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Golf in St Andrews

A local view of the Home of Golf

by Keith McCartney

St Andrews is recognised worldwide as the 'home of golf' being home to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the world famous Old Course. Golf has been played here from time immemorial on the links land fringing the North Sea, where well drained grassy soils, natural humps and hollows, banks of whins and short grasses made this a natural golfing ground. In 1552 Archbishop John Hamilton confirmed the rights of the townspeople of St Andrews to use the links for a number of purposes, one of which was golf. His cinquefoil insignia are still to be seen above the gateway of the ruined St Andrews Castle. The links never belonged to a golf club, but were and are still public courses, administered today by St Andrews Links Trust and open to anyone to play on payment of a green fee.

The Courses

The most famous course in the world is the Old Course. It was known simply as St Andrews Links until 1895 when the opening of the New Course meant that its predecessor became known as the Old Course. Until 1764 a round on the Old Course consisted of 22 holes with eleven holes out and eleven holes in with only the 11th and 22nd not played twice. In that year the first four holes were reduced to two which meant that a round was reduced to eighteen holes. As the prestige of St Andrews grew this came to be recognised as the standard for courses the world over.

The Open Championship was started by Prestwick Golf Club on the west coast of Scotland and initially all the Opens were played there. But when St Andrean Young Tom Morris won the Championship Belt outright having recorded three successive victories in 1868, 1869 and 1870 three golf clubs - Prestwick, The Royal and Ancient, and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers - contributed towards the purchase of a new trophy, the famous 'Claret Jug', on the understanding that the Open would be played at each of their home courses on a rota basis. Thus, the Open came to St Andrews for the first time in 1873 when it was won by local caddie Tom Kidd. St Andrews was to develop into the Open's most prestigious venue, hosting in 1995 a record 25th championship which was won by John Daly of the USA. It is estimated that over a quarter of a million people came to St Andrews (population about 15,000) in 1995 to see the Open Championship, perhaps the largest number of spectators for a single sporting event ever.

Only three golfers have had successive Open victories over the Old Course: John Henry Taylor (1895 and 1900), James Braid (1905 and 1910) and Jack William Nicklaus (1970 and 1978).

The course record for the Old Course is currently held by Curtis Strange of the USA with a score of 62 achieved during the 1987 Dunhill Cup.

While the Old Course is the most famous of St Andrews' Courses it is not the only course available for the public to play. As golf has grown in popularity and St Andrews has come to be recognised as the game's 'holy place' so pressure for access to the links has grown steadily over the last century leading to the development of further courses: the New Course which opened in 1895, the Jubilee, which in its original form opened in 1897 the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the Eden which opened in its original form in 1914, and the Strathtyrum and the Balgove which opened in 1993. These developments give the golf enthusiast the opportunity to play a total of 99 holes of links golf.

The Clubs

St Andrews has a number of golf clubs which provide fellowship and clubhouse facilities for members and their guests from all over the world. It is not uncommon for visiting golfers, arriving at the courses on their own and asked to make up a four ball with locals, to be invited back to their fellow golfers' clubhouse and to be shown some traditional Scottish hospitality in the premises of some of the most historic clubs in the game, most of which look out on the Old Course.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews

In 1754 twenty-two gentlemen 'being admirers of the ancient and healthful exercise of golf' formed the Society of St Andrews Golfers adopting the code of rules laid down by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers founded in 1744.
In 1834 through the patronage of King William IV the Society of St Andrews Golfers changed its name to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Amongst its royal Captains have been the three sons of George V: the Prince of Wales (the uncrowned King Edward VIII) 1922, the Duke of York (later King George VI) 1930, and the Duke of Kent in 1937.
The club had no premises of its own until 1854 when the world famous clubhouse was built. Originally it was a single storey building which has grown to meet the needs of the club.
Such is the prestige of the R&A that it came to be accepted as the final arbiter on the Rules of Golf in 1897, a role it now shares with the United States Golf Association. In 1919 the R&A took over the responsibility of running the Open and Amateur Championships and has continued this role ever since.

St Andrews Golf Club

On 29th September 1843 eleven young men met together to form the St Andrews Mechanics Golf Club. In 1851 the word 'Mechanics' was dropped and the club became simply known as the St Andrews Golf Club. In all, members of this club have won the Open Championship 21 times, the US Open 3 times, the US PGA once, the British Amateur twice, and the US Amateur once. The club's first Open Champion was Old Tom Morris who won at Prestwick in 1861 on the second occasion on which it was played. Its last member to win the Open was Jock Hutchison, who won at St Andrews in 1921, the first American citizen and the last St Andrean to do so. The Morris family produced many famous golfers and between them Old Tom and Young Tom won the Open eight times. They are buried in the grounds of St Andrews Cathedral

The New Golf Club

Until 1902 the only golf clubhouse in St Andrews was that belonging to the R&A. Following a meeting called by Herbert M. Singer in 1901 to which interested parties were invited to discuss the purchase of premises for a clubhouse it was resolved to form a new golf club and to look for premises. These were duly obtained at 3, Gibson Place. The club officially opened on Thursday 17th July 1902 with a competition for the Coronation Cup, presented by Mr A. J. Ramsey, a Dundee jeweller and founder member, to mark the opening of the clubhouse and the coronation of King Edward VII.

The Thistle Golf Club

Originally formed in 1817 as the Thistle Golf Society it was dissolved in 1839 and reformed in 1865 as the Thistle Golf Club. It uses the premises of the St Andrews Golf Club.

The Nineteenth Hole Golf Club

Founded in 1973 by patrons of the 19th Hole bar in the Golf Hotel (no longer in existence) who, due to work and sporting activities were unable to participate in normal club competitions. Competitions are still largely played on Sundays and membership is restricted to nineteen members all of whom must live in the St Andrews area.

St Regulus Ladies Golf Club

Founded in 1913 as the Madras Ladies' Golf Club it originally had 25 members, mostly former pupils of Madras College (the local High School) and a few friends. By 1920 the friends outnumbered the F.P's and the club's name changed to St Regulus.

St Rule Club

The St Rule Club is not a golf club as such but it has a strong golfing section. It was founded in 1898 when a meeting of ladies in the county was called by Captain Boothby of the R&A. St Rule is a ladies club with associate gentlemen members who must be members of the R&A or the New Club.

Ladies' Putting Club of St Andrews

The Ladies' Golf Club was founded in 1867 changing its name to the Ladies' Putting Club in 1948. Its members play on the famous 'Himalayas' putting green - so called because of its hummocky nature laid out as it is on ancient sand dunes - which lies alongside the second tee on the old course. The 'Himalayas' is open to the public on payment of a modest green fee and is very popular with locals and visitors alike.

(Keith McCartney, author of this article, is a former Chairman of the Community Council)

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