1502 Perth - The Royal Golfer

World's First Named Golfer

James IV of Scotland

King James IV

King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513) was a man of many talents. He inherited the Scottish throne at the age of fifteen and unified the outlying areas of his kingdom by force of arms. He practised dentistry and founded the Royal College of Surgeons in Scotland, many years ahead of that in England. He introduced compulsory education, requiring large landowners to send their sons to school and to one of the universities at St Andrews, Glasgow or Aberdeen. Yet his most lasting legacy is probably that in 1502, he decided that the threat of war with England had receded sufficiently to lift the longstanding ban on golf, imposed to encourage archery practice. He also realised cannon were going to replace archers. 

He bought his first clubs from a Perth bow maker. At the time Perth served as the capital and it was where James was crowned at Scone Palace on 26 June 1488. His official accounts noted the following in 1502.

Item: the xxi Sept - to the bowar of Sanct Johnestoun, for golf clubs, xiiii s'

Item: the 21st September “ to the bowmaker of St Johnestoun (sic), for golf clubs, 14 shillings

There were 20 shillings to the Scottish Pound. Given the number of clubs and balls James IV purchased, it is likely that it was the links or long game he played.

That makes James IV, at almost 30 years old, the first recorded player of golf as we know it and it makes Perth in Scotland the oldest golf-related location in the world.

North and South Inch

Less certain is exactly where James IV played. All we know is that he bought the clubs from Perth. While it is not certain that James IV played there, it is likely.

PerthSconeInchKJVIThis may have been on the North Inch, (shown in the middle of the map) which still has a golf course today. The North Inch and the South Inch were two large parkland areas given to Perth in 1377 by King Robert III. The North Inch was the scene of the famous Battle of the Clans in 1396, which left only twelve men standing from a total of sixty from the clans of Chattan and Kay.

James may have played near Scone Palace, to the north of Perth (also shown on the map). He may also have played at his other royal residences, such as Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Falkland Palace in Fife, Linlithgow in West Lothian, and Stirling Castle and its Royal Park nearby.

We do not know the name of James IV's 'bowar', but on 4th April 1603, James grandson, King James VI, appointed William Mayne to the office of ' fledger, bower, clubmaker, and spear-maker to his Majesty'. The full extract from the Register of the Privy Seal is in the appendix of Rules of Thistle Golf Club. William Mayne trained at least 9 apprentices, some of whom, such as Donald Bayne, went on to be successful club makers as well as bow-makers. Most of the bowers in Edinburgh can be traced back to William Mayne.


Perth North Inch beside Tay

Other early Perth Golfers

The first record of golf on the North Inch comes from the records of the Kirk (Church) Session who persecuted congregation members for playing golf on Sunday. In 1599 there is record of four people - John Gardner, James Bowman, Laurence Chalmers and Laurence Cuthbert - confessing and apologising for playing golf on the North Inch 'at the time of the preaching afternoon of the Sabbath'. This is one of several cases in the Session minutes between the years 1592 and 1619. Another case concerned golf on Muirton meadows which would later, briefly, become part of North Inch golf course.

Henry Adamson published a lament in 1638 to his friend James Gall, whom he described as a citizen of Perth, and a gentleman of 'goodly stature', and 'pregnant wit', much given to pastimes such as golf, archery and curling; and 'jovial company'.

In the late 17th century, John Mackenzie of Delvine, 10 miles to the north of Perth was a known golfer, to whom the Regent of St Andrews sent golf clubs in 1691 and whose sons played golf at St Andrews.

In the 1774 edition of Henry Adamson’s poem, James Cant makes several observations including elaboration of golf in Perth in early decades. (Note that the f are read as s and milch is obviously milk).

Perth ftands in the middle of a beautiful green about and Englifh mile in length, and divides it into two, called the north and fouth Inches, where the citizens for ages have exercised thesefelves during the fpring and autumnal feafons with golf-clubs and balls. This paftime is interrupted during the fummer-feafon by the luxuriancy of the grafs, which affords rich pafture for the milch-cows belonging to the inhabitants.

Perth Golf Clubs

In the 19th century, The Perth Golfing Society started by playing over six holes on the South Inch, and later, on the North Inch course, which has had a varying number of holes over the centuries. In 1833, the Perth Golfing Society was granted the title Royal by William IV - the first golf club anywhere to be given the Royal accolade.

Also shown on the map is the course of the King James VI Golf Club founded in 1858, who play on the unique course on Moncreiffe Island, surrounded by water and accessible only on foot. This club is named in honour of James IV's great-grandson, first King of both Scotland and England and Wales.

The North Inch golf course is a public course, owned by Perth and Kinross Council, with more details of history. A few weeks, Perth and Kinross Council announced that they are considering closing the North Inch course to save money, but recently they decided against it at least for now.