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31 Mar 2022

Golf in Scotland

Written by James Walsh
Time to polish off your irons and hit the fairways! Scotland is the spiritual home of golf, and home to some of the world’s oldest and most memorable courses.

Who invented golf?

As long ago as the Middle Ages, Scottish people were playing ‘stick and ball’ games. But one game in particular caught fire on Scotland’s East Coast: golf. The rolling greens and sandy links of Edinburgh and Fife were perfect for hitting shots with round stones and pebbles.

Golf became so popular in Scotland in the 15th century that it was seen as a hindrance by the crown. Records show that the game – written variously as ‘gouff’, ‘gowf’ or ‘golf’ – was banned several times. The aim was to get Scots to focus on their military training instead, but the draw of the sport was too much and players ignored the ban!

One of the earliest written references to golf is the purchase of a set of ‘clubbes and balles’ by King James IV in 1502, and golf has links to other royals too. Rumour has it that Mary, Queen of Scots was seen playing at Seton Palace not long after the death of her husband Lord Darnley in 1567, which would make her the first female golfer. In 1641 Charles I learned of the Irish rebellion while playing golf in Edinburgh... but felt inclined to finish his round.

While travelling Scots introduced golf to the rest of the world, the first golf clubs were established in Scotland in the mid-18th century, including the Royal Burgess Golf Society (1735), the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (1744), and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (1754), where members published the first ‘Rules of Golf’.

As the birthplace of the modern game, Scotland is home to some of the most iconic courses in the world. The inaugural Open Championship was held at Prestwick in 1860, and the first ever international golf tournament – a warm-up match between the American PGA and Britain prior to the Open Championship in 1921 – was played at Gleneagles.

Did you know?

  • The word ‘fore!’ (which golfers shout to warn others about wayward shots) is said to come from the ‘Forecaddies’ who were paid to go ahead and fetch lost balls.
  • The first recorded caddie was a man called Andrew Dickson, who carried clubs for the Duke of York in 1682.
  • The oldest player to ever win the Open Championship is ‘Old’ Tom Morris, who won the tournament in 1867 aged 46 – and was also a famous golf course designer.
  • According to the US Hole In One Association, your odds of getting the ball in the hole directly off the tee on a par three are a whopping 12,500 to 1.
  • Early golf balls were made from hair, feathers and leather!
© John Stewart/St Andrews Legacy 2016

The Kingarrock Hickory Golf Course

Even the oldest courses in Scotland are now played with modern equipment, but at the Kingarrock Hickory Golf Course at Hill of Tarvit you can travel back in time to the 1920s and play an Edwardian-style round on the last remaining dedicated hickory golf course in the UK. There are nine holes, with names including ‘Doocot’, ‘Cundy’ and ‘Ha-Ha’, and you’ll play using original hickory golf clubs.

Before the invention of steel shafts, clubs made from imported US hickory wood were considered state of the art! Depending on the shot, you can reach for your driver or putter, or maybe even a ‘spoon’, ‘mid-mashie’ or ‘mashie niblick’. These fun Edwardian club names didn’t stand the test of time (and nor did the dress-code of plus fours and tweed) so this is your chance to feel what playing hickory golf was like.

Plan your visit and book a round of hickory golf at Kingarrock

Other Scottish golf courses to try

There are more than 550 gold courses in Scotland, including links courses, parkland courses, and everything in the middle. There’s no better place in the world for a golf experience, so start practicing your putting!

St Andrews ‘Old Course’

St Andrews golf course in Fife is a place of pilgrimage for many golfers and the Old Course is the oldest golf course in the world – golf has been played here since at least 1552.

While you’re there you can visit the R&A World Golf Museum to learn about golf’s long history.

Playing a round? Visit nearby Hill of Tarvit Mansion & Garden and Kellie Castle.

Musselburgh Old Links

Musselburgh stakes its own claim to the title of oldest course. Golf has been played here since 1672 at least, and now the course stands in the middle of a popular race track.

Other prestigious clubs along East Lothian’s ‘golf coast’ include Muirfield, Gullane and North Berwick’s West Links, which were established in 1832.

Playing a round? Visit nearby Newhailes House & Gardens.

Fortrose

The 15th oldest recorded club in the world (1793) is home to a Championship links course. One of the best courses in the Highlands, and sure to test your swing!

Playing a round? Visit nearby Brodie Castle & Estate.

Royal Troon

One of many courses in Ayrshire, it opened in 1878 with just 5 holes. Royal Troon hosted its first Open Championship in 1923 and has hosted the tournament 10 times since.

Playing a round? Visit nearby Culzean Castle & Country Park and Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

Iona Golf Course

For a golf experience you won’t forget any time soon (and won’t break the bank!) you can play a round on the small island of Iona near Mull. There aren’t any fees and the greenskeepers are sheep... so don’t expect an even bounce!

Fancy a round? Find out more.

Or try your local council course!

Golf in Scotland is open to everyone. If you’re learning or just want to have a go, find your local council-owned course where people of all ages and abilities are welcome!

Kingarrock Hickory Golf

Tee off at the only remaining hickory golf course in the UK

Book now