The International Game

The collections highlight Britain’s role in the spread of golf overseas. The stories they tell go beyond the game itself and are closely tied to British history.

Golf was played informally throughout the British Empire in the 18th century by the military, civil servants and merchants.  Calcutta Golf Club, India, formed in 1829, and by the 1870s clubs could be found from Canada to Australia.

The first continental club was founded at Pau, France, in 1856, a popular resort for the 19th century European aristocracy.  By the 1890s golf was spreading throughout Europe.  In the USA, the earliest club was founded at Yonkers, New York, in 1888.  The United States Golf Association formed in 1894 and the following year the first US Amateur and Open Championships were played.  Golf had become a thriving international game.

In the late 19th century golf boom, many professionals left Britain for posts abroad.  Stories include that of James Herd, cousin of Open Champion Sandy Herd.  After apprenticing in the Auchterlonie workshop in St Andrews, in 1903 he moved to Tasmania and later New Zealand, working as a professional golf instructor.   At the same time, Major General Sir Reginald Wingate, Governor General of the Sudan, presented ornate medals to the Khartoum Golf Club, founded in 1904.

By 1914 around 16 counties were holding amateur championships for men, and 11 held championships for women.  Access to courses and equipment was nevertheless not available to everyone.  A collection of clubs used by caddies in South Africa during the 1920s and 1930s are made from parts of discarded clubs, scrap metal and wood, all cleverly adapted for playing golf.

(1) Khartoum Golf Club monthly medal (2,3,4) Clubs used by caddies in South Africa

Did you know?

During and just after World War II, golf ball supplies reached crisis point, due to a shortage of rubber. In 1942 the Government forbid the remoulding of old balls. Following R&A intervention, the ban was lifted. One of the arguments used was that the Army Medical Council encouraged golf as a remedial exercise for wounded personnel.