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You are in: Highlands and Islands > People & Places > History > Golf in Scotland

A Display of clubs at The British Golf Museum, St Andrews. Permission for use of image given by The British Golf Museum.

Golf in Scotland

One of the main themes for Homecoming Scotland 2009 is golf. We look at the history of the game in Scotland, the role of the R&A and find out why Scotland is known the world over as the home of golf.

Scotland is celebrated as the Home of Golf in 2009 as part of the Homecoming Scotland celebrations.

From the Open at Turnberry in July to Scottish Golf Homecoming Classics at various clubs throughout the year, golf will be celebrated on a small to large scale across the country.

Details from a Dutch tile showing the game of kolf

Details from a Dutch tile showing the game of kolf

The origins of golf are unclear although Scotland has claimed them for itself. One theory is that the game originated in St Andrews with shepherds knocking stones into rabbit holes in the twelfth century. Many ball and sticks games were played in the middle ages in different countries. Holland had the thirteenth century game of 'kolf', whilst the French played 'paille maille' in the sixteenth century. The Romans had the game of 'paganica'. There is also evidence to suggest that the Chinese were playing a form of golf as long ago as AD 945.

Whatever the origins, the first written record of golf is mentioned in 1457 when King James II of Scotland banned golf on the Sabbath as it was taking men away from their archery practice. The game of golf continued to evolve in Scotland and it began to spread from Scotland to the rest of the world with 18th century Scots travelling abroad for work and taking knowledge of the game with them.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club

St Andrews officially became the 'home of golf' in the 1890s when the R&A took over governing the rules of the game, up until then it was known as the metropolis of golf.

Golf at St Andrews in 1967

Golf at St Andrews in 1967

The St Andrews Society of Golfers that developed into the Royal and Ancient Golf Club was set up in 1754. The R&A was the first club to establish the number of holes at 18, and now is the governing authority for the rules of the game at home and on the international stage.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club is known as such for both its royal and ancient connections. The Silver Club annual challenge, introduced in 1754 symbolises the club's history. The winner of the challenge becomes Captain of the club for the year. Each new captain adds a silver ball to the club, the exception being the six royal captains who have each attached a gold ball.

The club's royal connections date back to 1834 when King William IV became patron of the club. The club then changed its name from the Society of St Andrews Golfers to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. 

In 2004 The R&A separated from the member's club with the R&A maintaining the rules of golf, giving guidance on aspects of golf course management and the development of golf as well as organising The Open Championship.

The Claret Jug

The Claret Jug

The Open

The first Open Golf Championship was played in 1860. Prestwick Golf Club hosted the first twelve opens with the first win by Willie Park Senior. Tom Morris Senior lost the first Open by two strokes but won the tournament four times in the 1860s.

The Championship Belt was the first trophy to be awarded for the Open and was won outright by Tom Morris Senior in 1871 after three successive wins as the rules stated that the belt was 'the property of the winner by being won three years in succession'.

A cast of Seve Ballesteros' hands on display in The British Golf Museum

A cast of Seve Ballesteros' hands

As there was no new trophy ready for 1871 the Open did not take place but resumed in 1872 after agreement for funding of the new trophy came from the R&A, Prestwick and Edinburgh.

A medal was awarded in 1872 as the trophy was not ready but in 1873 the Claret Jug was ready to take pride of place as the trophy for the Open. Tom Kidd won the Open that year and his name was duly engraved on The Claret Jug along with the winner of the 1872 Open, Tom Morris Junior.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club took over sole responsibility for organising The Open in 1920. The Open was first televised live by the BBC in 1955. Currently, The Open is covered by 75 broadcasters and 550 journalists world-wide. The 2009 Open will return to Turnberry in Ayrshire, the setting for 1977's 'duel in the sun' between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

Scotland is home to more than 550 golf courses, from the coastal links of Angus and Morayshire to inland classic courses such as Gleneagles. As part of Homecoming Scotland 2009 selected clubs around the country are offering free golf foursomes to club visitors. An exhibition devoted to the history of The Open, 'Whole in One', is showing at Maclaurin galleries in Ayr from June to October.

last updated: 13/03/2009 at 17:40
created: 13/01/2009

You are in: Highlands and Islands > People & Places > History > Golf in Scotland

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