1672 Musselburgh - The Lawyer Golfer

SetonHouse02RMyth has it that Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, (1542-1587), played golf at Musselburgh in 1567. This claim is derived from a charge that the Earl of Moray put before the Westminster Commissioners in the 'Articles' in 1568. He accused Mary of playing golf and mail at Seton House only a few days after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, in which he claimed she was implicated. The original Seton home, now destroyed, was 4 miles east of Musselburgh. Mail looked similar to putting or 'target' golf and it is possible that the Earl did not know which game was played and thus we cannot be sure what game Mary played or where.

Mary's son James VI also reputedly played at Musselburgh, prior to journeying south to become James I of England in 1603.

There is definite evidence that Sir John Foulis of Ravelston, a prominent Edinburgh lawyer, who kept copious records of his golf on Leith Links, played golf at Musselburgh in 1672. He lost in a match with his friends Gosford and Lyon and others as his notebook records:


Mar 2 Lost at Golfe at Musselboorgh with Gosford, Lyon etc .. .. £3 5s 0d

Gosford also played Lord Newbyth, Lord of Session, on the East Links at North Berwick in the same year. The East Links at North Berwick is no longer played but Musselburgh course is and therefore Sir John Foulis is the first known person who played an extant golf course, which is why it is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest course.

Musselburgh is an important site in women's golf as the likely place where the fish wives played golf on the links. In the Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-9 Rev Carlyle observes:-

"As the do the work of men and their strength and activities is equal to their work, their amusements are also of the masculine kind. On holidays they frequently play at golf; and on Shrove Tuesday there is a standing match at football between the married and unmarried women at which the former are always the victors."

It is no surprise therefore that Musselburgh is the site of the world's first known women's golf competition, when the (Royal) Musselburgh Golf Club offered prizes for the fish ladies golf competition held annually on New Year's day 1811.

In November 1728, Duncan Forbes, President of the Court of Session and 'eminence grise' of the Leith golfers, played golf at Musselburgh with his son. He recorded the event with the regret that he wished his son were as good at anything else as he was at golf.

This Day after a Very hard Pull I Got the better
of My Son at the Gouf in Musselburgh Links, if he was as Good at any
Other thing as he is at that there might be some hopes for him.

The Old Links at Musselburgh was originally seven holes, with an eighth added in 1832 and final ninth in 1870, called the Sea Hole and now played as the fifth. In those days the course started at the old grandstand, and the first hole is what is now the second. 


Musselburgh Medal Day with clubhouses and Arthur's Seat in background

One of the early mechanical devices for making standard sized golf holes was purchased by the (Royal) Musselburgh club in 1829 from local blacksmith Robert Gay for £1-0-0. (One pound exactly). This size was adopted as the standard size for a golf hole in 1893, though by that time Robert Gay's cutter had been replaced.

For forty years in the 19th century, four of the most important clubs in the world were playing at Musselburgh and all built clubhouses there. They formed a greens committee, paying according to the number of their members. (The average memberships in late 1880s are shown in brackets).


Plan courtesy of East Lothian Council

This map shows the relative location of the clubhouse buildings which still exist.


Royal Musselburgh GC Old Clubhouse 9 Balcarres Road

The Royal Musselburgh Golf Club (90 to 136 members) played at Musselburgh from about 1760 until 1925. They first occupied a clubhouse inside the course and then in 1873 they moved to 9 Links Place (now 9 Balcarres Road).  After the Honourable Company decamped to Muirfield in 1891, they occupied the clubhouse at No 8 (below) from 1908 to 1925, at which time the Royal Musselburgh moved to their present site at Prestongrange House.


Hon Company of Edinburgh Golfers Old Clubhouse 8 Balcarres Road

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (400 members) played at Musselburgh from 1836 to 1891, when they moved to Muirfield further east.

In 1865 they built a clubhouse at 8 Links Place (now 8 Balcarres Road), which is now a children's nursery. 

During this period they would have been supplied with golf balls, clubs and services by Gourlays, McEwans and Parks who were all based there. 




Bruntsfield Links GS Old Clubhouse Mill Hill

The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society (130 members) began playing medals at Musselburgh from 1839, retaining their old clubhouse at Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh for aged members who could not travel.  They purchased the vacated St Peter's Episcopal Church in 1872 and for use as their main clubhouse, when they formally moved from the city centre to Musselburgh in 1876. (The church has since been demolished, and is now the site of a housing estate). In 1886, BLGS built the clubhouse shown here in Millhill but, only twelve years later, in 1898, they departed back west to Bartongate. The Mill Hill building is now the Wiremill Social Club and has been extensively refurbished inside following a major fire over a decade ago.


Royal Burgess GC Old Clubhouse 10 Balcarres Road

The (Royal) Burgess Golfing Society (100 members) opened a new clubhouse at 10 Links Place (now 10 Balcarres Road) in 1875 and moved back to Barnton in west Edinburgh in 1895. The building served as the clubhouse of the Musselburgh Old Course Golf Club who purchased it in 1993. A visitors clubhouse has been opened on the north of the course.

In 1874, the 'Open', first held at Prestwick in 1861, was held at Musselburgh, after the Honourable Company became involved in its organisation with Prestwick and St Andrews golf clubs. It was held there five more times in 1877, 1880, 1883, 1886 and 1889. The last of these was won by the legendary Willie Park Jnr, a Musselburgh man. He and other notable Musselburgh golfers are honoured on a plaque on the former Burgess clubhouse.


Musselburgh Open Champions and dates - note that Mungo Park 1874 is in fact a depiction of Mungo Junior, when it should Mungo Senior.

Note that the Musselburgh Golf Club plays at Monktonhall. The Musselburgh Old Course is played by the Musselburgh Old Course Golf Club, which offers overseas memberships. Details of the club and the links, which is a public course run by East Lothian Council, are on the Musselburgh Old Links.