The oldest golf club in the world: A look at the Old Course at St Andrews’ beginnings

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 24, 2021 12:47

While some historians believe golf’s roots can be traced back to the Roman game of paganica, the Chinese game of chuiwan, or the Persian game of chowkan, there is no dispute that the modern game of golf emerged in Fife in Scotland. More specifically, modern golf originated on the Links at St Andrews around 1400 AD. Today, the Old Course at St Andrews is known throughout the world as the Home of Golf.

The first record of golf

It is fitting that the oldest of golf’s major championship tournaments, the Open Championship, has been held at the Old Course at St Andrews, the oldest course in the world, more than any other venue. Since 1873, the Old Course has hosted the major twenty-nine times; although this year’s Open is due to be held in July at Royal St. George’s Golf Course. So, it is not too early to start looking at the sports betting odds and predictions for the 2021 Open. Nor is it too early to start looking forward to the 2022 Open Championship. It will be the 150th Open. Fittingly, the historic event that will attract the world’s greatest players to compete for the Claret Jug will be held at the Old Course at St Andrews. But centuries before the Open began in 1860, golf was being played at the course.

The first written record of golf comes from 1457 when James II banned the game on the Links at St Andrews because the king believed too many young men were spending their time playing golf instead of learning the necessary skill of archery. The ban was repeated by successive monarchs until James IV reversed it in 1502 when he became a golf player himself.

Golfers versus rabbit farmers

In 1552, Archbishop John Hamilton allowed the townspeople of St Andrews to play on the Links. Two centuries later, in 1754, a group of noblemen, landowners, and professors formed the Society of St Andrews Golfers, which was the precursor to The R&A, the global governing body of golf, excluding Mexico and the United States.

A few decades later, in 1797, St Andrews Links, unfortunately, went bankrupt and the game of golf was replaced by rabbit farming on the course. The dispute between golfers and rabbit farmers did not end until 1821 when a local golf-loving landowner called James Cheape of Strathtyrum purchased the land and saved the Links for golfing.

The evolution of the Old Course at St Andrews

Throughout the latter half of the 1800s, the golf course evolved with the help of various architects like Daw Anderson during the 1850s and Old Tom Morris in the later years of the nineteenth century. It was Old Tom Morris who designed the 1st and 18th holes.

Looking back at how the Old Course at St Andrews developed over the years, it is plain to see how much it influenced modern-day golf. For example, in 1764, the golf course had 22 holes. In 1764, William St Clair of Rosslyn authorized alterations to the St Andrews course whereby the first four and last four holes, which were too short, should be combined to make a total of four holes. Thus, the course then had eighteen holes. Around 1863, the 1st and 17th greens were separated to provide the current 18-hole layout. But when “the 19th hole” first emerged is up for debate. One thing is certain: the modern game of golf would not be the same if it had not developed at the Old Course at St Andrews.


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 24, 2021 12:47
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