The Royal and Ancient Game

Golf and royalty have been linked throughout history. The earliest written reference to golf dates to 1457, when King James II of Scotland banned golf and football. Archery practice was encouraged instead. James III and James IV repeated the ban, but records show James IV himself playing golf against the Earl of Bothwell, after the peace treaty with England in 1504.

Mary Queen of Scots was accused by her enemies of playing golf and pallmall in the fields beside Seton Palace, just days after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, in 1567.  If accurate, this is the first reference to a woman playing the game.

After James VI ascended the English throne in 1603 as James I of England, the Scottish court played golf at Blackheath.  By 1618, golf was popular enough in Scotland for James VI to sell a monopoly in the trade in golf balls to quarter-master James Melville and ballmaker William Berwick.

The 19th century saw royal patronage given to golfing societies.  The first to be honoured was Perth Golfing Society in 1833 when King William IV agreed to the Society having a Royal title.  The following year patronage was extended to the Society of St Andrews Golfers and the name was changed to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

Today, there are 63 ‘Royal’ golf clubs which owe their title to the British Royal Family.

(1) Leading R&A member, John Murray Belshes (right) (2) King William IV (3) Medal presented by William IV in 1837

Did you know?

When leading amateur Horace Hutchinson was asked for his view on the proposed Ladies Golf Union, he remarked: “[Ladies] …will never go through one championship with credit…constitutionally and physically women are unfitted for golf”. He was soon regretting his words. In 1891 there were 44 ladies clubs and by 1909 there were over 470.