Old Tee Plaque sold in 2005
King James IV, who lifted the ban on golf in 1502
by buying his own
first (official) set of clubs in Perth, is also recording as buying clubs
from St Andrews in 1506 while he was at Falkland Palace
nearby; we know this
because the Lord High Treasurer noted and compared the prices of clubs and
balls at each venue.
In 1552, Archbishop John Hamilton of St Andrews was given a charter to
establish a rabbit warren on the links. The Charter confirmed the rights of
the local populace to play golf on the links at St Andrews and these rights
were confirmed in subsequent local and royal charters. In 1574 we have the
record of golfing ‘club and balls’ in James Melville’s diaries;
Melville was a student in St Andrews from 1569 to 1574 and his father was
Minister in Maryton, near Montrose, where he was taught golf at school. He
certainly had his club and balls while at St Andrews.
as elsewhere in Scotland, the Kirk (Church) was taking
miscreants in St Andrews to task
for playing on the ‘golf fields’ on the Sabbath (Sunday).
In 1691, 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’(all sic).
This set would have been a driving wood, a lofting wood and an iron club.
He also sent him 'ane Dozen of Golfe balls.' (An and ane are the Scots
We do not know exactly when or how the current layout of the Old Course at
St Andrews developed, but by 1764 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.
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.
WM. ST. CLAIR.
In 1764, the ‘Captain and Gentlemen Golfers present’
of the club now known as the
Royal and Ancient decided the first
four holes, which were also the last four holes, were too
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. The signatory on the minute for
this was William St Clair of Roslin,
four times captain of both the
St Andrews and Leith golf clubs. The
tee for the second hole shown
on the old tee plaque at the
top of the page was
therefore once the tee for the third hole, or would have been, if they had
had teeing grounds in those days. Prior to the middle of
the nineteenth century, they simply tee’d up
within two or four club's length of the previous
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
until, in 1821, James Cheape of Strathtyrum bought the links for the golfers
and laid the foundations of St Andrews’ golfing prosperity.
Because the middle holes on the Old Course
were played in both directions, it meant that golfers might often
be waiting, not just for the group in front to clear the green,
as today, but also for
a party playing in the opposite direction to do the same. From 1832, there
were moves to increase the size of the greens, and ultimately to put two
holes in every green. It is not certain when this was started or completed,
but it is believed to have been finished for the Spring Meeting of May 1857,
reported in the Fifeshire Journal. By using white and red colour flags for
the ‘out’ and ‘in’ holes, golfers could identify to which hole they should
be playing on the double greens. The course was played in the clockwise direction in this period.
St Andrews R&A Clubhouse
The present Royal and Ancient
clubhouse was begun in 1854 and is seen
in the picture above with snow on the eighteenth hole. Golf was 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 in Britain.
In 1863, Old Tom Morris was appointed greenkeeper
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 been appointed
Keeper of Greens at Prestwick. Robertson died in 1859, and Old Tom was induced to return to St Andrews
in 1863. He devised the present layout of the Old Course
by separating the green of the first/seventeenth holes, creating separate teeing areas and changing the
direction of play from clockwise to the
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,
successfully petitioned Parliament to
keep the Links in common
after many Acts of Parliament, the Links were
taken over by
the Links Trust
who run it today.
Old Course Hole 9 Chuck wagon at the
There are now five 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.
There is a map of the layout of the courses at
Accommodation at St Andrews.
public Links courses, including the Old Course, are owned and
operated by the St Andrews Links Trust.
More information on how to play the Links courses can be obtained from the
official website of the St Andrew’s Links Trust.
The Trust has two
Clubhouses, open to the public, and strives to make it easy as possible for
visitors to play when they want.
details of the origin of the eighteen hole round.
Website of Strathtyrum House
Accommodation at St Andrews
Top of page