In 1834, King William IV agreed to the St Andrews Golfers request to be its royal patron - he was actually Duke of St Andrews. Conferring a 'Royal' title on it, it became The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. (Royal Perth Golf Club members will remember their Club was awarded Royal status first, one year before St Andrews.) St Andrews prestige from the mid-1800s over The Honourable Company increased with significant advantages: a course of 18 holes with room for other courses; its Rules were already adopted by many Clubs; the longevity of golf on St Andrews' Old Course and of course, its Royal patronage. Supported by the expertise of leading clubs, especially by The Honourable Company, St Andrews was acknowledged as central authority of golf.
Challenge matches of professionals, with financial stakes provided by backers, were common at St Andrews by 1840s but the format for larger tournaments or competitions was still evolving. The St Andrews Grand Tournament of 1857 was matchplay; though it changed to individual matchplay in 1858 and finally to strokeplay in 1859. Meanwhile on Leith Links on 17 May 1867, Thistle Club of Leith held a 28-hole 'Grand Golf Tournament For Professional Players' for 22 professionals using Thistle Club Rules. Later in 1879, Seafield Golf Club held a Professionals tournament.
On the west coast, Prestwick Golf Club held under their club Rules in 1860 a competition for 8 professionals for the title 'Champion Golfer of the Year'. This is generally accepted as the start of The Open Championship for professional golfers. They played 3 rounds of 12 holes for a red 'Challenge Champion' prize belt (similar to Boxing belts) and won by Old Willie Park of Musselburgh. The Prestwick Rules were effectively 1858 R&A Rules. In an 1861 re-run, 10 professionals played with 8 amateurs. Old Tom Morris of St Andrews won the Challenge Champion prize belt in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867. Tom Morris Junior won it three years in succession from 1868, 1869 and 1870 so was entitled to keep the Champion Belt.
By 1872, Prestwick, St Andrews and The Honourable Company agreed to hold a joint annual Open competition and contributed £10 each for a new Open prize - 'The Golf Open Champion Trophy', known as the Claret Jug. However, it wasn't ready in time for the 1872 competition won by Tom Morris Junior so his name was added later.
The Claret Jug recalls the historical connection with golfing celebrations in taverns (where claret was served at today's beer strength). It has remained 'The Open' prize ever since. Including The 2021 Open (delayed from 2020) at Royal St George's Golf Club, Sandwich in the county of Kent, there have been 149 Open Championships. The Honourable Company has held 22 Opens (6 Opens at Musselburgh and 16 Opens at Muirfield) and St Andrews has held 29 Opens. Prestwick has held 24 Opens though its last was in 1925.
The R&A held 'The 150th Open' Championship on 10-17 July 2022 at St Andrews. This milestone 'Open' was won by Cameron Smith of Australia by one stroke for a round of 64 and 20 under par for the joint-best score to par in Open history, and the lowest at St Andrews.
Golf became a popular British sport in the 1800s through the introduction of the cheap and durable gutta percha golf ball by 1850; widespread expansion of railways lines into rural areas nearer Links golf courses and a rising interest in sport generally.
The Ladies Golf Union's Amateur Championship was first played in 1893 at Lytham St Anne's and the Ladies British Open Championship - now called the Women's Open - was first played as a four-round stroke play competition in 1976 at Fulford, Yorkshire. The US Women's Open started in 1946 at Spokane.
From about 40 clubs in early 1800s to over 2,000 UK clubs by 1900, players and competitors travelled widely. Internationally, the first club on continental Europe was Pau, south-west France started by Scottish soldiers in 1814 and formalised by 1856. The size of the sport brought demand from leading clubs for a universal set of Rules to support competitions.
The R&A Rules of Golf Committee was formed in September 1897 and, by September 1899, released the UK's first set of 'Rules of Golf'.
What was missing was Rules agreement with the United States to support international competitions.
The US Golf Association (USGA) was created in 1894, the year before the first US Open and Amateur Championships at Newport, using 1891 R&A Rules before publishing its own new US code. From 1900 to 1952, The R&A and USGA co-operated on separate Codes before agreeing a 1952 Joint Code: administered by USGA for US and Mexico; and by The R&A, through its affiliates, in the rest of the world.
The last joint Code was published in 2019 covering 34,000 golf courses worldwide (including about 15,000 in US and 550 in Scotland).
Today, The R&A organisation describes itself with three areas of responsibility:
- Administration of Rules of Golf
- The Organisation annually of The Open and
- Development of Golf amongst emerging nations.
The R&A, through R&A Rules Ltd, governs the sport worldwide, outside of the United States and Mexico, on behalf of over 36 million golfers in 144 countries and with the consent of 158 organisations from amateur and professional golf: ' Our aim is to bring The Rules of Golf in line with the way the modern sport is played, while maintaining it’s challenge.' It launched in 2021 an official qualification in refereeing - R&A Qualified Referee - to spearhead a new and enhanced Rules education programme which has been piloted around the world.
The R&A World Golf Museum has undergone an extensive redevelopment since 2020 and with rebranding, brings the past, present and future of golf through displays, galleries and zones. This includes our Society's gift to the Museum of our Society's very first 16 inch John Rattray Bronze, as show below.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club's own objectives remain focused primarily on golf on the St Andrews courses and supporting the history of the game of golf through The R&A World Golf Museum.
David Rickman, Executive Director – Governance & Chief of Staff of The R&A, together with Angela Howe, Director of The R&A World Golf Museum, receiving our Society's very first 16 inch Rattray Bronze from Lachlan Rattray of Rattray (left) and the Sculptor David Annand (2nd from left).