Gollan was born at Napier in New Zealand. He received his education in New Zealand, Switzerland, and at the University of Oxford. He became a racehorse owner in Australia and New Zealand. He was also a golfer who twice won the amateur Championship of New Zealand, and was a well-known figure at St. Andrews.
In 1900 he won the golfing Calcutta Cup. In the spring of 1901, with two professional oarsmen, Tom Sullivan and George Towns, he broke the record for rowing between Oxford and Putney along the River Thames. The distance of a little over 104 miles was covered in 13 hours 57 minutes. The previous record was set in 1889 at (22hrs and 28 minutes). They had the advantage of a good flow on the river and all the locks were in their favour. In 1904 his horse, Moifaa won the Grand National.
Gollan was the umpire in the World Sculling Championship match held between New Zealander Richard Arnst, the then Champion and challenger Ernest Barry of England. The match was raced on the Zambezi River near the Victoria Falls on 18 August 1910. Arnst won.
Gollan was a member of Thames Rowing Club and became a Vice President of the club in 1914. He was a capable rowing coach to his son Donald Gollan, who rowed in the 1928 Summer Olympics. In golf, Gollan won the Jubilee vase in 1925.
On 27 January 1934, Gollan was knocked down and killed by a bus in London. The coroner found that he had stepped out in front of the bus without seeing it, and noted that he was blind in one eye. He was aged 73.
- "Former Noted New Zealand Athlete Killed". Horowhenua Chronicle. 30 January 1934. p. 2. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
- "Deaths". The New Zealand Herald. LXXI (21712). 30 January 1934. p. 1. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
- "Stepped in Front". The Evening Post. CXVII (29). 3 February 1934. p. 14. Retrieved 1 July 2017.