1774 Royal Musselburgh Golf Club

OldClubCup02The Royal Musselburgh Golf Club dates to 1774 at least, as their Old Club Cup has winners listed back to that year. This is believed to be the oldest golf cup still played for. The cup was presented to the club by Mr Thomas McMillan of Shorthope who won it in 1774 and became Captain of the club.

That there was a formal club organisation at this time is evidenced by a newspaper advertisement in the Caledonian Mercury, placed by the club secretary Adam Cardonnel by order of the Captain and Members of the Golf Club of Musselburgh. It gives notice of the playing of the Silver Cup on the Links at Musselburgh on 11th April 1777

There is however a statement in the 1845 Statistical Account of Scotland by the Rev Leslie Moodie, Minister of the Parish of Inveresk, stating that a local golf club was formed in 1760, consisting of the principal gentlemen of the town and vicinity. This is based on notes from the Rev Moodie's predecessor, the Rev Alexander Carlyle, who was Minister at Inveresk from 1748 until his death in 1805. He was also the first to document women playing golf at Musselburgh.

The Reverend 'Jupiter' Carlyle was moderator of the Church of Scotland in 1770 and a notable figure in Scottish history. He was a controversial character invoking censure for his behaviour on occasions. He was also a renown golfer and second winner of the Old Club Cup in 1775. In 1758, he performed the world's first recorded golf trick shot in London with a club now possibly in the possession the Royal Blackheath Golf Club. Carlyle resigned from the Musselburgh club in 1786.


Musselburgh with Arthur's Seat and Clubhouses in background

For their first 150 years, the (Royal) Musselburgh club played over the Old Course at Musselburgh and saw it grow to nine holes by 1870. They shared it with other clubs, most notably, for the latter years of the 19th Century, the (Royal) Burgess, The Honourable Company of Leith Golfers and Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society.

There are no minutes for  Royal Musselburgh before 1784, as noted by Robert Clark in 1875, when he published extracts from them in his book 'Golf A Royal and Ancient Game'. From these, Musselburgh Golf Club appears to have been a relaxed and modern club who did not take themselves too seriously. They met in various hostelries round Musselburgh and elsewhere.

In 1791, they accepted the resignation of a member who had subsequently committed suicide, noting that they would not 'try their hands for his resurrection'. In the same year the club was apparently reformed with much the same members and much the same rules for no discernible reason. However, like other clubs during the Napoleonic Wars there were periods of inactivity and disruption.

They also fostered junior golf as can be seen from regular minutes such as those in 1808, gifting to 'the boys at Mr Taylor's two dozen golf-balls, and to those at Mr Grierson's school one dozen.' In 1834 they set fixed rates for boys employed as caddies.

Musselburgh, 14th Dec. 1810

The Club resolve to present by subscription a new Creel & Skull to the best female golfer who plays in on the annual occasion on 1st Jan. next, old style, (12th Jan. new), to be intimated to the Fish Ladies by the Officer of the Club.

Two of the best Barcelona silk handkerchiefs, to be added to the above premium of the Creel.


In 1811, the club sponsored the first recorded ladies competition. The competitors and results have not come down to us. In 1795, the Reverend Carlyle had noted that the Musselburgh women 'do the work of men' and played both golf and football.

Another claim to fame that the Royal Musselburgh have is to be the club who bought an pre-formed hole cutter in 1829, still in their possession, which subsequently became the standard hole in golf, (though other clubs make similar claims). Until then holes were cut with knives and were of varying quality, further damaged by caddies removing sand from the holes to make tees.

In 1830 they played a six-a-side club match against the Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society, who were on the point of moving to Musselburgh Links themselves. Bruntsfield won the match on October 15th by three holes, but Musselburgh won the replay in November by one hole. On 1st February 1834, the Bruntsfield club minutes record that the match between the two clubs had grown to a ten-a-side match, which the Musselburgh lost by five holes, costing them 'one dozen of wine'.


Royal Musselburgh GC clubhouse 1873-1891, 9 Balcarres Road

After years of meeting in various places round Musselburgh, the club built a clubhouse in Links Place, which was formally opened on 16th October 1873 with a dinner of forty-four people. When the Honourable Company decamped in 1891 to Muirfield, the Musselburgh club moved into the Honourable Co's old clubhouse at 10 Balcarres Road, next door. 

On 19th December 1876, HRH Duke of Connaught, Hon President of the Musselburgh club granted permission for it to use the term Royal. He remained patron of the club until his death in 1942, probably the longest royal association with any golf club. His son HRH Prince Arthur was Hon Vice President from 1912 until his death in 1938. Another esteemed Honorary Member was His Imperial Highness, The Grand Duke Michael of Russia who was a committed golfer and attended the ceremony in 1887 where the Connaught Cup was presented to the club.

Royal Musselburgh Clubhouse C

Royal Musselburgh clubhouse, originally a Norman tower later converted to a baronial mansion. Recently a painted ceiling dated to 1581 was found and removed to Napier University.

In 1925, after 150 years of crowded play at Musselburgh Old Course, the Royal Musselburgh moved down the road to Prestongrange House at Prestonpans, which they took on a 25-year lease from the Grant Suttie family. The course was first designed by James Braid, but has been remodelled since. Unusually for a private club, they still lease their grounds, in this case, since 1958, from the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation.

The Royal Musselburgh Golf Club welcomes visitors and potential members.