1711 Bruntsfield Links - The Poet Golfer
After buying his first set of clubs in Perth in 1502, King James IV spent February 1503 in Edinburgh, and his household accounts record a purchase of golf clubs and balls, though this may be a previous transaction elsewhere, such as Falkland Palace. There is also a note by the Court Treasurer drawing money for the King for a payment in respect of golf with the Earl of Bothwell, which may be a lost wager. If in Edinburgh, it is not known where they played; it could have been near Holyroodhouse Palace, beside Arthur Seat, where 350 years later some Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society members laid out a temporary and unofficial course.
The King's visit to Edinburgh may have been part of the preparations for his marriage to Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England, which took place at Holyrood Abbey in in August 1503 in Edinburgh. It was because of this marriage that his great-grandson James VI, also a golfer, succeeded Elizabeth I of England exactly one hundred years later.
Council records from 17th Century often mention the rights of golfers to use Bruntsfield Links to play golf over the rights of others who wanted to quarry pits, graze animals or drive roads through the Links. In 1687-88 Thomas Kincaid, a medical student, records golfing in his diary at Leith Links, and probably also played at Bruntsfield. Thomas Kincaid wrote the world's first golf training instructions on 26th January 1687. Though the stance he recommends appears a bit odd today, he clearly describes the necessity of a full turn and keeping your shoulders level as well as following through the same distance as you have taken the club back.
In 1718, Alan Ramsay, the poet, published an 'Elegy on Maggy Johnson who died in Anno 1711' which told of great number of people who mourned the passing of Maggy Johnson, keeper of a Houff (tavern) at Bruntsfield, with the well known rhyming couplet:-
'Whan we were weary'd at the Gouff,
Then Maggy Johnson's was our Houff;'
Alan Ramsay 1718
From at least 1735, members of group who would be known at the Royal Burgess Golfing Club were playing on Bruntsfield, but under what name is not certain. In 1761, or thereabouts, the Bruntsfield Association, which became the Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society, began playing apparently created as a splinter group from the Burgess Club.
The first house on this area of the Links, then called the Burgh Muir, was built in 1717, on land feu'd (leased) by the Council in 14th June 1716 to Mr James Brownhill. The building became known as Golfhall or Foxtoun or Foxton and, over the next eighty years it was tenanted to Thomas Comb, a golf club and ball maker; and the Bapties and later Alexander Fraser, who were all publicans.
Golf on the Links is seen clearly in paintings of the time by the military artist Paul Sandy (1746), now at the British Museum, as well later by Slack (1797) and a print by J Ewbank (1798), a copy of which hang in the Bruntsfield Links GS clubhouse at Davidson's Mains.
For many years, the course consisted of five holes. On 4th June 1818 the sixth hole, called the Union Hole was inaugurated with a match between the Burgess and Bruntsfield clubs.
The Burgess club used 'Golfhall' as their clubhouse from at least 1773 until 1792. They then took a lease on Captain Rollo's house, which is called both the 'Golf Tavern' and the 'Golf Hotel' in different publications. It is called the 'Golf Tavern' in the Burgess Chronicles and is shown in one later etching as the 'Golf Hotel', as it is in the course map of 1818, shown above. The Burgess club met there until 1874, when they moved to Musselburgh.
Both Golfhall and the Golf Hotel have been demolished. They were almost certainly on the street called 'Wrights Houses', (now called Barclay Terrace). This name is derived from a mansion called 'Wryt's House', which was on the other side of the present road and which gave rise a village around it called Wright's Houses. The old 'Wryt's House' was pulled down in 1800 so that James Gillespie could build a Hospital, later used as the Royal Asylum and School for the Blind.
Number 30/31 Wrights Houses was the clubhouse of the Bruntsfield Links golfing club members from about 1788 until 1890, even after the Bruntsfield club left for Musselburgh in 1839. It was two doors down from the 'Golf Hotel.'
Details of some of the club-mistresses of 30/31 Wrights Houses are given in Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society. As the building still exists, it is therefore the oldest clubhouse still standing. It was probably built in mid/late 18th Century and was remodeled and renamed 'Ye Olde Golf Tavern' in late 19th Century, after the Bruntsfield Links club gave up their lease in 1890. Today it erroneously carries the Burgess motto and logo, though it was never their clubhouse.
The middle of the 19th century there were dozens of club playing Bruntsfield Links and crowding was a serious issue. The City Council decided to open Braids golf course in 1893 , laid out by Bob Ferguson and Peter McEwan.
The Bruntsfield Links still has a summer 36-hole pitch-and-putt course. Clubs and balls can be obtained from the Golf Tavern, continuing its roll as a clubhouse.