Historical sources

The early history of golf in Scotland told through texts and images from the National Library of Scotland and other sources.

From a painting, man looking up at something, alarmed.

Banned by the authorities

Early on, the authorities disapproved of golf for ordinary people and banned it from 1457. Three Acts of Parliament unsuccessfully tried to topple golf and football. The Scottish Parliament wanted people to practise archery instead.

Part of illustration of King James IV.

Golf for the élite

Golf was a respectable pastime for the wealthy, including King James IV. They played out on open land with expensive equipment. In his diaries, student James Melville observes that his father will fund golf and archery, but not drinking or hand tennis.

Part of title page with part words showing including 'VOCA'.

Golfing terms

Discover here some golf sources from the 1600s. Many of the Scots words used at the time are now part of the international language of golf. Aberdonian schoolmaster David Wedderburn's 'Vocabula' gives the Latin words for golfing equipment and terms.

Part of a coat of arms with arm holding up golf club

The first golf international

A challenge from James Duke of York in 1681 became known as the 'first golf international'. His partner for the game, John Paterson, earned enough prize money to buy a house in Edinburgh's Canongate which was later called 'Golfer's Land'.

Two small folders with ties, and papers showing within.

A sociable game

The account books of Sir John Foulis from 1684 show golf coupled with a social scene. This included drinking and betting in Edinburgh and Leith taverns. Today's golf clubs would emerge from this social side of the game.

Part of sheet of paper densely covered in hand-writing.

A serious sport

In his diary of 1687-1688, Thomas Kincaid gives detailed instructions on how the game should be played. He analyses his golf swing, and describes an early handicapping system, as well as the construction and repair of clubs.

Two golfers on links from a painting.

St Andrews – home of golf

St Andrews is clearly well established for quality golfing equipment by 1691. Alexander Monro's letter to his friend John Mackenzie tells of a gift of golfing equipment. At the time, Munro was Regent at St Andrews University.

Part of a page from a book with 'GOFF' showing.

The first golf book

'The Goff', a mock-epic poem first printed in 1743, depicts golf as a civilised pastime for Edinburgh worthies and aspiring young men. The poem names founder members of the Company of Gentlemen Golfers, who formed the world's oldest golf club the following year.

Man in uniform, holding up stick with silver balls.

The first rules of golf

The Silver Club competition on Leith Links was a catalyst for the first golf club in the world. The 'Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf' drawn up by the Gentlemen Golfers in 1744 are the origins of the present-day rules of golf.