The Oldest Golf Club in the World
Where is the oldest golf course in the world? Where is the oldest golf club in the world? Strangely enough, these questions aren’t as easy to answer as you might think. When you consider why however, its kind of logical.
Golf’s pioneers were indulging a personal recreational pursuit. Their selection of course (for want of a better name for it) would likely have been determined by restrictions on personal mobility and proximity to their own homes. Almost by default therefore, it’s likely that only a fraction of the links land available, was being used. The links of East Lothian would have been convenient for Edinburghers (Gullane, North Berwick, Musselburgh). The East Neuk fishing communities would serve Fife (St Andrews, Crail, Leven). A bit further north on upper-Tayside it would have been necessary to serve older settlements like Montrose, Arbroath & Dundee (Carnoustie, Panmure).
It was only with the advent of the railway that the scope dramatically increased. This is why you see so many railway lines bordering links courses, noticeably on the Ayrshire coast, albeit Glasgow Gailes is a particularly old course in this grouping that pre-dates the others.
The conventional wisdom that the game developed on links land isn’t usually disputed beyond the academic contrarian. These were after all the strips of ‘useless’ land that linked the sea with the more productive parcels of farming land behind it. No one had much need for them. So what probably happened is players plotted out their own personal courses and invented challenges in line with what they found in the landscape. The base hazards these pioneers faced are likely to be close to what we find today. In addition to wind, things like sand dunes would have been plentiful. These later morphed into bunkers of course. Long grass and natural vegetation such as gorse and heather won’t have changed significantly over the centuries either. Burns, (Scottish word for stream) would also have been introduced to the challenge where they were encountered.
These players were for the most part though indulging a solitary hobby, but since they’d have been a numerically small number regularly spending time on the links, it would come as no surprise to learn that fellow players would quickly learn to recognise each other. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see that a ‘route’ through the links would have been quickly shared amongst players as they discussed the challenges they’d conceived. The natural development from this would be to use directional markers such as flags, and a quasi-course would emerge. Naturally as friendships formed they consented to play alongside each other. This seems a logical step. It would naturally follow therefore that clubs would form.
So how old, and where became the issue in settling the question?
Well we know King James II tried to ban the game by Act of Parliament in 1457 so concerned he was that his bow-men were spending time honing their golf, rather than their archery skills. We also know that the game had moved in-land by the reign of King James VI as there are records of him buying golf balls to play a game in what was then forest, below the rock on which Stirling castle sits. Mary Queen of Scots played at St Andrews and Musselburgh, but for the most part we’re dependent on archived accounts describing people playing versions of golf on coastal links land. Records attesting to this link Carnoustie to 1527, Aberdeen to 1538, St Andrews to 1552 and Montrose to 1562. Some of these are however questioned in terms of whether one account of an individual hitting something that sounds like a golf ball on links land, really constitute a golf course? In any event, the course needed to be recognisable today to be considered the oldest. Dating a golf club was no less easier. Clubs seemingly came and went, so the issue of a continuous verifiable history is increasingly invoked to adjudicate
The club that can demonstrate the longest sequence isn’t one of the big names. Instead, from 1735, the accolade is held by the Edinburgh club of Royal Burgess, which perhaps ironically is a parkland course within the city boundaries. We have to say though, the club upholds its status very well and is a credit to golf. The course is immaculate and the traditions and history of the game well preserved and respected. The wooden panelled club house is maintained almost as a shrine, and serves as a quasi museum in its own right. The views from the 19th hole out across the course put you in a perfect state of relaxation.
With a neat bit of symmetry, our research tells us that 1735 just happens to be the same year that Augusta was founded (the city that is, not the national), but for the most part it was a reasonably uneventful year
Faraway Fairways play Royal Burgess as part of the East coast, and Muirfield coast tours. It is normally regarded as a privilege, and we’re delighted to be able to extend it to you.
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