History of golf at St Andrews

History of golf at St Andrews.

History of golf at St Andrews
History of golf at St Andrews

King David gives links land to the people of St Andrews.
Golf first played on St Andrews Links.
Golf forbidden by Act of Scottish Parliament (James II).
Ban repeated (James III)
1491 Ban repeated (James IV).
James IV takes up golf and buys his first golf clubs.
Archbishop John Hamilton given permission by the burgh to establish a rabbit warren on the links.
The charter confirms the rights of townspeople to play golf over the links.
Two St Andrews boys rebuked by Kirk Session for golfing on Sabbath.
Archbishop Gladstanes grants a contract confirming Hamilton’s charter.
Gladstanes grants a charter confirming his contract.
James VI grants a charter ratifying Gladstanes’ contract and charter.
William Gib granted permission to put rabbits on the links, with a proviso that the golfing area must not be damaged.
Society of St Andrews Golfers founded.
Standard round of golf established at 18 holes.
Exchange of land between Laird of Strathtyrum and Town Council, with a condition that the golfing area is not to be ploughed up or enclosed.
Fees of caddies fixed.
St Andrews Town Council reported to be in financial difficulty.
Robert Gourlay and John Gunn advance money to the Town Council on the security of the links 
Gourlay and Gunn exercise their right to sell the links by disposing of part of the land to Thomas Erskine of Cambo.
Links sold to Charles and Cathcart Dempster, who introduce rabbits on a commercial scale.

Credit : scottishgolfhistory.org

History of golf at St Andrews

1574 St Andrews – The Student GolferKing James IV, who lifted the ban on golf in 1502 by buying the first (official) set of clubs in Perth, is also recording as buying clubs in 1506 when he was probably in St Andrews.  The Lord High Treasurer noted and compared the prices of clubs and balls at each venue. Falkland Palace in Fife was also a favoured residence where James IV and his son, James V, undertook extensive building works.

In 1552, Archbishop John Hamilton of St Andrews was given a charter to establish a rabbit warren on the north part of the links. The Charter confirmed the rights of the local populace ‘inter alia to play at golf’ on the links at St Andrews and these rights were confirmed in subsequent local and royal charters.

Another early reference to golf in St Andrews is in 1574 when there is a record of golfing ‘club and balls’ in the diaries of James Melville; Melville was a student in St Andrews between 1571 and 1574. His father was Minister in Maryton, near Montrose, where he was taught golf at school. While at St Andrews, he was provided with he ‘necessars’ (necessaries) for ‘archerie and golf’, so presumably he played while he was there

In 1583, 1598 and 1599, as elsewhere in Scotland, there are records in the Kirk Sessions of miscreants being taken to task in St Andrews to task for playing on the ‘golf fields’ on the Sabbath (Sunday).

The young Earl of Montrose, who was a noted golfer and met an unfortunate end, was also a student at St Andrews and his records too note expenditure on golf items in 1628-1629, while he was there.

There is an important reference to the pre-eminence of St Andrews in golf by Alexander Munro, Regent at St Andrews University. In a letter of 27th April 1691 to his friend, the Advocate (Barrister) John Mackenzie of Devline in Perthshire, he refers to St Andrews as the ‘metropolis of Golfing’. With the letter, he sent him

‘ane sett of Golfe-Clubs consisting of three, viz. an play club, ane Scrapper, and ane tin fac’d club.’

An and ane are the Scots words for one. This set would have been a driving wood, a lofting wood and an iron club. He also sent him ‘ane Dozen of Golfe balls.‘ This may imply a better local supply of clubs and balls compared to Perth.

By 1754, St Andrews consisted of twelve holes, ten of which were played twice, making a round of twenty-two holes in all. The course wends its way ‘out’ along the coast, and then turns back ‘in’ to the clubhouse. The instructions for playing the first competition there contained references to some of the Old Course holes which are still in existence. The last winner over this configuration was William St Clair of Roslin, who then, as Captain, authorised changes to the layout.

St. Andrews, 4th October 1764.

The Captain and Gentlemen Golfers present are of opinion that it would be for the improvement of the Links that the four first holes should be converted into two, – They therefore have agreed that for the future they shall be played as two holes, in the same way as presently marked out.


In 1764, the ‘Captain and Gentlemen Golfers present’ of the club now known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews decided the first four holes, which were also the last four holes, were too short and converted them into two holes to be played ‘in the same way as presently marked out, thus creating an eighteen-hole golf course. It was actually ten holes, of which eight were played twice. William St Clair of Roslin, three times captain at St Andrews and four times captain at Leith.

Competing uses for the St Andrew’s Links created friction between the golfers and others. The Town Council’s financial difficulties resulted in the links being sold in 1799 to the commercial rabbit breeders Charles and Cathcart Dempster, but in 1805 the local inhabitants won the right to kill the rabbits. For sixteen years the ‘Rabbit Wars’ were waged over the links and in court, until, in 1821, James Cheape of Strathtyrum bought the links for the golfers and laid the foundations of St Andrews’ golfing prosperity.


St Andrews, R&A clubhouse in winter

The present Royal and Ancient clubhouse was begun in 1854 and is seen in the picture with snow on the eighteenth hole. Golf was largely a winter game until the middle of the 19th Century, when mechanical grass cutters allowed play in the summer as well. With the increased prosperity of the Victorian times and the expansion of the railways, golf tourism took hold all over Britain.

By 1857, there were second holes on the middle greens and the course became the first 18-hole golf course in the world. Other courses soon followed.

In 1863, Old Tom Morris was appointed Custodier of the Links by the R&A. Old Tom was a St Andrew’s man who had studied under another great St Andrew’s golfer, Allan Robertson, before Tom had gone to Prestwick to be appointed Keeper of the Green there. Robertson died in 1859, and Old Tom returned to St Andrews to conduct extensive remodelling of the course as well as building others. Many people credit Old Tom with developing the manicured links that we see today.

James Cheape subsequently sold the Links in 1893 to the Royal and Ancient Club, who bid £5000, which was £500 more than the Town Council. However, the Council successfully petitioned Parliament to keep the Links in common ownership. Ultimately, after many Acts of Parliament, the Links were taken over by the Links Trust who run it today.

There are now other courses on the Links. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club built the New Course in 1895, designed by Old Tom Morris as well as the Jubilee course, which was opened with 12 holes in 1897 and named in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee that took place that year. It was extended to 18 holes in 1905. The Eden Course was opened in 1914 and the Strathtyrum in 1993. The nine-hole Balgrove course, designed for beginners and children, was first created in 1972, but substantially remodelled in 1993, when the Strathtyrum was completed. The latter three courses are built largely on land purchased at various times from the Strathtyrum estate of the Cheape family.

All six public Links courses, including the Old Course, are owned and operated by the St Andrews Links Trust. The Trust has two Links Clubhouses, open to the public, and strives to make it easy as possible for visitors to play when they want.

Apart from the clubhouse for the Royal and Ancient, there are clubhouses overlooking the links for The St Andrews Golf Club (1843) and The New Golf Club St Andrews (1902) for men and the St Rule Club (1896) and St Regulus Ladies Golf Club (1913) for women.