> Golf History - East Lothian, Scotland

Scotland’s Historic Golf Coast

Playing with hickories at Musselburgh Links

Scotland is universally recognised as the Home of Golf, though few people appreciate the significant role East Lothian has played in the game's development.

Listed below are some of the great names who have helped shape the game it is today.

Musselburgh Golf Connections

  • Willie Park, Snr. (1834) first to win the Open. One of the first and a compatriot of Old Tom Morris.
  • Willie Park, Jnr. (1864) (son of the above) Twice Open Champion (Prestwick 1887, Musselburgh 1889), successful club maker, course designer and first professional of the modern era.
  • Alex Carrick, club and ball maker, earliest iron head maker, blacksmith and toolmaker from the late 1700's.
  • Douglas Gourlay, best feather ballmaker.
  • J. & D. Clark, makers of the famous gutty ball.
  • The Dunn Family Old Willie Dunn and brother Jamie Dunn. Willie Dunn, Jnr., considered the first golf-course designer of the new school and had a significant effect on the future of golf.
  • Bob Ferguson, a Musselburgh caddie, won three consecutive Opens (1880 to 1882).
  • John Ernest Laidlay (1860), pioneer of overlapping grip, best known as the Vardon grip. Twice amateur Champion, four times leading amateur in the Open.
  • McEwan Family, six generations of clubmakers.

North Berwick Golf Connections

  • Ben Sayers (1856), golf professional, famed for teaching and golf course construction.
  • Davie Grant, a professional golfer famed for teaching the game of golf at home and overseas.
  • Willie Anderson (1879), golf professional. One of the first great players to emerge in the US. Won 4 US Opens.
  • Fred McLeod (1882), US Open winner in 1908. Took part in an Anglo-America match at Wentworth that became the Ryder Cup.
  • Dorothy Campbell (1882), great lady amateur champion.
  • James L Thomson (1911), golf professional.
  • Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour MP leading politician and Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905. A resident in the area and captain of North Berwick Golf Club from 1891 to 1892. Known as the Father of English Golf.

Key Dates in Golfing History

Records indicate that golf was played in Scotland as far back as the 15th Century. King James II was so concerned that his subjects were playing golf rather than practicing their archery he issued an Act of Parliament in 1457, banning the game, with severe penalties for all who disobeyed! Thankfully, not all Royals viewed golf with such disdain. One hundred years later, Mary Queen of Scots was reputed to have played on Musselburgh Links - The Old Course in 1567.

East Lothian has a just claim to being the birthplace of golf, as we know it today. Documentary evidence exists which proves that golf was played regularly on Musselburgh Links - The Old Course - as far back as 1672. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, who now play at the famous East Lothian Open Championship Course, Muirfield, has records going back to 1744, which makes it the earliest known golf club. It was some ten years later, before The Society Club of St. Andrews Golfers was established. Together with the Honourable Company, other illustrious clubs situated at Musselburgh Old Course were the Burgess Golf Club, Royal Musselburgh Golf Club and Bruntsfield Golf Club.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers also drew up a code of rules governing golf. Thirteen rules dating from 1744 formed the basis upon which the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews assumed responsibility and governance of the game. These inaugural rules dealt exclusively with match play. It is generally accepted that the earliest rules relating to stroke play date back to the time when Royal Musselburgh Golf Club established its Old Club Cup.

Golf Clubs were established throughout East Lothian during the 19th Century. North Berwick was founded in 1832, followed by Tantallon Golf Club (1853), Dirleton Castle at Gullane (1854), Dunbar (1856) and Luffness Old (1867). When the Open Championship was established in the 19th Century, Musselburgh Links - The Old Course, together with Prestwick and St. Andrews, hosted the event on a rotational basis.

The popularity of the sport grew amongst the local population of East Lothian, hastening a period of growth in the number of golfers making a living from the game and those individuals manufacturing golf equipment. Some of the most prominent and influential names in the game have come from East Lothian, or learned their craft here, taking their skills and experience all over the globe.


Significant Facts

Musselburgh held the world's first golf tournament for women on New Years Day in 1811. The obligatory hole size (4 ¼ inches) of today was made mandatory in 1893 by the R & A; it was purely based on the size of the cutter at Musselburgh Old Course. The Oldest Cup still played for today is The Old Club Cup at Royal Musselburgh (1774).

East Lothian has been at the forefront of golf throughout its history, from medieval times to the present day as the 2002 Open Championship returned to Muirfield. Some of the oldest and most challenging courses can be found in East Lothian, the original home of golf.

To explore the history of golf and the role played by East Lothian, the following are recommended sources of information.

Local golf historian, recognized throughout the world for his knowledge on the game of golf is -

Mr Archie Baird
Gullane Custodian, Gullane Golf Club, by appointment only.

Recommended Reading

David Hamilton (1998) Golf Scotland's Game The Partick Press, Kilmacolm, Scotland.

Norman Mair (1994) Muirfield Home of The Honourable Company (1744 1994) Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh.

Worthwhile Websites

www.north-berwick.co.uk/origins.html by local Correspondent Douglas Seaton.
www.musselburgholdlinks.co.uk - Musselburgh Links - The Old Course.