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Famous North Berwick Golfers
Willie Anderson    Arnaud Massy    Wilfred Thomson    Ben Sayers    Dorothy Campbell    Fred McLeod

Leslie Balfour-Melville
Amateur Golf Champion
Born: 1854, Edinburgh
Died: 16th July 1937, North Berwick

[12th on East Course]
12th Glen Course, North Berwick
© Digitalsport UK

[14th on West
14th West Links, North Berwick
© Digitalsport UK

North Berwick Amateur Golfers
John E Laidlay
Dorothy Campbell
Robert Maxwell

[18th Gullane No.1]
Gullane Main Street and No.1 Course
© Digitalsport UK

  'Scotland's Best All Round Athlete'
By Douglas Seaton
North Berwick Factfile

Leslie Balfour-Melville, born 9th March 1854, Bonnington Brae House, Edinburgh, son of James Balfour, Writer to the Signet, and his wife Elizabeth Maitland. Leslie was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University where he studied Law. In 1894 he joined his father and brother in the law firm his grandfather established named Balfour & Scott, 19 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. Leslie's father was chairman of the Northern Investment Company of New Zealand with its headquarters in Edinburgh. In 1893 the family changed its name to Balfour-Melville when his father succeeded to the estate of Mount Melville near St Andrews in Fife.

In 1871 Leslie Balfour-Melville was 16-years-old when he won a competition for young gentlemen that Old Tom Morris organised at St Andrews. Balfour-Melville was described as the best all round athlete that Scotland has produced. He was a fine sprinter in his boyhood and played for Scotland in an International Rugby match while still a schoolboy. He was a skater, curler, long jumper and Scottish Billiard champion. In 1879 he won the Scottish Lawn Tennis Championship and was for innumerable years the best batsman in Scotland representing his country almost continuously from 1870 till 1910. The highlight of his sporting career was on 29th July 1882, as captain, opening batsman and wicket-keeper, he led Scotland to victory over Australia at cricket.

In 1874 Leslie Balfour-Melville won his first St. Andrews medal- it was the second prize at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club Autumn Meeting. The following year Leslie won the Royal Medal of the Club which he successfully defended in 1876 and won again in 1877. In 1876 the winner was also presented with an additional silver medal by His Royal Highness Prince Leopold to commemorate his year as captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. He won the Amateur Championship in 1895 at St Andrews beating John Ball at the nineteenth hole. In the play-off, both played short of the Swilcan burn in two. Balfour Melville pitched safely over but Ball pitched the ball almost straight up into the air and it landed in the burn. Amazingly in Balfour Melville's two previous rounds against Willie Greig and Lawrence Auchterlonie both matches went to the nineteenth hole and twice his opponents found the Swilcan Burn. The same year his older brother Robert A.A. Balfour-Melville won the Australian Amateur Championship.

It took Ball twelve years to make up for his mistake, but he won the championship at St. Andrews in 1907. It was a coincidence that Balfour Melville was captain of the Royal and Ancient Club that year and presented John Ball with the Cup and Gold Medal.

Balfour Melville joined the Honorable Company Of Edinburgh Golfers in 1881 and won over Musselburgh three first medals in spring and tied for a fourth; won the winter medal three times, and also carried off twice in succession a silver medal given as second prize in 1887. At St Andrews he was five times winner in the autumn, four times second medalist and five times winner of the Bombay medal and in 1890 he won the Silver Cross at the spring meeting.

In 2002, Leslie Balfour-Melville was an inaugural inductee into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.

He also won the Jubilee Vase and was four times winner of the George Glennie Medal for the best aggregate scores at both meetings. He won the first 'Medal Day' at Muirfield in April 1892, with Laidlay second.

His father James Balfour was also a talented golfer and his name appears as a medal winner three times at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. In 1848 James Balfour's brother-in-law Admiral Maitland-Dougall played a match at Blackheath using the new gutta-percha balls on a very wet day. According to reports, the ball appeared to fly better at the end of the day and Balfour was persuaded to send to London for some of these balls. He went to Musselburgh to try them out and Gourlay, the ball-maker followed them round and was astonished to see how they flew and remained round and rolled straight to the hole on the putting green.

In 1874, a challenge appeared in the 'Field' magazine from the Mouldsworths father and son at Westerward Ho! to play any other father and son in the country, the match was to be three rounds of the links at St Andrews. James Balfour Melville and his son Leslie accepted the challenge. The match attracted a large gallery and the Balfours beat their English players by seven holes.

Leslie Balfour-Melville played in three Open Championships in 1885, 1888, 1892 and was leading amateur at St Andrews in 1888 finishing in fifth place. He represented Scotland in the first International match against England in 1902-03. As a youngster Leslie Balfour-Melville played matches with Young Tom Morris and was a contemporary of Johnny Laidlay. He was runner up to Laidlay in the Amateur Championship in 1889.

Leslie had a powerful grip and strong wrists from his cricketing days, was a straight driver and a good bad weather player. He beat Harry Vardon when partnered with Johnny Laidlay in a 'best ball' contest over St Andrews. This was Vardon's only defeat of his Scottish Tour in 1899. Balfour-Melville reached the final of the French Amateur Championship in 1910 and was defeated at the thirty-seventh hole.

Leslie Balfour-Melville married twice, his first wife Jeanie Wilson was the mother of their two sons James Inglis Balfour-Melville and James Elliot Balfour-Melville who was killed in WW1 serving as Lieutenant in the Black Watch. In the late 1920s Leslie Balfour-Melville resided at 4 Thistle Court, Edinburgh before moving permanently to North Berwick.

Robert and John Balfour-Melville

Robert A.A. Balfour-Melville (1849-1942) and his twin brother John Elphinstone Balfour-Melville were born 4 November 1849, in Bonnington Brae House in Edinburgh. Robert emigrated to Australia in 1876 and worked for an Estate Agent in Victoria until the 1890s when he moved to Melbourne and practiced as a Public Accountant. He was an outstanding sportsman as a member of Royal Melbourne Golf Club he won the Australian Amateur Championship in 1896-97-98. Robert resided in Fernhill Road in the district of Sandringham in Sydney and his uncle James L. Balfour Melville lived in McLauchlin Avenue, Sandringham.

John Elphinstone Balfour-Melville (1849-1928) the brother of Leslie Balfour-Melville emigrated to Australia in 1880 and resided in Goulbourn Valley, Victoria before moving to Dubbo in the Orana Region of New South Wales. He joined the Dubbo Golf Club in 1912 and regularily cycled the eight miles to the course. He was elected vice chairman of Dubbo Golf Club and then Patron, prior to his death in February 1928.

J. Elliot Balfour-Melville inherited much of his fathers game-playing ability. He went up to Oxford in 1902, got his blue for Association Football in his Freshman’s year and played also in 1903, 1904, and 1905 being captain in his last year. He was a good cricketer though not quite good enough for a blue. Golf he played well but casually – Football interfered with golf at Oxford and he never quite got into the team. He was a chartered accountant in Edinburgh and received a commission in the Black Watch soon after the outbreak of war.

Leslie Balfour-Melville was President of the Scottish Rugby Union, President of the Scottish Cricket Union and Captain of the Grange Cricket Club in Edinburgh and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in 1906. Leslie Melville Balfour-Melville died 16th July 1937 at Mafeking House, 35 Westgate, North Berwick aged 83 years. In 2002 he was an inaugural inductee into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.

[Balfour Melville]
Left to Right: Horace G. Hutchinson chatting with Leslie Balfour Melville © Golf Illustrated 1915

Copyright © Douglas Seaton 1994 - 2020, All Rights Reserved.