Before 1744, rules were drawn up between players in matchplay, often for wagers or bets, on an adhoc basis to suit either the players, the match, the conditions or the golf practices of the local town (local rules). For centuries, fairness and etiquette was an essential part of the game for players usually well known to each other.
The first newspaper report of a golf match was in 1724 of a 'solemn match' on Leith Links between Hon Alexander Elphinstone and the infamous Captain Porteous of the City Guard for the extravagant prize of 20 guineas. It was attended by Duke of Hamilton and Earl Morton as well as by a large crowd betting at more modest levels. It was won by Elphinstone. He was half-brother to staunch Jacobite 6th Lord Balmerino of Leith; five years later, Elphinstone used the same Links to challenge a man to an illegal duel and killed him.
However, the rules of individual matches didn't suit a competition for a large number of players from different towns. This led to the earliest recorded Rules of Golf drawn up by the Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh. The '13 Rules of Golf' document was a pre-condition of Edinburgh Council's sponsorship of a Silver Club for an open competition for 'All Nobles and Gentlemen...of Great Britain and Ireland...'. (By amazing coincidence, 1744 is the same year the first 22 Rules of Cricket were published, though it required nearly twice as many rules as golf to explain it!)
On 7th March 1744, the Edinburgh Town Council accepted the 13 Rules document and later signed by John Rattary, first 'Victor... and Captain of Golf...of the Company of Gentlemen Golfers..'.
The original document was lost for over 200 years then found in 1947 by CE Clapcott in an eighteenth century deed box - the holy grail of golf rules - the 'Leith Code'.
1. You must tee your ball within one club's length of the hole.
2. Your tee must be on the ground.
3. You are not to change the ball you strike off the tee.
4. You are not to remove Stones, Bones or any Break Club*, for the sake of playing your Ball, except upon the Fair Green and that only within a club's length of your Ball.
5. If your Ball comes among watter or any watterly filth**, you are at liberty to take out your Ball and bringing it behind the hazard and teeing it, you may play it with any club and allow you Adversary a Stroke, for so getting out your Ball.
6. If your Ball be found anywhere touching one another you are to lift the first ball, till you play the last.
7. At Holing, you are to play your Ball honestly for the Hole, and not play upon your Adversary's Ball, not lying in your way upon to the Hole.
8. If you should lose your Ball, by its being taken up, or any other way you are to go back to the Spot, where you struck last, and drop another Ball, and allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune.
9. No man at Holing his Ball is to be allowed, to mark his way to the Hole with his Club or anything else.
10. If a Ball be stopp'd by any person, Horse, Dog or anything else, the Ball so stopp'd must be play'd where it lyes.
11. If you draw your Club, in order to strike and proceed so far in the Stroke, as to bringing down the Club: If then your Club shall break, in any way, it is to be Accounted a Stroke.
12. He whose Ball lyes farthest from the Hole is obliged to play first.
13. Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made for the presentation of the Links, nor the Scholar's Holes or the Soldier's Lines, Shall be accounted a Hazard. But the Ball is to be taken out and Tee'd and play'd with Iron Club.
Signed John Rattray, Captain'
(* 'any [object which would] Break Club'; ** cow manure)
The Council listed 11 other competition conditions for the Silver Club including:
· On The Gentlemen Golfers: to be an Open competition; with a draw for entrants; a Clerk (scorer) to follow each match and how to judge the Victor.
· On The 'Victor': to own all entry fees (in the end 12 entrants paid 5 shillings); to be declared the 'Captain of Golf' for a Year, bearing responsibilities over golf disputes (with 2 or 3 assistants) and present Leith Links in good condition annually
· On The Council: to provide a Silver Club of £15 value (actual cost £17, 4shillings, 3pence) and on the morning of the Match to parade the Silver Club with Tuck of Drum from Edinburgh town down to Leith Links (like the City Purse prize money for Leith Races Week) and banning of all coaches across the Links.
Golf is almost unique amongst modern sports. Other sports like rugby, football (and American football) or cricket have referees or umpires. Though professional golf has referees and players mark each other scorecards, in the much larger Amateur version, it is an unwritten law of golf that everyone conducts themselves in a fundamentally fair and equal manner.
On 14 May 1754, 'The Society of St Andrews Golfers' held its own Open competition for a Silver Club. Golf had been played on the extensive Links since at least King James IV in 1504 and many church ministers and students at the University had spread their incidental golf knowledge throughout Scotland. The Society invited the Company of Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh to take part, adopting their 13 Rules (often called the 'Leith Code') in 1754 with only a minor change to Rule 5.
Curiously, they accepted Leith references to '...Scholars' Holes' and '...Soldier's Lines'. (St Andrews had, and still has, many students. Volunteer armed forces probably used St Andrews' large Links for manoeuvres on occasion - perhaps it was wiser to leave them in!). Twenty-two 'Noblemen and Gentlemen' golfers played 22 holes over a 12-hole course (10 holes of them played twice); the winner was William Landale, a St Andrews merchant, and first Captain of probably the most famous Club in golf history (including a 1744 Leith Silver Club Competition entrant, James Leslie). Thomas Boswall won in St Andrews in the following year of 1755 in a 3-way playoff which included the 1754 winner William Landale and James Leslie (again).
Boswall won Leith Silver Club in 1758 and in that year, he used his authority to settle a rules dispute by adding two changes to the original 13 Rules of Leith document and signed them 'Thomas Boswall'.
In 1764, after 20 years of Silver Club competitions in Edinburgh, the Gentlemen Golfers were allowed by the Town Council to restrict Silver Club entries to members only, for reasons unknown. From 1773, the Society of St Andrews Golfers also restricted its Silver Club annual competition to members but included Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh. This confirmed the close association of the Society of St Andrews Golfers and The Honourable Company which continues to this day.
'The Society of St Andrews Golfers 'Articles and Laws for playing the Golf' (1754)
Through many inter-club matches, other clubs experienced Leith's Rules of Golf which led to leading clubs publishing their own Rules. The well-established Burgess Golf Society of Bruntsfield (later Royal Burgess GS of Edinburgh) issued its own 12 Rules in 1773 covering similar points as in Leith and St Andrews, but with minor local variations, for example, balls were not to be given to caddies whose fee was fixed at 1penny per round and how to deal with whin (gorse) bushes on the Links of Bruntsfield. It was also important to decide in advance which Club's Rules applied to a Match. Leith made small variations in its 1775 Rules including that a ball within 6 inches of another could be lifted, avoiding 'a stymie' (a block, like croquet). Burgess Society Rules differed as it allowed stymies without lifting. An 1809 match between Burgess and Leith golfers created ill-feeling for several years on exactly this point.
Taking their lead from the most important set of either Leith or St Andrews Rules, other clubs outside Edinburgh published Rules until almost 40 clubs had published their own Rules by the mid-1800s : Aberdeen (1783), Crail (1786), Glasgow (1810), St Andrews revision (1812), Bruntsfield (1819), Thistle Club of Leith (1824), Blackheath, London (1828), St Andrews revision (1829) and Musselburgh (1829) and others. However, the Rules of Leith and St Andrews were the foundation for most clubs.
The Honourable Company's Rules of 1809 may have formed the basis for St Andrews Rules of 1812 and, likewise, St Andrews Rules of 1829 may have been adapted to become The Honourable Company's Rules of 1839. This blending of similar Rules by the two Clubs since 1744 was the successful result of nearly 100 years of matches, inevitable disputes and necessary arbitration.