Oldest Golf Clubs or Societies
This list of the oldest golf clubs and golf societies is based on the criteria of
- Organisation - a group meeting regularly or with formality and intending to be an group related to golf
- Dated evidence - authoritative reference or cross-reference or dated artefact mentioning an exact date or period
- Continuity of existence - a continuation of entity, or name or location.
- 1735 Royal Burgess Golf Society
- 1744 Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
- 1754 Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews
- 1761 Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society
- 1766 Royal Blackheath Golf Club
- 1774 Royal Musselburgh Golf Club
- 1777 Fraserburgh Golf Club (1881)
- 1780 Royal Aberdeen Golf Club
- 1786 Crail Golfing Society
- 1787 Glasgow Golf Club
- 1787 Earlsferry Golf Society (1858)
- 1791 Burntisland Golf Club
- 1791 Port Erroll, Cruden Bay Golf Club (1899)
- 1793 Kingsbarns Golf Club (1815)
- 1793 Fortrose Golf Society (1888)
- 1794 Dunbar Golf Club (1856)
- 1794 Savannah Golf Club (1899)
- 1810 Royal Montrose Golf Club
- 1815 Thistle Golf Club (Leith)
- 1817 Scotscraig Golf Club
- 1817 St Andrews Thistle Golf Club
- 1818 Old Manchester Golf Club
- 1820 Innerleven Golf Club
- 1824 Royal Perth Golf Society County & City Club
The list contains the 18 oldest surviving golf clubs in Scotland, including successor clubs, which have a 'home' course. The successor club is one which demonstrably inherited the activities, assets or location of the original club. Only nine of these 18 have had a continuous existence. For the sake of completeness, six other contemporaneous clubs with a connection to an existing club or course are also shown.
The dates are assessed from a consideration of all the evidence and not just documentation. With later clubs, it is clear that the 'foundation' date is the first meeting date, but, for most of the Scottish 18th century societies, these groups had been meeting for several years before the formality of the organisation began, usually with an 'event'. To begin with the social activities of wining, dining and betting were as important as the golf. The social 'club' as a concept had been around since 1620 and social clubs themselves since 1640 or so, while the term and meaning of 'golf club' or 'golf society' had yet to enter conscious thinking. These golfers were simply doing what they wanted to do, and it is only with hindsight that we ascribe to these activities the label of 'golf club'.
Leith Thistle no longer exists and Old Manchester do not own a course. Royal Blackheath is in south east London, England and Savannah Golf Club is in Georgia, USA and are not shown.
Eighteen golf clubs can trace their origins to the 18th Century. Of these, six or seven have an effectively unbroken and continuous existence. Three at least were in abeyance for many years before being revived, though this was as a continuation of the original club, and eight clubs with an 18th century past were effectively restarted, as noted. (There is also a newspaper report of a Golf Club at Bray in Ireland in 1762.) More details of these and other later clubs are shown in Scottish Golf Club Websites or Rest of World Golf Club Websites.
Charles B Clapcott, the early 20th century historian of golf, who 'discovered' the first rules of golf in 1937, spent some time considering the relevant claims of early golf clubs to their ‘foundation’ dates. His view of the oldest five clubs’ history is discussed in the article On the Dating of Golf Societies.