July Golf Week from Wednesday 6 July at 6.30pm - read 'News & Events' for details
Across Scotland's Links courses, the game's popularity kept growing: in the East, Dunbar, Crail, Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Montrose, Aberdeen, Fraserburgh, Carnoustie and more; and in the West, Prestwick. With the exception of St Andrews large links, almost all courses later had to move to create larger 18-hole courses. Another major reason was Gutty Percha balls replaced featheries; this new solid ball was introduced in St Andrews in 1848 being durable, dark in colour and at much lower cost for ordinary people.
By 1700, there were over 70 bowers (archery bow-makers) and apprentice bowers in Edinburgh - the majority connected to club-making too and most based around the links of Bruntsfield. Here played Edinburgh's other oldest clubs of Royal Burgess Golfing Society and Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society. The Links (now meaning golfing land) were protected by the City Council's 'full powers reserved' against interference or damage 'for the heartful exercise of Golf' but under constant pressure from a much larger Edinburgh population than the smaller town of Leith.
As the City population and economy grew so did an expanding number of golfers who formed new societies: The Allied, The St Leonards, The Merchiston, The Warrender and Old Kilspindie. Bruntsfield Links course started as a 5-hole course with a 6th hole added at the South end from 1818. Like Leith golfers, Royal Burgess and Bruntsfield Links Golfing Societies met in a local tavern, The Golf Tavern was set amongst Wright's Houses and renting a room upstairs for dining and meetings. Later both The Royal Burgess and Bruntsfield Links Golfing Societies moved to quieter and larger Musselburgh Links in 1874, which has become Musselburgh Links (Old Course) ground.
The Links at Bruntsfield has two pitch-and-putt courses which are free to play: a Summer 36-hole and a Winter 9-Hole courses maintained today by the Council with support from Bruntsfield Short-Hole Society. This Bruntsfield Short-Hole Society should not to be confused with the original, older Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society which moved away, first to Musselburgh (Old Course) then to Barnton on the western boundary of Edinburgh.
Mary I of Scots is believed to have played at Seton Palace in East Lothian but not on Leith Links. In Edinburgh in 1738, the Caledonian Mercury newspaper reported two women players on Bruntsfield, their husbands acting as caddies.
By 1795, the famous Mussselburgh Fish Ladies were reported to play golf on their days off, probably on Musselburgh Links; further down the coast, Dirleton 'Weavers' ladies had probably been playing for nearly two hundred years before the establishment of UK's Ladies Golf Union in 1893.
[More content coming]
On Leith Links, Leith Thistle Club founded in 1815 shared Golf House with the Honourable Company for a short period but with the Honourable Company's departure for Musselburgh in 1836, Leith Thistle closed then was refounded in 1866 at Vanbrugh Place, close to the Golf House site. Thistle Golf Club of North Carolina, United States, with 3 courses owns and displays trophy clubs and score cards from the time period, as well as the original book, Rules of the Thistle Golf Club, published in 1824.
By the 1800s, golf was possible for 8 months of the year on the Links but initially restricted in June to September, then later forbidden due to football and cricket pitches and many families out walking. Other clubs who played on the Links were : Portobello GC from 1856; Leith GC from 1863 of Lawrie Street; Seafield GC and Lochend Clubs from 1891.
On 17 May 1867, Leith Thistle Club held a Grand Tournament using Thistle Club Rules across 28 holes or 4 rounds - a 7-hole layout, starting from the south-east corner. Well-known names amongst the 22 professionals were: David and William Park, Robert Ferguson, all of Musselburgh; James Dunn and Alexander Greig of Leith; Tom Morris Senior and Tom Morris Junior of St Andrews; and A. Strath of Prestwick. It was won in wet conditions by Robert Ferguson with £10 prizemoney. The Edinburgh Evening News reported on 27 December 1879 another Leith Links tournament with many of the same players '...open to all professionals, is being played over Leith Links today. The prize amount to £20, and the tournament has been got up by the Seafield Golf Club, and will doubtless have the effect of making this game more popular in Leith... The veterans, Tom Morris, St Andrew, and Willie Park, Musselburgh, were coupled together, and the first named had 42 for the first round, and the latter 43.'
In the US, The Savannah Golf Club of Georgia has golfing records from 1794 from which it lays claim to be the oldest US Golf Club. In the modern era, the Club was fully incorporated in 1899 when it built a course around and including former Civil War fortifications.
The first US course was opened in 1884 by Russell Montague (supported by Scotsman, Lionel Torrin) for 9 holes on 30 acres at Oakhurst Links, Virginia. The Oakhurst Challenge Medal now recognised as the oldest US golf prize, first played for in 1888 and contains the Club's motto, 'Far and Sure' (surely derived from Royal Burgess of Edinburgh's motto in 1800).
Lochend Golf Club is the only Club still in existence which played on Leith Links before the 1904 ban of daily golf on the Links. It has continued afterwards on nearby Craigintinny golf course. As golf was banned in summer months on the Links, their summer matches were played away at other clubs, followed by busy months of autumn through until end April. With Seafield Club, it supported the upkeep of the Links until disputes with the Council over the Links' condition grew. As described in Harry Ward's history 'Lochend Golf Club - 125 Years', its last match was 'Leith Observer April 9th 1904 - The monthly medal and last competition among the members of the Lochend Golf Club took place on the links last Saturday..'. The Club moved to the new public 18 Hole course in 1908 at Craigintinny and has remained there ever since.