History of Golf in St. Andrews

Six Centuries of Golf
Golf has been played on the Links at St Andrews since around 1400 AD, and the Old Course is renowned throughout the world as the Home of Golf. What was one simple track hacked through the bushes and heather has developed into six links golf courses and four other courses in the immediate area including our own Duke’s Course, attracting hundreds of thousands of golfing pilgrims from around the globe.

Golf Banned
Golf became popular in the middle ages, so much so that the game was banned in 1457 by King James II of Scotland, who felt it was distracting young men from archery practice. Succeeding monarchs repeated this ban until James IV became a golfer himself.

18 holes
By 1764, the Old Course consisted of 22 holes, 11 out and 11 back, with golfers playing to the same hole going out and in, except for the 11th and 22nd holes. The golfers decided the first four holes, therefore also the last four holes, were too short and that they should be made into two holes instead of four. Thus the number of holes per round dropped from 22 to 18, and that is how today’s standard round of golf was created.

Rabbit Wars
In 1797, the bankrupt St Andrews Town Council sold the links to local merchants who promptly turned them into a rabbit farm. There followed more than 20 years of “war,” both legal and physical, between the rabbit farmers and the golfers. Success went to the golfers when, in 1821, James Cheape of Strathtyrum, a local landowner and keen golfer, bought the links and saved them for golf.

Double Greens
Golf started to become more popular at St Andrews in the middle of the 19th century, and the course became more crowded. The result was that golfers playing out began to meet golfers playing in, at the same hole. Not surprisingly, this led to difficulties and disputes. To solve the problem, the decision was made to cut two holes on each green, with white flags for the outward holes and red flags for the inward holes. This was the origin of the famous double greens.

Royal and Ancient Club
In 1754, the Royal and Ancient Club was founded under its original name of the Society of St Andrews Golfers. This club, originally composed of 22 noblemen, professors and landowners, has become the foremost golf club in the world and now governs the rules of golf everywhere except in the USA. The Club also runs the Open Championship and the important amateur championships.

Information kindly supplied by the St Andrews Links Trust. For further information, please visit the St Andrews Links Trust website.