Plaque on the cairn shown in picture
The first mention of golf in relation to Leith dates
from a reported dispute in 1552 between ‘the cordiners (cobblers) of the
Cannongate and the cordiners and gouff ball makers of North Leith’. This
implies the use of stitched golf ball and more modern golf rather than
just 'kolf' with wooden balls.
One traditional derivation of the term “Fore!”
derives from the use of two defensive cannons of Leith
fort. The embankment, seen in the
picture to the left of the cairn, is allegedly one of two gun emplacements used by
the attacking forces
in 1560, when the Links were the scene of the Siege of Leith by
the English. Click picture for larger image.
of the of the Links / plaque on the cairn. Click images for larger pictures
Leith was the site of some of the first attacks and injuries in golf. The first of these
was 1575 when golfers were attacked and fought back successfully. On a later
occasion, in 1690, Sir Robert Sibbald was crossing the Links when a young
boy who did not hear him approach, apparently hit
him on the backswing with his club. Sir Robert required medical attention,
but the name of the golfer is not mentioned, nor whether he carried any
As elsewhere, Edinburgh Burgh records of 1593 bemoan the fact that Edinburgh
churchgoers were playing golf in Leith instead of going to church. On 16th
February 1610, South Leith Kirk Session proposed a fine of 20 shillings (one
pound) to be paid ‘to the poor’ by anyone found playing golf (or bowls or
archery) between sunrise and sunset on Sunday. Apart from the fine, they
would also have to confess their sins in church. This
persecution continued until 1724, which year marks the last official
Kirk prosecution in Scotland for Sunday golfing, when the Leith innkeeper
John Dickson was accused of giving victuals to Sabbath golfers.
Tradition has it that the Bishop of Galloway was playing golf on Leith Links
in 1619 when he suffered a deadly premonition of two men attacking him. So
he threw down his ‘arma campestria’ (golf clubs), took to his bed and died.
Another much repeated story is that King Charles I was playing in Leith in
1641 when he heard about the Irish Rebellion. Some say he finished the
match; some that he broke off the match to attend to the matter; and others
that he used it as an excuse to terminate the match because he was losing.
This is depicted in a famous, but much later, etching by Sir John Gilbert in
1875/6. Both these Victorian tales must be interpreted carefully.
Sir John Foulis of Ravelston, who was Keeper of the Register of Sasines
(legal title deeds) and who kept copious personal records, played golf in
Leith in 1672. So too did the medical student
Thomas Kincaid in the winter of 1687-8. Both record the return coach journey
from Edinburgh to Leith as 10 shillings. (There were 20 shillings in a
pound). This shows how highly Edinburgh golfers
rated playing at Leith Links compared to Bruntsfield Links.
More significant is the record of the first ‘international’ golf match in
1681, between Scotland and England on Leith Links. The Duke of York, who was
the brother of the King Charles II and who would succeed him as James VII of
Scotland / II of England, was then in residence as the King’s Commissioner
at Holyroodhouse. Two English nobleman of his circle claimed that golf was
an English game. The Duke disagreed and challenged them to a golf match to
settle the matter, choosing John Patersone as his playing partner. Patersone
was a ‘champion’ golfer, but a common ‘cordiner’ (cobbler). Not
surprisingly, the Duke and his champion won for Scotland and it is said that
Patersone bought a house at 77 Cannongate with the lion’s share of the
winning purse that the Duke generously split with him. The house was called
‘Golfers Land’, shown below, and the Duke had an
escutcheon affixed to the outside with a heraldic design and the golfers’
motto ‘Far and Sure’ inscribed on it. When John Patersone died, he also owned a house in Leith,
from which he supplied golf equipment to the gentry.
Royal Mile 1875 and now and plaque (click pictures for larger images)
Cannongate is part of the Royal
Mile in Edinburgh and Patersone's Golfers Land was
demolished in 1960. It is now the site of Jenny Ha's pub (also shown above)
and remembered only by a plaque. It
would rival any prize money today for a single golf
game. It is also reported that the man who carried the clubs of the Duke of
York was Andrew Dickson, , the future clubmaker, who thus became the world’s first recorded caddy. It is not recorded whether Andrew Dickson
got the caddie's usual percentage.
In 1724, ‘a solemn match at golf’, the first reported in a newspaper, took
place on Leith Links, between the Honourable Alexander Elphinstone and
Captain John Porteous of the City Guard for a stake of 20 guineas (22
pounds). Both men would be further reported in the press. Alexander
Elphinstone fought a duel at Leith Links in 1729. Then in 1736, Captain
Porteous gave his name to the Porteous Riots, as a result of which several
Edinburgh citizens were shot and he was lynched later by a mob when he was
pardoned for his part these deaths.
Of course, the most famous single
golf event on the Links was on 2nd April 1744; the occasion of the
first golf competition anywhere in the world arranged by
a group of golfers who were to become known as the
Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. In 1994, there was a 250th
anniversary match, duly commemorated on a plaque
on the cairn that can be seen
in the pictures at the
top of the page.
Golf Course 1744
Another commemorative plaque on
is an outline drawing, shown above, of
the five holes used by 1744 on the course. The course begins in the bottom
left and is played clockwise. Not shown is the
‘practice’ hole, played before the first round but not in subsequent rounds.
We do not know when the first holes were laid out. There is a second cairn
at the site of the second hole, in the grounds of the old White and Mackay
bond store, which is currently being redeveloped for housing.
The Honourable Company built a clubhouse called
the 'Golf House' in 1768, and played at Leith until 1831 when the Links
became too crowded. After an interlude of five years, they recommenced
Musselburgh in 1836.
The ‘Golf House’ no longer exists. It was
beside the first tee and is now under the building
on Duke Street, originally constructed for Leith Academy,
but which has become part of Queen Margaret’s
College. The links are split in two by a road. There are two cricket pitches
on one side and a bowling green and children’s play area on the other. Apart
from the cairn, you would never know that international and competitive golf
It’s not an isolated neglect. The Museum of Scotland in
Edinburgh has only nine artefacts of golf in one corner of one
cabinet. They comprise 3 clubs, 4 medals, a box of gutta percha balls and a
Thus do the Scots honour their national game in their national capital.
More history of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
More details of
history of rules of golf
More history on the siege of Leith
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