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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Golf, the Royal Scottish Game


The game of Golf (or Scotice, Goff)—of which the scene represented in Kay's print affords some idea—is a pastime, although not entirely unknown in England, more peculiar to Scotland, and has long been a favourite with the citizens of Edinburgh. In the Teutonic, or German, kolbe signifies a club; and, in Holland, the same word, pronounced kolf, describes a game—of which the Dutch are very fond—in some respects akin to the Scottish pastime of golf.

At what period this amusement came to be practised in Scotland is not precisely known ; but, from the circumstance of foot-ball being prohibited by a statute in 1424, in which no mention is made of golf, while it is specially noticed in a later enactment, 1457, the presumption is, that the game was unknown at the former period ; and consequently that its introduction must have been about the middle of the fifteenth century.

The prohibitory laws against foot-ball and golf were enacted that these pastimes might not interfere with the practice of archery, the bow being then an instrument of war, in the use of which the Scots sometimes fatally experienced the superiority of their English neighbours. But a change having been effected by the invention of gunpowder, archery was no longer of national importance as a military exercise—the laws for its encouragement fell into desuetude—and the people were permitted again to indulge, without restraint, in the popular recreations.

Golf was a favourite amusement of the citizeus of Perth during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; so much so, that the younger portion of the community could not withstand its fascination even on the Sabbath-day. In the kirk-session records is an entry (2nd January, 1604) in which the "visitors report, that good order was keeped the last Sabbath, except that they found some young boys playing at the gowf in the North Inch in the time of preaching, afternoon, who were warned then by the officiars to compear before the session this day." They accordingly appeared, and the ringleader, Robert Robertson, was sentenced "to pay ane rnerk to the poor," and ordained, with his companions, "to compear the next Sabbath, into the place of public repentance, in presence of the whole congregation."

Early in the reign of James VI., the business of club-making had become one of some importance. By "ane letter" of his Majesty, dated Holyrood House, 4th April, 1603, "Williame Mayne, bower, burgess of Edinburgh," is made and constituted, "during all the days of his lyf-time, master fiedger, bower, club-maker, and speir-maker, to his Hieness, alsweill for game as weir;" and, in 1618, the game of golf appears to have been so generally in practice, that the manufacturing of balls was deemed worthy of special protection. In "ane" other letter of James VI., dated Salisbury, 5th August, of the above year, it is stated that there being "no small quantity of gold and silver transported zeirly out of his Hieness' kingdom of Scotland for bying of golf balls," James Melvill and others are granted the sole right of supplying that article within the kingdom, prohibiting all others from making or selling them "for the space of twenty-one zeirs." The price of a ball was fixed at "four schillings money of this realm;" and "for the better tryell heiroff, his Majestie ordanes the said James Mellville to have ane particular stamp of his awin, and to cause mark and stamp all suche ballis maid be him and his forsaidis thairwith; and that all ballis maid within the kingdome found to be otherwais stamped sail be escheated."

From this period the game of golf took firm hold as one of the national pastimes—practised by all ranks of the people, and occasionally countenanced by royalty itself. "Even kings themselves," says a writer in the Scots Magazine for 1792, "did not decline the princely sport; and it will not be displeasing to the Society of Edinburgh Golfers to be informed, that the two last crowned heads that ever visited this country, used to practise the golf in the Links of Leith, now occupied by the Society for the same purpose.

"King Charles I. was extremely fond of this exercise ; and it is said that, when he was engaged in a party at golf on the Links of Leith, a letter was delivered into his hands, which gave him the first account of the insurrection and rebellion in Ireland; on reading which, he suddenly called for his coach, and leaning on one of his attendants, and in great agitation, drove to the Palace of Holyrood House, from whence next day he set out for London.

In the "Rules of the Thistle Golf Club, with Historical Notices relative to the Progress of the Game of Golf in Scotland"—a thin octavo —by Mr. John Cundell, privately printed at Edinburgh in 1824, the author observes in a note that there is an evident mistake in saying that Charles set off the nest day after he had received news of the Rebellion, as, in point of fact, be stayed in Scotland till the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament. This mistake does not, however, affect the truth of Charles's partiality for golf.

"The Duke of York, afterwards James II., was not less attached to this elegant diversion. In the year 1681 and 1682, being then Commissioner from the King to Parliament, while the Duke resided at Edinburgh with his Duchess, and his daughter the Princess Anne (afterwards Queen), a splendid court was kept at the Palace of Holy-rood House, to which the principal nobility and gentry resorted. The Duke, though a bigot in his principles, was no cynic in his manners and pleasures. At that time he seemed to have studied to make himself popular among all ranks of men. Balls, plays, masquerades, etc., were introduced for the entertainment of both sexes; and tea, for the first time heard of in Scotland, was given as a treat by the Princesses to the Scottish ladies who visit at the Abbey. The Duke, however, did not confine himself merely to diversions within doors. He was frequently seen in a party at golf on the Links of Leith with some of the nobility and gentry. 'I remember,' says Mr. Tytler of Woodhouselee, 'in my youth to have often conversed with an old man, named Andrew Dickson, a golf club-maker, who said that, when a boy, be used to carry the Duke's golf-clubs, and to run before him and announce where the balls fell.' Dickson was then performing the duty of what is now commonly called fore-cadie."

Connected with a house of some antiquity in the Canongate of Edinburgh—said to have been built by one John Patersone, an excellent golf-player—the following tradition is preserved:—"During the residence of the Duke of York in Edinburgh, that Prince frequently resorted to Leith Links in order to enjoy the sport of golfing, of which be was very fond. Two English noblemen, who followed his Court, and who boasted of their expertness in golfing, were one day debating the question with his Royal Highness whether that amusement were peculiar to Scotland or England; and having some difficulty in coming to an issue on the subject, it was proposed to decide tbe question by an appeal to the game itself; the Englishmen agreeing to rest the legitimacy of their national pretensions as golfers, together with a large sum of money, on the result of a match, to be played with his Royal Highness and any Scotsman he could bring forward. The Duke, whose great aim at that time was popularity, thinking this no bad opportunity both for asserting his claims to the character of a Scotsman, and for flattering a national prejudice, immediately accepted the challenge; and, in the meantime, caused diligent inquiry to be made, as to where the most efficient partner could be found. The person recommended to him for this purpose was a poor man, named John Patersone, a shoemaker, who was not only the best golf-player of his day, but whose ancestors had been equally celebrated from time immemorial. On the matter being explained to him, Patersone expressed great Tin willingness to enter into a match of such consequence; but, on the Duke encouraging him, he promised to do his best. The match was played, in which the Duke and his humble partner were of course victorious, and the latter was dismissed with a reward corresponding to the importance of his service—being an equal share of the stake played for. With this money he immediatelybuilt a comfortable house in the Canongate, in the wall of which the Duke caused a stone to be placed, bearing the arms of the family of Patersone, surmounted by a crest and motto, appropriate to the distinction which its owner had acquired as a golfer."

Patersone's house is No. 77, on the north side of the Canongate. The armorial bearing is placed near the top of the building, and consists of three pelicans vulned, on a chief three mullets—crest, a dexter hand grasping a golf club—motto, "Far and sure." On the front wall of the second flat is a tablet, on which the following epigram, by Dr. Pitcairne, commemorative of the event, is engraved:— "Cum victor ludo, Scotis qui proprius, esset, Ter tres victorcs post redimitos avos, Patersonus, liumo tunc educebat in altum Hanc, quae victores tot tulituua, domum." Underneath this distich is placed the singular motto of—"I hate no person," which is found to be an anagrammatical transposition of the letters contained in the words "John Patersone." The Patersons of Dalkeith, of old, carried three pelicans feeding their young, or in nests, vert, with a chief, azure, charged with mullets urgent. A commentator on the Latin poems of Dr. Pitcairne (said to be Lord Hailes), in the Edinburgh Magazine, remarks, that the above epigram seems the least spirited one "in the whole collection. It had the fortune to be recorded in gold letters on the house itself, near the foot of the Canongate, almost opposite Queensberry House."

The following entries, from the note-book of Sir John Foulis, Bart. of Ravelston, prove the game to have been a fashionable one prior to the Duke of York's visit to Scotland:—

From these extracts it is evident the game was in high repute with the first men in the kingdom. It is hardly, perhaps, necessary to mention that the payments are in Scots, not sterling money.

At this time Bumtsfield Links—now a much frequented field—does not seem to have been used for golfing. It formed part of the Bnrrowmuir, and perhaps had not been cleared. The usual places of recreation were Leith and Musselburgh Links—the former more especially of the Edinburgh golfers. In a poem, entitled "The Goff" (by Thomas Mathison, at one period a writer in Edinburgh, but subsequently minister of Brechin), first published in 1748, and again by Mr. Peter Hill, in 1798, the locality is thus alluded to :—

"North from Edina, eight furlongs and more,
Lies that famed field on Fortha's sounding shore;
Here Caledonian chiefs for health resort—
Confirm their sinews by the manly sport."

"The author then goes on, in a lively strain, to describe some of the "chiefs"—the "cocks o' the green " at that period :—

"Macdonald and unmatched Dalrymple ply
Their ponderous weapons, and the green defy;
Rattray for skill, and Corse for strength renowned,
Stewart and Lesly beat the sandy ground;
And Brown and Alston, chiefs well known in fame,
And numbers more the muse forbears to name.
Gigantic Biggar here full oft is seen,
Like huge Behemoth on an Indian green;
His bulk enormous scarce can 'scape the eyes;
Amazed spectators wonder how he plies.
Yea, here great Forbes, patron of the just—
The dread of villains, and the good man's trust;
When spent with toils in serving human kind,
His body recreates and unbends his mind."

The oldest golfing associations, or clubs, are the "Edinburgh Burgess," and "Bumtsfield Links" Golfing Societies, instituted in 1735. The "Edinburgh Company of Golfers," under the patronage of the city, originated in 1744. An act was passed by the Town Council, on the 7th of March, "appointing their treasurer to cause make a silver club, of .15 value, to be played for on the Links of Leith, the first Monday of April annually. The act appoints, that the candidates' names be booked some day of the week preceding the match, paying 5s. each at booking: that they be matched into parties of two's or of three's, if their number be great, by lot: that the player who shall have the greatest number of holes be victor; and if two or more shall have won an equal number, that they play a round by themselves, in order to determine the match : that the victor be styled Captain of The Golf: that he append a piece of gold or silver to the club: that he have the sole disposal of the booking money—the determination of disputes among golfers, with the assistance of two or three of the players—and the superintendency of the Links. Accordingly, the first match was played, on 2nd April, by ten gentlemen, and won by Mr. John Rattray, surgeon in Edinburgh."

Except in the years 17-46 and 1747, the club was regularly played for; and as a farther encouragement, the Society themselves gave two annual prizes—the one, a silver cup, value ten guineas, on which was engraved the winner's name and coat of arms, with a suitable inscription. The other prize was a gold medal, given to the best player at golf, and worn on the breast of the conqueror for a year, and as many years after as he might be able to maintain his superiority.

In 1768, about twenty-two members of the Society having subscribed 30 each, they built what is called the "Goff-House," at the southwest corner of Leith Links, wherein the Company might hold their meetings, social as well as connected with business. The Company not being a corporate body, this property, feued from the City of Edinburgh, was "vested in Mr. St. Clair of Roslin, Mr. Keith of Ravelston, and Mr. W. Hogg, junior, banker, for behoof of the whole subscribers."

In 1800, the "Honourable Company of Golfers" was incorporated by a charter from the Magistrates; and, for more than twenty years afterwards, the meetings of the Club—which could boast of the most illustrious Scotsmen of the day amongst its members—continued to be regularly held at Leith. The " Edinburgh Burgess Society" obtained a charter at the same time. Latterly, some alterations having been made on the Links, and the play-ground ceasing to be attractive, the stated meetings of the Club were given up about the year 1831; and it was ultimately deemed advisable, or rather became necessary, from the state of the funds, to dispose of the Goff-House and furniture. This was accordingly done; and it is much to be regretted that various pictures of old members, and other articles, connected, it may be said, with the history of the Club, were not reserved. These sold for trifling sums, and in many instances, to parties unconnected with the Society, from whom they cannot now be repurchased. About the year 1835, however, through the activity of some of the old members, the stated meetings were revived on Musselburgh Links; and a great accession of young members having taken place, the Edinburgh Golfing Company is once more in a flourishing condition.

Besides the Societies already noticed, several others have temporarily existed. The "Thistle Golf Club," instituted in 1815, continued till within these few year*s, when, like the "Edinburgh Company of Golfers," they broke up on account of the impaired state of their playground, the Links of Leith. The uniform of this Club consisted of "a scarlet single-breasted coat, with a green collar, and plain gilt buttons; a badge on the left breast, with the device of the thistle embroidered with gold upon green cloth; the trowsers white." The insignia of the Burgess Club is an embroidered star—worn on the left breast—containing two clubs and two balls, with the motto—"Far and sure." The affairs of these Societies are usually managed by a President, or Captain, as he is termed, Secretary, Treasurer, Recorder of Bets, Medal-holder, and Council.

The Links, or Commons, being free to all, there are innumerable players unconnected with any of the Golfing Societies; and many who resort to Burntsfield Links occasionally, for amusement and exercise, are accommodated with the loan of clubs by the maker, for a trifling remuneration.

In the making of golf clubs and balls no monopoly now exists. At Musselburgh they are still manufactured; and they were at Leith until a few years ago. At Burntsfield Links the business is carried on with increasing spirit by Mr. D. M'Ewan, club-maker, and Messrs. W. and J. Gourlay, ball-makers, to the Golfing Society. Until the grandfather of these men (Mr. D. Gourlay) commenced business at the Links in 1792, the balls were brought from St. Andrew's, and retailed by the tavern-keepers at 6d. painted, and 5d. unpainted—so little had they advanced in price from the days of our Sixth James, when a ball cost 4s. Scots (i.e. 4d. sterling). The price of a club at present 1 3s. 6d.; and of a ball, 2s. At St. Andrew's about twelve hands are constantly employed in making balls; and besides the quantity required for their own locality—averaging from three to four thousand —upwards of eight thousand are annually disposed of in other markets. There are two Golfing Clubs belonging to St. Andrew's. One of them, instituted in 1754, is composed of the nobility, gentry, and professors; the other, of a more plebian order of citizens. The former are distinguished by wearing red coats; the other, green.

The bat or club is accurately represented in the Engraving. The handle, which is straight, is generally about four feet and a half in length, and usually made of ash, or hickory, which is allowed to be better. The curvature, made of thorn, is affixed to the bottom, faced with horn, and backed with lead:—

"Forth rush'd CaMalio, and his daring foe;
Both arm'd with clubs, and eager for the blow.
Of finest ash Castallo's shaft was made:
Pond'rous with lead, and fac'd with horn the head:
The work of Dickson, who in Lrtha dwells,
And in the art of making clubs excels."

The ball is a little one, but exceedingly hard, being made of leather. and stuffed with feathers. There are generally two players, who have each of them his club and ball. It is almost indispensable for a player to have at least two clubs, a long one for driving, and a short one for putting near the hole; and on Links, such as St. Andrew's, where there are many sand-holes, or bunkers, as they are termed, a club with an iron head (differing in form from the heads of the wooden clubs) is required. Of these iron clubs there are various kinds, adapted to the different situations of the green. The game consists in driving the ball into certain holes mades in the ground, which he who achieves in the fewest strokes, obtains the victory. The golf lengths, or the spaces between the first and last holes, are sometimes extended—where the ground will permit, such as at St. Andrew's—to the distance of two or three miles; the number of intervening holes appears to be optional, but the balls must be struck into the holes, and not beyond them: when four persons play, two of them are sometimes partners, and have but one ball, which they strike alternately.

The holes are not limited to any particular number. On the Links of Leith, which had five, the lengths were :—

It is no unusual thing for a player to have along with him eight or ten clubs, of different forms, adapted for striking the ball in whatever position it may be placed. (By the rules of the game, with certain exceptions, the ball must be struck where it lies.) These are usually carried by a boy, denominated a cadie, and the players are generally preceded by a runner, or fore-cadie, to observe the ball, so that no time may be lost in discovering it. (The cadies, though generally boys, are in some instances men who continue the occupation in addition to some other calling. They are for the most part very skilful players, having a thorough knowledge of the game, which makes their services the more valuable, from the judicious advice they are capable of affording the player whose clubs they carry.) Bets of a novel nature, which set the ordinary routine of the game entirely aside, are occasionally undertaken by the more athletic. An amusing and difficult feat, sometimes attempted from Burntsfield Links, is that of driving the ball to the top of Arthur's Seat! In this fatiguing undertaking, being a species of steeple chase over hedges and ditches, the parties are usually followed by bottle-holders and other attendants, denoting the excessive exertion required.

This does not appear to have been attempted prior to the period when Hugo Arnot wrote his "History of Edinburgh." In a critical note on the Letters of Topham, who wrote in 1775, Arnot remarks that the author "has been pleased to make the top of Arthur's Seat, and those of the other hills in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, fields for the game of the golf. This observation is still more unfortunate than the general train of his remarks. Were a person to play a ball from the top of Arthur's Seat, he would probably have to walk upwards of half-a-mile before he could touch it again; and we will venture to say, that the lolwle art of man could not play the ball back again." This, however, has actually been done.

In 1798, bets were taken in the Burgess Golfing Society that no two members could be found capable of driving a ball over the spire of St. Giles's steeple. The late Mr. Sceales of Leith, and the present Mr. Smellie, printer, were selected to perform this formidable undertaking. They were allowed to use six balls each. The balls passed considerably higher than the weather-cock, and were found nearly opposite the Advocates' Close. The bet was desided early in the morning, in case of accident, the parties taking their station at the south-east corner of the Parliament Square. The feat is described as one of easy performance. The required elevation was obtained by a barrel stave, suitably fixed; and the height of the steeple, which is one hundred and sixty-one feet, together with the distance from the base of the Church, were found to be much less than a good stroke of the club. The elevation was taken by Mr. Laidlaw, teacher of Mathematics in Edinburgh. For a bet, a ball was driven, some years ago, by Mr. Donald M'Lean, W.S., over Melville's Monument, in St. Andrew Square.

When confined to its proper limits, the game of golf is one of moderate exercise, and excellently calculated for healthful recreation. Iu the West of Scotland it is comparatively unknown. One cause for this may be the want of Commons, or Links, sufficiently large for the pastime to be pursued, to advantage. In Glasgow a golf club was formed some years ago, but we understand the members were under the necessity of breaking up, in consequence of having been prohibited the use of the Green, part of which is preserved with great care for the purposes of bleaching. In Stirling, two or three golfers may occasionally be seen playing in the King's Park, but the game has evidently ceased to be popular there. An attempt was recently, very injudiciously, made to stop the players by the tacksman, but ineffectually. About Edinburgh, Musselburgh, Perth, St. Andrew's, and other districts, where no restraints exist, golf maintains a decided superiority. and seems at the present time to be followed with new spirit. Indeed, the game was never more popular. In addition to the old Clubs in the districts already mentioned, another has been recently established at North Berwick, the meetings of which are numerously attended. St. Andrew's, however, has been denominated the "Doncaster" of golfing. A great many of the nobility and gentry of the neighbouring counties are members of the Club, which bears the name of the tutelar Saint, and the autumn meeting may be said to continue for a week, during which the crack players from all quarters of the country have an opportunity of pitting their strength and skill against each other. On these occasions, the Links, crowded with players and spectators, present a gay and animated scene. Two medals are played for— the one belonging to the Club, and the other a recent gift of King William the Fourth, which was competed for at their meeting in 1837, for the first time, and attracted a very great assemblage of the best golfers. At the ordinaries in the evening, the parties "fight their battles o'er again," and new matches are entered into. The day on which the King's medal was played for terminated with a ball, given by the Club, which was numerously and fashionably attended. In London, a Society of Golfers still exists, principally composed, we believe, of Scotsmen, called the "Blackheath Golf Club," which was established prior to the year 1745.


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