As part of our On this Day series, volunteer blogger Emily Betz writes about how on this day in 1754, golf was formalised in St Andrews.
To a lot of people, St Andrews is synonymous with golf. Every year tourists from around the globe come to admire the ‘Home of Golf’ and arguably the most famous 18th hole in the world. This tradition of golf can be traced back to the formalisation of the sport with the foundation of the Society of St Andrews Golfers on May 14, 1754.
The Society of St Andrews Golfers was originally made up of local players. The twenty-two founding members, described as ‘Noblemen and Gentlemen’, competed annually for the prize of a silver club and the title of ‘Captain’ of the club for the following year. The Society quickly became well-established, gaining its first royal patron in King William IV and its present moniker as The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in 1834. The rules of golf were codified by the Society towards the end of the nineteenth century. Today the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, known as the R&A, is the governing body for the sport across the world, with the exception of the United States and Mexico who follow the rules set by the United States Golf Association.
For the golf enthusiast, there is much to see in the town of St Andrews in addition to its seven golf courses. Other spots throughout town also have a close history with the sport. If you wander to the east end of South Street, you will find a plaque commemorating one of the first meeting places of St Andrews golfers, Baillie Glass’s Inn. The custom of meeting at Glass’s Inn dates back to the middle of the eighteenth century when regular play golf was established. Once a fortnight, golfers would gather for a meal at the inn after playing a round, helping to create a tradition of camaraderie that is still present in the game today. Another place related to the history of golf is the newly rebranded The Open shop, located directly across from the Old Course on The Links. Previously named the Tom Morris Golf Shop after the local golfing legend who won the Open Championship four times, this was the oldest shop of its kind in the world. Although it no longer bears his name, the shop is still steeped in the game’s history. You can also pay homage to Old Tom and other great golfers past by visiting the Cathedral graveyard located at The Pends on the eastern side of town. And if you fancy a pint after all of that walking, you can continue your experience of St Andrews’ golf history at the Keys Bar on Market Street. Like the Baillie Glass’s Inn, the Keys Bar, previously the Cross Keys, used to be one of the most popular meeting spots of early golfers. Golf shoes can still be seen dangling above the entrance!
In all your sightseeing, don’t forget to visit the Museum of the University of St Andrews. It too has its share of golf history. Not only have many of the University’s alumni been instrumental in shaping and promoting the sport, but the museum’s collection contains a number of golf-related items as well. These include tournament trophies (the oldest of which dates back to 1883-84), a collection of Arnold Palmer irons, and a portrait of legendary American golfer, Bobby Jones. Make an appointment with one of the curators and you can see these objects for yourself, then get back out on the golf course and celebrate the 264th anniversary of the foundation of the Society of St Andrews Golfers.
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About Emily Betz
Emily is a first-year PhD student in modern history at the University of St Andrews. While not a golfer herself, she has found a fascination with the history of the sport while living in the ‘Home of Golf’.