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Gowf (Golf)

[Ancient Sports Contents]

Scotsman, Saturday 30th July, 1831, p.3. 


   In ancient times, Leith was distinguished for nothing so much as its golf-playing. This healthful Scottish game was practised by all classes with a degree of frank and free hilarity, which has long since ceased to animate the modern practice of this manly pastime. The great extent and the inequalities of the golfing-ground, well known by the name of the Links, afforded every facility to golfers. During the last [18th] century, the greatest and wisest of the land were to be seen on the Links of Leith mingling freely with the humblest mechanics in pursuit of their common and beloved amusement. All distinctions of rank were levelled by the joyous spirit of the game, Lords of Session and Cobblers, Knights, Baronets, and Tailors, might be seen earnestly contesting for the palm of superior dexterity, and vehemently, but good humouredly, discussing most points of the game as they arose in the course of the play. There were, in particular, during the middle of last century, a batch of lively active old fellows, who made golfing the almost sole business of their lives. each of these veterans, according to Smollet, was turned of four score, and never went to bed a night without having under their belts the best part of a gallon of claret. Before the present golfers’ tavern was built, which was in the year 1768, the merry golfers used to assemble in a tavern kept by one Straiton, at the head of the Kirkgate. Here they were wont to close the day with copious libations of genuine claret, brought in shining pewter or silver tankards, fresh from the butt. Amongst the many other gentlemen of rank who played golf on the Links of Leith about this period, and frequented Straiton’s inn, was Lord Rosslyn, whose picture, at full length, adorns, with several more, the dining-room of the club in the present house. Nor was royalty itself awanting to give importance and eclat to this ancient game. James II., Charles I., and his son, James Duke of York, have all successively played at golf on the Links of Leith, although the first of these royal personages, during the latter part of his reign, issued an edict against the practice of this game, as it was thought to interfere with the more important exercise of the bow. The unfortunate King Charles was engaged in this pastime on the Links of Leith, when he first got intelligence of the Irish rebellion in 1642, which affected him so deeply, that he instantly left the ground, and proceeded to London. It is a fact, as singular as it is demonstrative of the low state of the arts in Scotland, that notwithstanding the antiquity and popularity of the game, all the golf-balls were brought from abroad, principally from Holland. This began to be considered in the time of James VI. a serious national expenditure, insomuch that that monarch, in order to encourage the manufacture of that article at home, and to save money to the country, granted a charter, dated 14th April 1603, appointing one James Melville and others to the office of golf-ball makers, for the reasons mentioned, and thus expressed in that deed:- “That there is no small quantitie of gold and silver transported zeirlie out of his hienes kingdom of Scotland, for bying of golf-ballis.” The Edinburgh Golfing Club was not formed till the year 1744. We have gleaned the above facts from Campbell’s History of Leith, and other sources

Glasgow Evening Citizen, Thursday 23rd February, 1888, p.2. 


   The Standard, in a leader, says:- The annual game of golf which will be played between the two universities at Wimbledon to-day ought to prove an interesting event for the ever-increasing number of enthusiasts of that ancient sport. year by Year the roll of golf clubs lengthens until the Scots, who had at one time almost a monopoly of the game, point with pride to the fact that in this as in most other features of English life the Northern invasion has not only been acquiesced in but welcomed. 

Kirkintilloch Herald, Wednesday 19th September, 1894, p.4. 



   At the preliminary meeting towards the formation of a Kirkintilloch Golf Club, Provost Aitken referred to the antiquity of golf, and mentioned that as far back as 1457 the game had become so popular as to interfere with archery, and that it had to be prohibited. This prohibition is contained in an Act passed in the fourteenth parliament of James II., held at Edinburgh, 6th March, 1457. The Act decrees “that the fute-ball and golfe be utterly cryed downe, and not to be used.” In 1471 the sixth parliament of James III. passed an Act, which provided that “the fute-ball and golfe be abused in time cumming.” Again, in the third parliament of James IV., in 1491, “it is statute and ordained that in na place of the Realme there be used fute-ball, golfe, or uther sik  unprofitable sportes, for the commoun gude of the Realme and defense thereof.” As the Provost mentioned, these prohibitory laws were passed so that the populace might learn the art of war by means of archery. In one of the Acts it was provided that all above twelve and under fifty attend at the quarterly parish shootings, and as an inducement every man coming up to this ancient “Bisley meeting” was to get “twa pennyes to drinke.” 

Scots Magazine, Friday 1st February, 1895, pp.215-217. 

“A Little Scottish World.” 


   THE writer of the history of a parish may justly be called a benefactor of his country. Of the history of any parish in Scotland the title might be the same as that which Mr. Hewat has given to his interesting volume on Monkton and Prestwick… 


   In these times when “golf is all the story,” according to the lament of the “The Scarlet Gown,” Mr. Hewat’s chapter on that subject, in which he gives an account of the game at Prestwick from the earliest period, will be read by a large and increasing number of devotees of this royal and ancient sport. In this case Prestwick is also a miniature world, revealing the history of golf from the sixteenth century, when the Lord of Culzean played a match with a monk of Crossragruel “for his nose,” down to the penultimate competition for the championship. 

Dundee Evening Telegraph, Friday 17th January, 1930, p.5. 


The Royal and Ancient Game 





   SCORES of thousands of golfers talk glibly about “the royal and ancient game of golf.” 

   But why royal? Why ancient? why cannot these terms be equally well applied to football, cricket, or some of the other games which have had such a long popularity in our country? 

   It is rather interesting to delve deeply into the history of the golf game, particularly when we remember that we have the veritable home of the sport at our own door – St Andrews. 

   Many historians are agreed that it was in the Fifeshire town that the sport, if not really invented, was at least placed on something of a definite footing. 

   Just when it was first played there it is difficult to surmise. It has been proved, however, that when St Andrews University was founded in 1413 golf had already secured a big hold on the people of Scotland, and was quite widely played, particularly in the St Andrews and Edinburgh districts. 

   The rights of the people of St Andrews to the links, “particularly for playing golf, football, shooting, and all other manner of pastimes” were ratified by the Archbishop of St Andrews in 1553, and confirmed by him in 1614 and by King James VI. in 1620. 

   These facts are sufficient to explain the “ancient” portion of the phrase so often used to describe golf. 


The World’s Elect Fifty-Five 

   The “royal” part also applies to St Andrews, for in 1834 H.M. King William the Fourth gave his consent for the St Andrews Golf Club, as it then was, to carry the name of “The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.” 

   This club was founded away back about 1754, although the present club-house was not erected until 1840, and has since been considerably extended and improved. 

   No golf club can attach the word “royal” to itself without the favour of the King and Queen. 

   It is interesting to know that there are only fifty-five “Royal” golf clubs in the world, of which 20 are English, 15 Colonial, 10 Scottish, 5 Irish, 3 Belgian, and 2 Welsh. 

   The Scottish societies which have been thus honoured are the Royal and Ancient, Royal Aberdeen, Montrose Royal Albert, Braemar Royal Craggan, Royal Dornoch, Royal Musselburgh, Edinburgh Royal Burgess, Macduff Royal Tarlair, Royal Duff House, Banff, and Royal Perth Golfing Society. 

   if Fifeshire people played golf before those of Angus, it was not by long, for interesting reference is made in the “Registrum de Panmure” to the Playing of the game on “the lynkes of Barrie.” 

   This famous history ranges from 1066 to 1733, when it was completed by Earl James Panmure, while he was living in exile in France. 

   From it, it is obvious that golf in the Carnoustie district dates back to long before the town itself was ever thought of. 

   In the same history mention is made of the fact that the players of the game invariably made it a point of having liquid refreshment at the end of the match, and it was a custom to make the payment of these refreshments the stake for which the game was played. 

   It is obvious, therefore, that the nineteenth hole has grown up along with the game. 


Smollett on Golf 

   Another interesting reference to this fact is made by Smollett in “Humphrey Clinker,” which was published in 1771. In this book Smollett comments on the people of Edinburgh playing a game called golf, “in which they use a curious kind of bats, tipt with horn, and small elastic balls of leather, stuffed with feathers, rather less than tennis balls.” 

   He goes on to say that the game is played by all kinds of people from the senator of justice to the lowest tradesman; then he comments on one set of golfers, “the youngest of whom was turned four score. They had amused themselves with this pastime for the best part of a century without ever having felt the least alarm from sickness or disgust; and they never went to bed without having each the best part of a gallon of claret in his belly.” 

   These are interesting sidelights on the game which to-day is probably the most world-wide of all sports, and the most international in its appeal and similarity of rules. 

   They also give some foundation for the claim of the game to be both royal and ancient. 

Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser, Saturday 26th June, 1937, p.7. 



The Man Who Began It 


   Carnoustie is almost synonomous with the word “golf.” The seaside resort’s association with the game is a long and honoured one. 

   Earliest mention of the Royal and Ancient sport in this district is contained in the “Registratum de Panmure,” which tells us that Sir Robert Maule, who was “sanguine of hyd and haire, colarique of nature, and subject to suddane fits of anger… had gryt delight in haukine and hountine,” besides “exercising the gowf, and oft-times past to Barry Lynkes, quhan the wadsie (wager) was for drink.” The chronicler goes on to mention that that was in the year 1527, or “thear abouts.” 

   Little is known about its history between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but the modern history of the Carnoustie course goes back about ninety years, 

   At that time, the ground belonged to the Earls of Dalhousie, but golfers were permitted free use of it. The links presented a vastly different appearance to what they do now. Profusion of gorse, hummocks, and tufty fairways must have made things difficult for the early golfers, but those pioneers blazed a trail that is being followed by their descendants. Little did the pioneers dream, perhaps, that from such crude beginnings there would develop such a famous course, perfect in its lay-out and conception. 

Guest Articles, Glasgow’s City Necropolis. 

William Doleman 

As well as winning the world’s first 25–Hole Open, William Doleman is on record as the first person to play golf in North America. When he was 16, he joined the Merchant Navy and sailed to Quebec, where a newspaper reported on a lad by the name of William Doleman hitting ‘golf balls’ on a stretch of land which would later become Royal Quebec Golf Course. “William Doleman was born on September 16, 1838 in the club house at Musselburgh, where his father was the caretaker. According to a report in The Glasgow Herald William ‘began to play as soon as he could swing a club.’ ” 

‘Scottish National Memorials,’ Golf, Etc. 

   The ‘Royal and ancient game of Goff’ is peculiarly a product of the Scottish soil, and as implied in the designation it is of remote origin. As also implied in the term ‘Royal,’ it was a pastime of monarchs, and still continues to be a recreation of the wealthy and well-to-do classes. That the game was eagerly prosecuted so early as the middle of the fifteenth century we have the most ample evidence, for in the year 1457, the Scottish Parliament decreted and ordained ‘that the futeball and golf be utterly cryit doun and nocht usit and that the bowe-merkis be maid at ilk paroche kirk a pair of buttis and schuttin be usit ilk Sunday.’ Such legislation, having for its object the encouragement of the arts of war, was subsequently renewed from time to time in the Statute Book, the last Act in 1491, in which ‘futeball and golf’ are forbidden, being not yet repealed. In that Act the prohibition runs thus:- ‘Item: it is statut and ordainit that in na place of the realme there be usit futeball, golf, or other sic improfitable sportis, but for the common guid of the realme and defence thereof that bowis and shuttin be hanted,’ etc. The monarch himself, James IV., who made these laws, showed an example to other law-breakers as an eager and enthusiastic golfer. James V. also showed his subjects an example as a law-breaking golfer, and even Queen Mary, it is said, was seen playing golf and pall-mall in the field beside Seton, a few days after Darnley’s murder. The game was also patronised by James VI. and his sons Harry and Charles. The latter, when Charles I., was playing over Leith Links in 1642 when the news of the Irish rebellion of that year reached him. It is on record that James [VII.], while Duke of York, played on Leith Links with Johne Patersone, shoemaker, against two English nobles, and that the large stakes won by the King and cobbler were given to the latter, who with them built the tenement known as Golfer’s Land, 77 Canongate, Edinburgh. Statutory prohibition appears to have had little effect in discouraging golfers in Scotland, for in 1592 the Edinburgh Town Council made proclamation that ‘seeing the Sabboth day being the Lordis Day, it becomis every Christiane to dedicat himself to the service of God, therefor, commanding in our soverane lord’s name, and in name of the provoste and baillies, that na inhabitants of the samyn be seen at ony pastymes within or without the town upon the Sabboth day, sic as Golf,’ etc. Nor does the sanctity of the sanctuary itself appear to have been proof against the allurements of golf, for on 16th October 1589 the kirk-session of Glasgow resolved that there be no playing in future of ‘golf, carri, or shinny in the Hie Kirk or kirk-yeard or Black-frier kirk-yeard either Sunday or work-day.’ 

‘Old & New Edinburgh,’ The Canongate. 

   Nearly opposite Queensberry House, and on the north side of the street, a narrow, old-fashioned edifice is known as John Paterson’s House, or “The Golfers’ Land,” concerning which there is recorded a romantic episode connected with James VII., when, as Duke of Albany, he held his court at Holyrood. Conspicuously placed high upon the wall is a coat-armorial, and a slab above the entrance door contains the two following inscriptions:-  






The latter is an anagram on the name of “John Paterson,” while the quatrain was the production of Dr. Pitcairn, and is referred to in the first volume of Gilbert Stuart’s Edinburgh Magazine and Review for 1774, and may be rendered thus:- “In the year when Paterson won the prize in golfing, a game peculiar to the Scots (in which his ancestors had nine times won the same honour), he then raised this mansion, a victory more honourable than all the rest.”  

   According to tradition, two English nobles at Holyrood had a discussion with the royal duke as to the native country of golf, which he was frequently in the habit of playing on the Links of Leith with the Duke of Lauderdale and others, and which the two strangers insisted to be an English game as well. No evidence of this being forthcoming, while many Scottish Parliamentary edicts, some as old as the days of James II., in 1457, could be quoted concerning the said game, the Englishmen, who both vaunted their expertness, offered to test the legitimacy of their pretensions on the result of a match to be played by them against His Royal Highness and any other Scotsman he chose to select. After careful inquiry he chose a man named John Paterson, a poor shoemaker in the Canongate, but the worthy descendant of a long line of illustrious golfers, and the association will by no means surprise, even in the present age, those who practise the game in the true old Scottish spirit. The strangers were ignominiously beaten, and the heir to the throne had the best of this practical argument, while Paterson’s merits were rewarded by the stake played for, and he built the house now standing in the Canongate. On its summit he placed the Paterson arms – three pelicans vulned; on a chief three mullets; crest, a dexter-hand grasping a golf club, with the well-known motto – FAR AND SURE. Concerning this old and well-known tradition, Chambers says, “it must be admitted there is some uncertainty. The house, the arms, and the inscriptions only indicate that Paterson built the house after being victor at golf, and that Pitcairn had a hand in decorating it.” 

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