1608 Greenwich Park - The Prince Golfer
When James VI of Scotland travelled south to become King James I of England and Wales in 1603, he was accompanied by hundreds of Scottish courtiers. It is more than likely that several were golfers and would have taken their golf clubs with them.
The Stuart rulers enjoyed Greenwich because it was away from the grime and smells of London and easily accessible from the River Thames. Accordingly to the Greenwich Palace website, there was a high brick wall around Greenwich Park and King James VI/I hunted deer there just as Henry VIII had done. This security makes play in the park as likely as play on Blackheath at the top of the hill.
In 1606, the French Ambassador reported that James's eldest son Prince Henry played 'at another Scots diversion very like Mall', which is almost certainly golf. Recent research has shown that this event took place at Richmond Palace in the south west of London, where Prince Henry had his own palace.
Another anecdote involving Henry, assumed to have taken place at Greenwich, is dated to before 1608. Frederick Henry, Prince of Wales, was born in 1594 and was nine when he accompanied his father to London. He was an acknowledged wit and very popular at court and with the nation, but sadly died in 1612, aged 18, which is how his younger brother succeeded to the throne as Charles I.
Henry was tutored by Adam Newton in London, who later became his adviser. He attended Magdalen College, Oxford in 1605. Sir Adam Newton built Charlton House, one mile east of Greenwich in 1607-1612, where he lived after Henry's death until his own demise in 1629. It is recorded that at some time during his education, Henry almost struck his tutor with a golf club.
Newton was sometimes severe in his chastisements; for when the prince was playing at goff, and having warned his tutor who was standing by in conversation that he was going to strike the ball, and having lifted up the goff-club, some one observing, “Beware, sir, that you hit not Mr. Newton!” the prince drew back the club, but smilingly observed, “Had I done so, I had but paid my debts.”
Curiosities of Literature 1817 vol 3 by Isaac D'Israeli
This anecdote was one of many recounted by a servant who had been with the Prince since he was three and recorded in a manuscript commissioned by one of James I's courtiers Lord Lumley. These Anecdotes were published in 1817 by Isaac D'Israeli, father of Benjamin Disraeli, in his third volume of Curiosities of Literature. D'Isreali states that Lord Lumley died in April 1609, when the MS was purchased for Henry, so the anecdotes must relate to events that occurred prior to 1608. This is almost certainly the source of the date adopted by the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, who have assumed the event was at Greenwich. However, this too may have been at Richmond or elsewhere.
We know that James I was in Greenwich in 1613 because his Queen, Anne of Denmark, accidentally shot his dog. As a result, James so lost his temper that he was forced to make up to her by building her what became known as Queen Anne’s house. At least that is what Sir Dudley Carleton thought writing in 1613 :
The queen shooting a deer mistook her mark and killed Jewel, the King's most special and favourite hound; at which he stormed exceedingly awhile; but after he knew who did it he was soon pacified and with much kindness wished her not to be troubled with it for he should love her never the worse; and the next day sent her a diamond worth £2,000 as a legacy from his dead dog....The Queen by her late pacification hath gained Greenwich.
The Queen's House was designed by the architect Inigo Jones. Building had been going on for three years when Queen Anne died, and the house was given to Queen Henrietta Maria, who was married to the future King Charles I, James and Anne's son. Both Charles and his Queen enjoyed spending time at Greenwich.
In 1635, the ambassador from Venice wrote :
On Wednesday His Majesty went to Greenwich with the Queen. They will both stay there at least six weeks to enjoy the pleasures of the chase, and the Queen to see the completion of a special erection of hers which is already far advanced.
Given that Charles I is also noted to have played later golf at Leith and Newcastle, then it is possible that he played at Greenwich or nearby.
There is a small, badly maintained, putting ground in Greenwich Park beside the tennis courts, which thus represents the oldest golfing ground outside of Scotland.
On his restoration to the British throne Charles II, son of Charles I, was more a player of Maile, popular in France, where he had been in exile. Two Maile courts were built near his palace in London, on streets which are known today as Pall Mall (pronounced Pell Mell) and The Mall (pronounced Mal, not Maul).