In 1744, a committee of
the Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh drafted the
first 13 rules of golf
compete for a silver golf club, presented by the
City of Edinburgh, over Leith Links. John Rattray,
a physician and champion, was the first winner and was declared
‘Captain of the Golf’ and thus winner of the first recorded open golf
championship on 2nd April 1744.
The event is commemorated in a plaque on the
cairn on Leith Links shown in pictures on the
history of Leith Links.
This was the first golfing activity of any
golf club in the world.
The gift of a silver club as the prize appears to derive from fact the City
of Edinburgh gifted a silver arrow to the Royal Company of Archers in 1709
for one of their competitions.
PLAYERS OF THE FIRST GOLF COMPETITION
Eleven players took part in the
first competition. They were:-
John Rattray (the
Hon James Leslie
Duncan Forbes, President of the Court of Session,
apparently put his name down for the competition, but did not play. The players were important and well-known people
in Edinburgh, and several had been mentioned in a mock-heroic poem
called The Goff,
written in 1743 by Thomas Mathison about the golfers at Leith, reproduced in
Robert Clark’s book.
The first competition was over a five hole
course, depicted below.
Leith Links Golf Course 1744
For the first twenty years the Leith competition was ‘open’ to
all golfers, but from 1764, with the formal agreement of the City of
Edinburgh, it was limited to members of the Leith club. In the same year,
the Gentlemen Golfers appointed the first golf
Chaplain, Dr John Dun,
whose first act as Chaplain was to say grace after
The Gentlemen Golfers built a clubhouse at Leith in 1768, the first
purpose built clubhouse in the world. Until then they
usually met in a tavern called Luckie
Clephan's. There is a minute on 2nd July 1768
recording the foundation
ceremony for the ‘Golf House’, as it was called. Sadly, it was
sold and demolished
and is now under the building on Duke Street constructed in 1931 for the
Leith Academy, and now part of Queen Margaret College.
Known by various names, the Gentlemen Golfers became ‘The Honourable the
Edinburgh Company of Golfers’ in 1800 when they needed to adopt a standard
name for legal reasons. Subsequently, this was streamlined to the present
Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, with the Napoleonic Wars raging, Leith
Links had become overcrowded with people and golf was declining in
popularity, or at least, being a member of a golf club was. Many golf clubs
disappeared. In 1831, The Honourable Company fell into particular financial
difficulties through heavy mortgaging, misappropriation of funds and third
party guarantees for others’ debts, eventually owing several hundred pounds.
An ‘administrator’ was appointed, and in 1833 the club’s early treasures
were sold off for £106 but failed to clear the debts, so the clubhouse at
Leith was also sold raising £1,130. That is how the ‘Golf House’ was lost
and why one of the club’s best known pictures, the portrait of William St
Clair of Roslin, (Captain in 1761, 1766 and 1770-1771), came to be owned by the Royal Company of Archers, who
paradoxically were also heavily in debt at this time. No competitions were
held from 1831-1835.
The Honourable Company reformed in 1836 at Musselburgh, then an eight-hole
golf course inside the racetrack. They also played the West Links at North
Berwick during the summer months, as they shared Musselburgh with several
The practice of declaring the winner of the Silver Club captain for the next
year ceased after 1837 and election became the norm. The members possibly
felt that the best golf player did not necessarily make the most suitable
chairman of the club’s financial affairs.
In 1865 they built a new clubhouse in Links Place
at Musselburgh, now a children's nursery at 6
Balcarres Road, shown above.
In 1872, the Honourable Company contributed to the Claret Jug for the ‘Open
Championship’ along with Prestwick Golf Club and
the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. They continued to be involved in the Open until 1919,
when the running of the event was handed over to the Royal & Ancient
Later, overcrowding at Musselburgh forced
Honourable Company to move again,
settling on another racecourse, further down the
coast, the site of the East
Lothian horse races on the Hundred Acres Park owned by the Rt Hon Nisbet
Hamilton. This became the Muirfield course.
It was designed by Old Tom Morris and
the first 16 holes,
built by ‘hand and horse’, were opened on 3rd May 1891, with
the final two holes
added in December of the same year.
The club has no professional shop
, but can buy Muirfield memorabilia at the
professional shop of
Golf Club nearby, which has three courses
to match all levels of golfing ability.
More details of bookings now on
Honourable Company's website.
More details of early golf at Leith Links
More details of early golf at Musselburgh
details of Rules of Golf
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