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Foundation of world's first golf club 1744

Mary, Queen of Scots with Lord Darnley

© SCRAN

The exact origins of golf have long been argued over, with dispute as to where the game began and what form it took in the early days. A version of the game is thought to have been played as far back as Roman times and there is evidence to show that the game was outlawed by James II, who was concerned that it interfered with archery practice. In later years Mary Queen of Scots is known to have been a keen exponent of the game.

A form of golf was also played in Holland in the 1600s. Therefore it is perhaps not unnatural that Leith, then the main trading port with the Low Countries, should become one of the most popular places for the game to be played.

In the first half of the eighteenth century golf was still an unregulated pastime with no universal rules and local variances around the country. That was soon to change.

Despite the many claims as to golf's origins, it is generally accepted that the first properly organised Golf Club was founded in Scotland in 1744, when the”Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh” was formed in Edinburgh.

Even that is not without some controversy as another Edinburgh club, The Royal Burgess Golfing Society, claims to have been in existence in 1735.

Leith Links

© SCRAN

However, in the absence of any documentary evidence, and with the RBGS records only dating from 1773, the honour of being the oldest club is given to the Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh .The name was later changed for legal reasons and in 1800 they became “The Honourable the Edinburgh Company of Golfers” later abbreviated to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

The original home was in Leith, where the club played over the five hole course on Leith Links that remained their base for nearly a century.

Having previously acknowledged the existence of the Royal Company of Archers in 1709 by presenting them with a silver arrow, Edinburgh Council were successfully petitioned by the members of the golf club to provide a trophy and they duly recognised the formation of the new club by presenting a silver club to be played for by “an Annual competition among Noblemen and Gentlemen from any part of Great Britain and Ireland.”

The foundation of the Honourable Company with its new competition, also brought about the first agreed set of rules - 13 in all, that formed the basis of that first tournament. Known as the “Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf”, these same rules were adopted by the golfers of St Andrews in 1754 and were the basis of the game that is played today.

William Inglis, an Honourable Edinburgh golfer

© SCRAN

Eleven members of the club competed in that inaugural tournament, which was won by John Rattray, a local physician and club member on 2nd April 1744. The ten other players, Robert Biggar, James Carmichael, Richard Cockburn, William Crosse, David Dalrymple, Hew Dalrymple, James Gordon, Hon James Leslie, George Suttie and James Veith were all prominent figures in Edinburgh at the time.

Rattray's winning score is not recorded but what is known is that a round, instead of being played over the 18 holes that is the norm these days, consisted of playing ten holes - with each of the five holes being played twice.

Rattray was declared “Captain of Golf” to commemorate his success in what was the first organised golf event anywhere in the world.

In 1767 a house was constructed nearby at a cost of £767 for use by the members and was the original golf “clubhouse”

However as the game of golf became more popular, the course became too busy with other clubs and societies and the members felt they had to move and they relocated to Musselburgh in 1836.

The club is still in existence today, and is now located at its third home.

In 1891, with the members again feeling pressurised by lack of space, the club moved to just outside Gullane, to the site of the Hundred Acre Race course, owned by the Rt Hon. Nisbet Hamilton. This site is now known as Muirfield, and is one of the most famous courses in the world.

Written by: Dave Low



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