The British Golf Museum is located opposite the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews, Scotland. The museum, which opened in 1990, documents the history of golf from Medieval times to the present, including the men's and women's games, British and international, both professional and amateur. Exhibits include historic equipment, memorabilia and art work, documentation, the history of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, and the rules and terminology of the game. During and just after World War II, golf ball supplies reached crisis point, due to a shortage of rubber. In 1942 the Government forbid the remoulding of old balls. Following R&A intervention, the ban was lifted. One of the arguments used was that the Army Medical Council encouraged golf as a remedial exercise for wounded personnel.
From earliest times, golf has been a sociable game. For 18th century golfing societies, gathering for dinner after play was very much part of the day and members were often required to pay for their food and wine whether or not they attended. Before they had the luxury of their own clubhouses, golfers met in local inns and taverns, taking a room, which also allowed them to discuss committee business. In the 1830s, golfers started to acquire their own clubhouses. Royal Perth’s clubhouse was purchased in 1836, Royal Blackheath bought theirs in 1843 and in 1854 The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse was built. The Clubhouse was more than a place to store clubs and get changed; it became a social hub. In the 19th century billiards was a popular gentleman’s past-time, so much so that in 1873 The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse was extended to allow for the creation of a second billiards room. Emblems of club membership have always been important. The earliest recognisable emblem was the uniform. In the 18th century a military style uniform was worn. Over the centuries, clubs have adopted their own dress code and with it, their own traditions. Today, the club tie is the most visible symbol of membership.
The question is always asked – where did golf originate? – but the answer may never be known. During the Middle Ages many ball and stick games were played. Some involved hitting a stationary ball with a stick (golf); some were stick to stick games (hockey, tennis) and others involved hitting a moving ball with a stick (cricket, baseball). The aim of golf was to put the ball into a hole in the ground. In contrast, other British and Continental ball and stick games used above the ground targets. Pall Mall or Jeu de Mail, was played on a well-defined court where the object was to hit the ball through a hoop. Jeu de Mail a la Chicane was played across country, with trees or doors as the targets. Chole or Soule, which was a team game, was also played across country. Dutch Kolf was played across country, in town streets and on ice, aiming at targets above the ground. Although some games had common elements and influenced one another, we may learn more by asking a different question – where did these ball and stick games take root and develop? There can be no doubt that it was in Scotland that the game of golf, as we now know it, evolved and it is to Scotland that golf owes its cultural continuity.
The term ‘professional’ became common in the 1850s. Before then, men who were not gentlemen golfers were described by their trade, for example ballmaker, clubmaker, caddie or greenkeeper. Few could make a living from playing golf alone. The first reference to tournament golf is recorded on 22 September 1819. Sweepstakes contributed by members of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club were played for by the town’s ballmakers, clubmakers and caddies. Professional matches, first reported in St Andrews in the 1830s, were common by the 1840s. The stakes, which were often high, were put up by backers, rather than the players. Feather ballmaker Allan Robertson was the greatest player of his generation. Such was his superior talent, his fellow golfers banned him from competing in the 1842 sweepstake tournament. In a series of epic matches against Willie Dunn in 1843, 1844 and 1846, he lost only once. Robertson also helped organise the Club’s Spring and Autumn medal competitions, and significantly oversaw the creation of double greens on the Old Course in 1856 and 1857. The leading players who followed in his footsteps were Tom Morris Senior and Willie Park of Musselburgh, who played many challenge matches against one another.
Golf fashion is much more important than simply protecting the golfer from the weather on the course. Clothing has helped golfers to express their identity for centuries. The British Golf Museum collections highlight the colourful, unique and innovative costume worn by golfers throughout history. In the 18th century, golfers wanted to stand out, both in society and on the course. Many clubs required their members to wear formal red jackets. Based on military jackets, they were essentially a uniform. Golfers could be fined by their club if not properly dressed. Today, red jackets are usually only worn for ceremonial occasions as a link to the past. As golf became more popular, fashion was dictated by the player. 19th century clubmaker and greenkeeper professionals wore the caps, jackets and heavy boots of their working lives. This distinguished them from their patrons, the gentlemen golfers. Women golfers wore very restrictive clothing including corsets, ties and bonnets. Their costume focussed on style and respectability over comfort and practicality. From the early 20th century through to the present day, golf wear has become much more casual, though some conventions remain. Plus-fours became the iconic golfing item, for both royalty and the everyday golfer alike. Women’s golf was revolutionised in 1933 when Gloria Minoprio caused controversy by becoming the first woman to wear trousers at a major championship. Today, professionals use clothing to project both their personality and commercial brand to a global audience. Some are famous, and others infamous, for their style of dress.
Golf and royalty have been linked throughout history. The earliest written reference to golf dates to 1457, when King James II of Scotland banned golf and football. Archery practice was encouraged instead. James III and James IV repeated the ban, but records show James IV himself playing golf against the Earl of Bothwell, after the peace treaty with England in 1504. Mary Queen of Scots was accused by her enemies of playing golf and pallmall in the fields beside Seton Palace, just days after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, in 1567. If accurate, this is the first reference to a woman playing the game. After James VI ascended the English throne in 1603 as James I of England, the Scottish court played golf at Blackheath. By 1618, golf was popular enough in Scotland for James VI to sell a monopoly in the trade in golf balls to quarter-master James Melville and ballmaker William Berwick. The 19th century saw royal patronage given to golfing societies. The first to be honoured was Perth Golfing Society in 1833 when King William IV agreed to the Society having a Royal title. The following year patronage was extended to the Society of St Andrews Golfers and the name was changed to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Today, there are 63 ‘Royal’ golf clubs which owe their title to the British Royal Family.
Essential to the game are clubs and balls. Both have undergone many changes in shape, size and materials since the 17th century. The collections chart these design developments and interpret the wider social and economic impact that they have had on golf. The story begins with the earliest known set of golf clubs – two irons and six woods dating from the late 17th to early 18th century. These long-nosed clubs were used with feather balls, the earliest type of golf ball. A large tableau explores the method of making these feathery balls. The work was hard and time-consuming, and the balls themselves were expensive and easily damaged. Key moments are unveiled, from the introduction of the gutta percha ball, derived from tree sap around 1848, to the revolutionary rubber-cored ball fifty years later. The resulting explosion in innovative and outlandish club design, driven by golf’s social popularity, led to the first legislation on club design in 1909 by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Science met golf to establish the accepted size and weight of golf balls from the 1920s, and the quest to discover the most aerodynamic dimple pattern. From the 1960s, clubhead weighting, size and adjustability have gone hand in hand with experiments using different materials, from fibreglass and graphite in the 1970s to the high-tech metals used in club manufacture today.
The museum’s collections have a strong focus on amateur golf, featuring many of the most prominent players from the late 19th century to the present day. The Amateur Championship was introduced in 1885 and its magnificent trophy signifies the importance of the amateur game at that time. Medals and trophies won by John E. Laidlay, John Ball and Allan Macfie represent the great amateurs from this era, when amateur golfers were regarded as gentlemen, as distinct from professionals. The greatest amateur of all time, Bobby Jones, held his own against the best professionals by winning The Open Championship in 1926, 1927 and 1930. In 1930 he also won the Amateur Championship and the US Open and Amateur Championships. This feat remains unbeaten to this day. Fellow American Mildred “Babe” Zaharias also won both the 1947 British and US amateur titles. Zaharias only took up golf after winning Olympic gold in hurdles and javelin at the 1932 Games. Amateur golf has proven to be the cornerstone of many a flourishing professional career. Ryder Cup stalwarts Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia both won the Boys Amateur and Amateur Championships. In 2009 Catriona Matthew became the first Scot to win a women’s Major, having already won the Ladies’ Amateur title. Claiming the Silver Medal as the leading amateur in The Open Championship remains a challenging and outstanding achievement. Winners include Major champions Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. ‘Career Amateurs’ are also well represented. Names such as Sir Michael Bonallack, Jessie Valentine, Peter McEvoy and Carol Semple Thompson all raised the standard of amateur golf on the international stage. Click here for a video of Harry Vardon from 1911.
There is full Wheelchair access to the museum. Disabled parking is available. There are baby changing facilities. A Large print and a Braille guide are available. There are adapted toilet facilities. Free translations. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : British Golf Museum, Bruce Embankment, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AB
Transport: Leuchars (National Rail) then bus (92, 94, 99). Bus Routes : 5, 23, 42, 92, 94 and 99 stop near by
Opening Times Winter : Daily 10:00 to 16:00
Opening Times Summer : Daily 09:30 to 17:00
Tickets : Adults £7.00; Concessions £5.00; Children (5 - 14) £3.00
Tel. : 01334 460046