1502 Perth - The Royal Golfer

World's First Named Golfer

James IV of Scotland

King James IV

King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513) was a man of many talents. He inherited the Scottish throne at the age of fifteen and unified the outlying areas of his kingdom by force of arms. He practised dentistry and founded the Royal College of Surgeons in Scotland, many years ahead of that in England. He introduced compulsory education, requiring large landowners to educate their sons by sending them to one of the universities at St Andrews, Glasgow or Aberdeen. Yet, his most lasting legacy is probably that, in 1502, he decided that the threat of war with England had receded sufficiently to lift the long-standing ban on golf, imposed to encourage archery practice. (He also realised cannon were going to replace bows and therefore archery practice was no longer as important as it once was). 

His first recorded purchase of 'clubs' is from a bow-maker at 'St John's Town', the old name for Perth, where King James was crowned at Scone Palace on 26 June 1488. The Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland noted the following in 1502.

Item, the xxj of September, to the bowar of Sanct Johnestoun for clubbes, xiiij s.

Item: the 21st September - to the bow-maker of Saint John's Town (Perth), for golf clubs, 14 shillings

There were 20 shillings to the Scottish pound. Though golf is not explicitly mentioned, this is commonly held to be golf clubs.

Golf is certainly noted in later references, so James IV is the first recorded golf player in the world. There are only half a dozen records of golf clubs and balls purchased by King James. He seems to have been a regular, if not a frequent, player

North and South Inch

From close contemporary entries in the Accounts, it appears that the King was at Falkland Palace in Fife when he purchased these clubs. It is therefore not clear where exactly James IV played. All we know is that he bought the clubs from Perth. Whether he played there is not certain. However, if the Perth bow-maker was making golf clubs, then it is likely that somebody was playing golf there.

PerthSconeInchKJVIThis may have been on the North Inch, (shown in the middle of the map) which still has a golf course today. The North Inch and the South Inch were two large parkland areas given to Perth in 1377 by King Robert III. The North Inch was the scene of the famous Battle of the Clans in 1396, which left only twelve men standing from a total of sixty from the clans of Chattan and Kay.

James may have played near Scone Palace, to the north of Perth. Two years later, when King James bought other clubs and balls at Falkland Palace, when it is virtually certain that he played golf in St Andrews. James may also have played near Stirling Castle, as he had a 'club' sent there in 1506.

We do not yet know the name of James IV's 'bowar', but a hundred years later, James' grandson, King James VI, appointed William Mayne to the office of ' fledger, bower, clubmaker, and spear-maker to his Majesty'. William Mayne trained at least 9 apprentices, some of whom went on to be successful golf-club makers, as well as bow-makers. Most of the bowers in Edinburgh, who were probably also golf-club makers, can be traced back to William Mayne.


Perth North Inch beside Tay

Other early Perth Golfers

The first record of golf on the North Inch comes from the records of the Kirk (Church) Session who persecuted congregation members for playing golf on Sunday. In 1599, there is record of four people - John Gardner, James Bowman, Laurence Chalmers and Laurence Cuthbert - confessing and apologising for playing golf on the North Inch 'at the time of the preaching afternoon of the Sabbath'. This is one of several similar cases in the Session minutes between 1592 and 1619. One case concerned golf on Muirton meadows which would later, briefly, become part of North Inch golf course.

Henry Adamson published a lament in 1638 to his friend James Gall, whom he described as a citizen of Perth, and a gentleman of 'goodly stature', and 'pregnant wit', much given to pastimes such as golf, archery and curling; and 'jovial company'. In the 1774 edition of Henry Adamson’s poem, the editor, James Cant, makes several observations including elaboration of golf in Perth in early times.

Perth ftands in the middle of a beautiful green about and Englifh mile in length, and divides it into two, called the north and fouth Inches, where the citizens for ages have exercised thesefelves during the fpring and autumnal feafons with golf-clubs and balls. This paftime is interrupted during the fummer-feafon by the luxuriancy of the grafs, which affords rich pafture for the milch-cows belonging to the inhabitants.

(Note that the f are read as s and milch is obviously milk).

In the late 17th century, John Mackenzie of Delvine, who lived 10 miles to the north of Perth was a known golfer. The Regent of St Andrews sent golf clubs to him in 1691 and his sons played golf at St Andrews.

Perth Golf Clubs

In the 19th century, the Perth Golfing Society started by playing over the South Inch which had six holes and later they played on the North Inch course, which has had a varying number of holes over the centuries. In 1833, the Perth society was granted the title 'Royal' by William IV - the first golf club in the world to be given the Royal accolade.

Also shown on the map above is the course of the King James VI Golf Club founded in 1858, who play on the unique course on Moncreiffe Island, surrounded by water and accessible only on foot. This club is named in honour of James IV's great-grandson, who was the first King of both Scotland and England & Wales.

The North Inch golf course is a public course, owned by Perth and Kinross Council.  Some years ago, Perth and Kinross Council announced that they were considering closing the North Inch course to save money, but they decided against it at least for the time being.