Cross Country Golf

11 July 2023

Cross-county golf feats and challenges have a long tradition which has swept the world. One golfer in Scotland just added a new one.

The first recorded cross-country golf feats were one-hole challenges to see how many strokes it would take to reach a far distant target. These have become more difficult because of urbanisation and health & safety. Nowadays, new challenges have emerged to play different holes in different locations with a specified time or strokes. In 2023, a Scottish golfer set a new record in East Lothian. 

But how did it all begin?

The Netherlands - Where cross-country began?

At around the same time golf was developing in Scotland, colf was a target game played in and around the towns in the Netherlands. As with golf, accidents (broken glass and sore heads) forced the Dutch town councils to ban the game from the built-up areas into the open fields.  Cross-county challenges may well have occasionally featured in their games.

Edinburgh - Over Arthur Seat

BLGS Hickory Competition 2011 015W

Bruntsfield Links looking towards Arthur Seat

The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society minutes record the first known (successful) challenge in 1815. 

Bruntsfield Links 13th May 1815

Mr Brown betted (sic) with Mr Spalding one gallon of whisky that he would drive a ball over Arthur Seat on the same terms and in the same number of strokes as the above bet*

Mr Spalding lost, as Mr Brown drove his ball in 44 strokes.

*A simultaneous bet to play from Golfhall, Bruntsfield Links over Arthur Seat in 45 strokes was lost.

The distance from Bruntsfield Links to Arthur Seat is over 1.5 miles (2.5 km) to a height of 200 metres. Of course, in the early 19th century, it was open ground all the way. This record still stands and it will almost certainly never now be beaten.

England - Cross-Country Golf Gets Weirder

Cross-country golf feats continued through the 19th century in England as recorded in Golf's Strangest Rounds: Extraordinary but True Stories from Over a Century of Golf.

In 1898, a casual remark at a railway station led to a bet that a foursome could not play from from Maidstone in Kent to Littlestone-on-Sea on the south east coast in less than 2,000 strokes. As it turned out, the foursome, T H  and A G Oyler, completed the 35 mile golf 'hole' in 1,087 strokes and won the bet quite easily. They drove off from the 1st tee at Linton Park and holed out on the 1st green at Littlestone-on-Sea, though it had taken them 3 days and half-a-dozen caddies to accomplish it.  A detailed blow-by-blow account was written by T H Oyler for the Strand magazine in July, 1913

In all seventeen balls were lost and sixty- 
two dropped and strokes lost... 

In April 1939, Richard Sutton and Toby Milbanke had a bet that Sutton could not putt a golf ball from south of the river over Tower Bridge to White's Club in St James Street in central London, in less than 2,000 strokes. Sutton achieved the feat in 142 strokes with same ball, a ridiculously large winning margin! Apparently, Millbanke had been sure that Sutton would be arrested by the police, and, although they did stop and question him several times, they accepted his assurances that he was doing it for a bet! (Some sources say that it was Millbanke who completed the challenge, which would not be out of character, as he was a flamboyant person, who enjoyed riding his horse 'Tiger' through London and joined the Commandos in WWII.)

Not all cross-county attempts were successful.

In 1956, Humphrey Crum-Ewing took bets that he could play golf from London to Oxford along the A40 in less that 20 hours.  His strategy was to putt the ball and run after it. He had to give up at Beaconsfield. Although he was on time, he had made the mistake of starting at night with no forecaddie, and, by the following morning, his hands were sore and he had lost the last of his dozen golf balls!

USA - Transcontinental Golf 

Cross-country golf in the US started modestly, with a challenge of a few miles recorded in 1899 by Willian Paton from Allegheny Golf Club towards Pittsburgh. Over the next century, the distances increased dramatically. 

Doe Grahame's attempt to play from Mobile in Alabama to the bright lights of Holywood in 1927 has become so famous that it is now the subject of a podcast in The Past Presented. His declared intention was to create sufficient publicity to enable him to break into showbusiness. The fact that he was accompanied by a caddie called Happy Kirby did that cause no harm at all. In the event, Grahame finally gave up in Ozano  in Texas, a distance of over 950 miles, which took 35,984 strokes and 140 lost balls.  They had been beset by problems, especially a lack of funds on more than one occasion and had given up once before. Doe Grahame hitchhiked on to LA to pursue his ambition of becoming a film star, though there is no evidence of his success. Happy Kirby went home, presumably content with his few months of fame.  

However, even this pales into insignificance to the Pacific to Atlantic golf hole that Floyd Rood undertook in 1963-64. The former golf teaching professional at St Mary's GC, Louisiana, covered an assessed distance of 3,396 miles in 114,737 strokes. It took him a year and a month to do and cost him 3,511 lost golf balls.  It's believed that this once featured in the Guinness World Records. 

Australia - The New Challenge

The Australians were not going to be left out of these challenges. In May 1931, a 'masked' golfer, who called himself Mr Red Mack, announced he was going to play from Brisbane to Adelaide. By April 1932, he was less than halfway in Sydney and several months behind his timetable. It had taken him over 25,000 strokes and 57 lost balls. He decided to give up. The distance is reported as  being 700 miles, but was probably less.

Australia may not be able to boast the longest cross-county golf record, but it can boast the 'longest golf course in the world', representing the new type of cross-country golf challenge. 

Nullarbor Links 2023

Nullarbor Links map from

The Nullarbor Links is an 18-hole par 72 golf course, situated along 1,365 kilometres of the Eyre Highway, running from Ceduna to Kalgoorlie along the southern coast of Australia. You buy a scorecard at either end of the highway and play the holes as a break from driving. On production of a fully stamped scorecard, you can claim a certificate. The holes at the beginning and end are on municipal courses, but the ones in between are described as 'medieval'.

Britain - The Last Hurrah!

Since the 1960s, cross-country golf challenges have developed from playing one long hole to playing multiple holes in different locations best time/strokes.

However, there were at least two great cross-country golfing feats completed in the 21st century. In 2000, David Ewan played 160 miles across the fringe of the highlands, down the east coast from Balmedie Beach to Loch Leven. He did it in 18 separate days between May and October and then he wrote it up in "Par 10,000: a golfing odyssey across mountains, moors and fields".

The British record was set a few years later in 2005, when David Sullivan played from John O'Groats to Land's End between August and October. Many people cycle the distance and some run it, but nobody else is believed to have played golf over the 1,100 mile distance. It took him 247,382 strokes and, unfortunately, it cost him a set of golf clubs and his video camera, which were stolen half-way. He did it for charity, as an inspiration for young people to boost self-esteem. 

East Lothian - From Musselburgh to Dunbar in a day

"Today I’m attempting to play a 50-mile golf course spanning across 18 courses on the east coast of Scotland."

So tweeted Jamie Kennedy early on 20th June 2023. 

In an article on, Jamie explains why and how he did it, with a map and times. He would start on the 1st tee on the Old Course in Musselburgh at 5 am and finish on the 18th green on Dunbar Golf Club course at 10pm. The challenge was only possible because of the long daylight hours in Scotland at the end of June. 

"I would simply attempt to play across 18 courses, one hole at each, doing so in order from 1 to 18—while walking between all of the courses."

The first 16 holes/courses were fairly close. Only one walk between courses was over an hour, and eight of the courses (from Luffness to Archerfield Fidra) were within a few minutes of each other. But, to get the 17th (and 18th) meant a four hour hike from The Glen (North Berwick) to Winterfield (west of Dunbar), late in the evening, when exhaustion would be setting in. Success was not certain.  

Several of the courses are private and are unlikely to co-operate often in such a challenge. (Muirfield even allowed him to use the back gate into the Renaissance course!) 

However, there are enough courses in Edinburgh or Fife for someone to attempt a similar charity challenge. Doubtless, a great tradition will live on!

Click here for the history of endurance golf events, playing multiple rounds on one day.


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