the Open returned to Muirfield, home of the Honourable Company of
Edinburgh Golfers. The original members of the Honourable Company played
on Leith Links and penned the first written Rules of Golf.
With this in mind, a group of enthusiasts, keen to
see Leith recognised as home to the first recorded rules and the
original home of the Honourable Company met with representatives of the
City of Edinburgh Council. They resolved to hold a week of golfing
activity on the original turf in July 2002 in the week running up to the
Open that year, to generate greater recognition of Leith and Edinburgh’s
remarkable place in the history of golf.
This week of
golf matches and fun rounds with hickory clubs in July 2002 was so
successful that the organisers went on to formally set up the Leith Rules Golf
The Society is a voluntary organisation established with the aim - as stated
at the top of the page - “to increase the recognition of Leith Links as the home of the
earliest recorded rules of golf and one of the game’s prominent early
How were the rules established? In 1744, the Company of Edinburgh golfers,
playing on Leith Links, appealed to the Town Council to provide a Silver
Club to be awarded annually to the winner of an “Open Golf Competition”.
Edinburgh magistrates agreed to provide such a club on condition a set of
written rules was drawn up – these thirteen first written rules of golf were
signed on 7th March that year by John Rattray and recorded in the
City archives. Rattray, a surgeon and keen sportsman won the “Open Golf
Competition” in 1744 becoming “Captain of the Golf”. The idea of an “Open
golf competition” was born and these original rules signed for play in Leith
form the basis of the modern game.
Rattray’s story did not stop there - he won the competition again in
1745 and that year went on to serve as Surgeon-General to Bonnie Prince
As a surgeon and Jacobite sympathiser, Rattray was called to help the
wounded at Prestonpans and served as Surgeon-General to Bonnie Prince
Charlie's forces in the 1745 uprising. He was captured at Culloden but
released through the intervention of his golfing partner, Lord Duncan Forbes
of Culloden, Lord President of the Court of Session. Remarkably Rattray
returned to play and win again in 1751.
Each year since its formation, Leith Rules Golf Society has arranged with
the City of Edinburgh to open Leith Links for a few days in July and hold
hickory golf competitions. These matches against Bruntsfield Short Holes,
Musselburgh Old Course, a Leith Tournament for local businesses and The “Hickory
Open" on the final day are fiercely contested and hugely enjoyable
occasions. Competitors, where possible suitably attired, use hickory clubs
and traditional golf balls to replicate as far as possible the conditions
the 18th century golfers experienced.
Incidentally, at a local quiz a few years ago, one of the questions was
"Name the 4 major golf tournaments". One team could only name 3 (the
USPGA stumped them) so their answer was "1. The Open, 2. The Masters, 3.
The US Open and ..... 4. The Leith Rules Hickory Open"! We think that
was worthy of a bonus point!
As well as golf on Leith Links, the Society members enjoy outings
to the hickory course of Kingarrock at Hill of Tarvit and, using
conventional clubs, compete in return matches at Bruntsfield Links and
Musselburgh Old Course. An annual celebration event on 7th March
attracts members and guests, enjoying a convivial
social occasion and fascinating talks from a range of speakers all with the
focus on golf.