Friday, 2 August 2013

Golf: from China to Edinburgh via Amsterdam

Golf is fascinating even for non players like myself, and the history of Golf in Edinburgh is linked to royalty and the professions but was originally played by rich and poor alike. Despite its long history in Scotland, the game only started evolving towards its modern form in the middle of the 18th century, the development of golf being driven partly by its increasing popularity and increasing expense.


If you come to Edinburgh to play golf (September onward, after the distractions of the Edinburgh festival are over and visitor fees may be cheaper and accommodation is definitely cheaper) you will find a range of courses to suit all levels of interest and ability. Knowing something of the history of the sport, if not the actual course you are playing should lend a bit of spice to your game. And if you come from Japan you may find a week's golf in Edinburgh costs less than a day on your local course.


Golf Came from China

There seems to be a consensus that Golf developed in Scotland in the Middle Ages, but mentions of the game, some apocryphal, record a golf like game played in the Netherlands around 1261. Golf dies not seem to have been popular with the authorities in the low countries, and in 1360 the council of Brussels banned Golf imposing a fine on anyone who played the game. However in 1387 Golf, played outside the city walls, was the only game exempt from a ban on playing games for money and in 1389 the residents of Haarlem, now a suburb of Amsterdam, were given a field to play games, especially “colf” because these games were too dangerous if played in the city.


Diving into history tends to prove no one really invented anything and in 2005 evidence emerged that a game very like Golf was played in China by rich people around 943AD and it may have been exported to Europe then Scotland by Mongolian travellers in the late Middle Ages: Presumably along with the Black Death. Golf came free. The Giant Pandas in Edinburgh Zoo are rented. It is not clear if the rent is subsidised by Kit.Kat. 


The Development of Golf In Edinburgh

In 1457 King James II banned Golf and Football since these distracted people from practicing Archery and a bit later in 1471 and 1491 similar acts described Golf as an “unprofitable sport”. Parliament banned it in the reign of James IV but Golf clubs and balls were purchased for him on at least two occasions. This is a bit ironic since Archery has since invented Archery Golf, and a bit if ingenuity and lateral thinking might have avoided a ban.


In 1522 there was a dispute between the cobblers of Canongate and the golf ball makers of North Leith while in 1575 some golfers in Leith were attacked and successfully fought back.


There is a tale that Mary Queen of Scots played Golf on Musselburgh links in 1567 but the earliest definite mention of Golf in Musselburgh is dated to 2nd March 1672, supporting a claim that Musselburgh Golf Course is the oldest course in the world though the same person also recorded playing at Leith Links in 1672. Golfers regarded Leith Links much more highly than the more accessible Bruntsfield Links (where Golf is still played today on a 9 hole course). Incidentally the Golf Tavern on Bruntsfield Links claims to have been founded in 1456 and so to be the oldest golf pub in the world.


Leith Links and Bruntsfield Links eventually became so crowded that the clubs founded there moved to Musselburgh, to the golf course inside the race track, and eventually that got so crowded the clubs moved further out and the original Bruntsfield Club ended in Barnton.

The first “official” Golf rules and competitions were created in 1744, at a time when it was becoming a rich man's game (even now some clubs do not allow women players ) and the responsibility for developing the rules eventually went to St Andrews. 

Golf became very popular in the 19th Century and eventually developed into the multimillion pound sport it is today

Playing Today


A lot of detail, which would have doubled the length of this note has been left out but it would be incomplete without notes on some of the better known courses in Edinburgh

Muirfield claims to be the oldest and seems to be one of the most expensive, at least for visitors. It has two concentric rings of nine holes one of which is covered clockwise and the other anticlockwise so whatever the day is like some shots get played into the wind. You can find a technical description of the course here 


The Braids course is considered challenging and the gorse lined fairways are an incentive to shoot straight. You have a great view of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur's Seat


Mussleburgh Links is considered to be the oldest known golf course and is surrounded by a racetrack. Visitors can hire hickory clubs to experience the game as it used to be played.

Where to stay

There are over twenty courses within the city limits and 100 courses within easy reach, so Edinburgh is an obvious place  for a golfing holiday in Scotland.
If you want to experience the true Scottish welcome, then you should stay in our Bed & Breakfast, less than ten minutes from the city centre with free on street parking and a direct bus to Musselburgh with its golf course inside a race track. There are no records of a ball hitting a horse and changing the outcome of a race.


Golf Course Websites
Some clubs  strictly
enforce  rules :)
These sites may save you research time when planning your golfing holiday in Edinburgh.

Musselburgh Old course. Golf World said "Musselburgh is to golf what Mecca is to religion - the very roots of the game are founded on this hallowed turf. As the oldest playing links course in the world it captures a wonderful sense of nostalgia." People who played it say it is a must for any golfer visiting Edinburgh.


Mortonhall is  four miles south of the castle. With mature trees and whin-covered outcrops, the course is an excellent championship test of 6,530 yards, and beautiful views across Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and the Pentland hills.  The Balm Well is a family pub in the area with an ancient Balm Well in its grounds, that  brings natural oil to the surface which helps with skin problems



Turnhouse Dates from the 19th century. It’s a par 69 for gents (71 for ladies), measuring 6,060 yards from the medal tees with splendid views (on a clear day) of the mountains of the Highlands to the north, the River Forth to the east, the Pentlands to the south and the old coal bings of Broxburn to the west. 

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