where it all began

Amusingly, most of the early references to golf in Scottish official records are either to ban it or to condemn those playing it !

Perth, Leith, Musselburgh or St Andrews?

The first documented mention, is from 6th March 1457, when King James II banned ‘ye golf’, in an attempt to encourage archery practice, which was being neglected. This royal ban was continued in 1471 by his son, James III, and again in 1491 by his grandson, James IV.

The ban was lifted in 1502 in Perth by King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513) who decided that the threat from England had reduced so there was no longer such a need for a ban on golf. He is recorded as buying a set of golf clubs. However we are not certain where he played. Possibly on the North Inch in Perth, where golf is still played today.

First Golf Club

The first recorded Golf Society was the Royal Burgess Golf Society (formed in 1735)

The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith (1744) is considered to be the first official golf club. It was later renamed the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, (who are now based at Muirfield Golf Courses).

Ten years later, in 1754, the St Andrews Society of Golfers was formed following Leith's rules, now the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

King William gave St Andrew’s the title the 'Royal & Ancient' in 1834.

Try Original Hickory Golf

To try a round of golf playing with original hickory golf clubs, with wooden shafts, you can go to Kingarrock Golf Course at Cupar, near St Andrews. For more information please click here.

Golf was originally played with what we call "hickory" golf clubs. These had hickory wooden shafts and metal club heads. The clubs sometimes had names stamped on the metal to identify them. Memories of the names of the old style of clubs can be seen in St Andrews, with the old Jigger Inn next to the new Old Course Hotel. And "The Niblick" which is one of the pubs in St Andrews, near to the Old Course Hotel.
Hickory clubs can have different names stamped on the metal heads.
The "Jigger" club is said to be similar to a No.5 iron of today while the "Niblick" is rather like a sand iron of today. They would have use a "Brassie" as a driver or wood, and a "mashie" for approach shots, and a "mashie niblick" which would be midway between a mashie and a niblick. And they would have had a putter. Although the modern set of golf clubs typically numbers 14, a basic hickory set has fewer clubs.
Ladies clubs are sometimes stamped with an L.

And with the original clubs you should try the original golf balls ! The balls were originally wood, then for about three centuries balls were manufactured from feather and leather. Then in 1848, the Rev Dr Robert Adams created a ball from the rubber-like dried sap of the Sapodilla tree from Malaysia, (in Malay it is called the Gutta Percha tree) and the balls were called "Gutta percha" balls or "guttie" golf balls. These balls were used until about 1900 when rubber and synthetic materials and another natural material "balata" began being used.

Old Golfing Photographs

Have a look at some really interesting photographs of golf at St Andrews from the as early as 1850 by clicking here.