Celebrating the Home of Golf

It is with good reason that St Andrews, on the eastern Scottish coast a couple of hours north of Glasgow, is known as the home of golf.  According to the oldest known historical documentation, the game has been played there at least since 1552. 

Although the Scottish Reformation was just around the corner, nothing much could happen at that time, even in the way of leisure pursuits, without the say-so of senior clergy and it was Archbishop John Hamilton who apparently declared that it was okay for the folk of Scotland’s oldest university town to indulge in “playing at golf” on land adjacent to the “waters of [the river] Eden”.

There is some evidence to suggest that as early as the 12th century, before even legendary commentator Peter Alliss was born, shepherds in the area amused themselves by knocking stones into rabbit holes.

No one then saw the need to adopt formal rules.  That came 600 years later when, in 1754, a group of 22 enthusiasts, “being admirers of the ancient and healthful exercise of golf” formed the Society of St Andrews Golfers.  One of these chaps had a copy of the rules laid down by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, founded in 1744, and it was agreed that golf contests in St Andrews would abide by this code.

The group were clearly well connected and, 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. There is still no higher authority in the game.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Open Championship, first staged at St Andrews in 1873 after the original host course at Prestwick had agreed to enter into a rotation agreement with the Royal and Ancient and Musselburgh, which hosted the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

To commemorate the occasion, authors Henry Lord and Oliver Gregory -- the latter a graduate of St Andrews University -- have combined with photographer Kevin Murray to produce a lavishly illustrated exploration of the town and its seven golf courses, not only the famous Old Course, where the championship will tee off on Thursday, but the New Course, the Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum and Balgove courses and the latest addition, the stunning Castle Course, perched on cliffs overlooking the town and opened in 2008.

St Andrews: The Home of Golf, with a foreword by Seve Ballesteros, who won the second of his three Open championships at St Andrews in 1984, is published by Corinthian.

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