First golf book

The first printed book devoted entirely to golf is Thomas Mathieson's mock-heroic epic poem of 1743. 'The Goff' ran to several editions and continues to attract attention today.

It tells the story of a game on Leith Links between 2 keen young Edinburgh golfers. Mathieson is then a lawyer, and Alexander Dunning is an Edinburgh bookseller and publisher.

Caledonian Chiefs

On the links at the same time is a group of leading Edinburgh citizens – 'the Caledonian Chiefs' – who are named in the poem. This group is playing in an organised competition for a silver bowl.

Some these men were to be founder members of the Company of Gentlemen Golfers, the world's oldest golf club – formed the following year.

The young golfers probably used only one wooden club for most shots, while the celebrity clique playing alongside them had caddies. They also had the best equipment available – including featherie balls from St Andrews.

A healthy game

The young men played a singles match, 4 rounds of the 5 named holes at Leith. The older men's contest also taking part on the links is watched by a crowd of knowledgeable spectators, and the young men fantasise that they reach the final stages of their competition.

The poem is often dream-like, and golf is depicted as healthy, aspirational game played in a civilised environment.

Part of letter with stamp mark.

Letter about golf at Musselburgh

Duncan Forbes of Culloden was a leading Edinburgh citizen, keen golfer and founder member of the Company of Gentlemen Golfers.

Full image of letter page >