Vade Mecum

Scottish Golf History concentrates on the first 500 years of golf history from 1457, during which the main elements of modern links golf were created - from the mention of golf 1467 and the first named golfer, King James IV, in 1502, to the development of the Reddy Tee in 1927.

The information is organised in lists in sections, which are also an overlapping chronology.

The present evidence suggests 'links golf' is a Scots creation, a consequence of the Dutch agricultural revolution and the Scottish climate. The Scots imported golf balls from the Netherlands and used them on the links to much better effect with wooden Scottish-made clubs. The Origin of Golf Terms covers the key elements of the game and how they emerged. These can be read as an overview of the development of golf from 1467 to 1927 in the following order

  1. The meaning of the word Golf itself
  2. The meaning of the 'Links'
  3. The first Rules of Golf 1744
  4. The Derivation of Caddie and Fore!
  5. From Bogey to Blow Up, handicap and stroke terms including par, birdie, eagle and albatross
  6. Development of 18 hole round
  7. Course development - Fairway'out' and 'in' and coloured flags, and bunker & water hazard
  8. The original and first patented tees

Not every mention of golf in this early period refers to the links game, though play on the Links is confirmed in 1527 at Barry in Angus. So we can reasonably surmise that the game we know was being played from 15th century, whatever else was being played. The Earliest Golf Sites and Golfers lists the 18 earliest mentions of golfers playing at particular locations in Scotland, from 1502 to 1721, with Richmond shown for completeness. Golf was becoming popular throughout Scotland, even if it was not yet an organised sport and even if it was being persecuted for Sunday play. There is no evidence of anyone apart from the the Scots playing links golf for the first 300 years, until the middle/end of the 18th century.

Progressively, during the 18th century, the Scots began standardising golf.  The Oldest Golf Societies lists the 18 oldest surviving Scottish golf clubs with the handful of contemporary clubs that expatriate Scots had formed elsewhere in the world.  Their origins at Bruntsfield Links is summarised in a new book published by this website. This section covers roughly the first 100 years of the formal organisation of golf from 1735 to 1824, mostly on courses which are no longer played. Several of these clubs produced similar rules for golf, a major milestone in its development. Golf is also noted in England and America, though still largely played by Scots and their descendants.

Because of the urbanisation and industrialisation as well as subsequent course developments, especially the space needed for a modern golf course, most early clubs had to move to create 18-hole courses. So course dates are not the same as club dates. The Oldest Golf Courses, details the 18 oldest extant courses, which were established over a 100-year period, starting with the Old Course St Andrews, which dates from at least 1764 in its present location, to Westward Ho! formally laid out in 1864.  This list is very different from the societies' list and includes several courses outside Scotland.

The adoption of the 18-hole course marks another landmark in golf. From the Old Course in 1857, 18-hole golf courses began to be created. There is a list of the first 18 of them being the Oldest 18-hole golf courses, from Old Course to Royal Jersey in 1883.

Early Women's Golf covers the initial involvement of women in golf from the first mention of women's golf in 1736 to the changing fashions of the early 20th century, including details of the early women's golf societies, the Ladies amateur championship and present day women's clubs. Significant events in golf history include the formation of LGU in 1893, the UK's first golfing association, and the creation of the first proper national handicapping system, which the later men's associations would, by and large, subsequently adopt. This enables golfers of all abilities to play against each other, a unique feature of golf that is often overlooked. 

A brief overview of the early clubs and courses in America and an update has been added as well as an outline history of the Ryder Cup. There are now about 35,000 golf courses in the world. From the handful of Scottish players, there are now tens of millions of golfers around the world. Hopefully this website can assist them in deciding which historic courses to play when they visit Scotland.

 The Table of Contents page lists all pages on the website for cross reference, but the best way to find anything particular is use the site search facilities of Google. For example, you can find all mentions of "featherie" using


There have been over 250 references used in the creation of this website. The principal ones have been subdivided and categorised in what is hopefully  the most useful way in References under: 

Oldest golf histories 1721 to 1909 By Date
General golf history books By Author
General golf history websites By Topic
Golf club histories By Club
Scottish golf club websites By Club
Rest of the World golf club websites By Club
Golf course guides By Title

 The Useful Links contain website references to related organisations.