); there he met a member of the board of governors, Thomas Sinclair (qv) (1838–1914), who requested his help in the founding of a golf course. Capt. John Harrison, the ‘laird’ of Holywood, gave them permission to lay out a course on his land, free of rent, which became the first home of the (Royal) Belfast Club, founded 9 November 1881, a six-hole course on eighty acres at Kinnegar, Holywood, Co. Down. Baillie was appointed hon. secretary (1881). The Royal Belfast is the oldest existing and first organised golf club in Ireland; its first match, played on St Stephen's Day 1881, marked the beginning of the modern era of Irish golf. By 1888 it boasted over a hundred members. In May 1888 Baillie won the challenge plate and again in November, when he tied with Scottish-born Thomas Gilroy (b. 1852), Ireland's premier golfer until his departure to England in 1896. Baillie resigned from the club in 1888 in order to develop the game at other venues.
Travelling by train with Gilroy to Portrush 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 the railway station. He became a founding member, and was elected joint honorary secretary (pro tem) and treasurer of the County Club (Portrush), Co. Antrim, renamed in 1895 the Royal Portrush Golf Club. He laid out the links, comprising forty acres and nine holes (extended to eighteen in 1889). The course was praised by the Belfast News Letter (2 April 1888) for it ‘abounds in hazards of the bunker type. The greens are clear and springy and completely free from brackens and from whins’. 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. He was a key figure in the creation of other early Irish golf courses; 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 hon. secretary and joint hon. treasurer at the inaugural meeting (23 March 1889) of the (Royal) County Down Club at Newcastle; he thus played a major role in the foundation and organisation of two golf links which were to become world famous. When the great professional Scottish golfer known as Old Tom Morris (1821–1908) was invited to the club with a view to extending the links 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’ (Gibson, 73).
An outstanding, talented, and dedicated pioneer in the promotion of golf, he was instrumental in founding golf courses at Leopardstown (1891), Lisburn (1891), Bundoran (1894), Larne (1894), Rostrevor (1892), Knock (1895), MacGilligan (1896), Greenore (1896), Castlerock (1900), Scrabo (1907), Omagh (1910), and maybe in other places, and was frequently secretary of the new clubs. In Scotland he is known to have designed the course for the New Galloway Golf Club in 1902.
The first to appreciate and exploit the opportunities provided by railways in the development of golf, he may have been paid a retainer by some of the railway companies which encouraged the sport; they altered their timetables to suit the golfing public and agreed with golf clubs on reduced fares. He vigorously promoted golf at home and abroad, advertised in the Golfing Annual and the Belfast News Letter, and played golf into old age. He died 21 July 1922 at his home, 75 Fitzroy Avenue, Belfast, and was buried at Carnmoney cemetery, Belfast. He was survived by his wife, Christina.