Greetings and welcome to our whistle-stop tour of the 13 oldest golf clubs in the world!
Golf is a time-honored sport steeped in tradition, heritage, and history, going as far back as the 13th century. And for almost as long as golf has existed, so have golf clubs – or golf societies as they were then called.
These golf societies shaped the rules and culture of modern golf clubs today. Indeed, all modern clubs can in some way or another trace their evolution to these 13 oldest golf clubs in the world – pretty cool, huh?
In this article, we’ll walk you through a brief history of the origins of golf, the earliest recorded golf games, then we’ll dive into our list of the 13 oldest golf clubs in the world.
Let’s get into the swing of it.
A Brief History Of Golf
First things first – let’s take a look at the origins of golf, or as it was then called – gowf.
While there are records of games being played with sticks and balls as far back as the 13th century in the Netherlands, the origins of modern golf are usually traced back to Scotland – known by many as the home of golf.
If talking about the oldest golf courses in the world, Musselburgh Links is deemed to be the oldest golf course in the world with documented evidence that Sir John Foulis of Ravelston played golf there on March the 2nd of 1672.
St Andrews is recorded as being the first 18 hole golf course in the world. While opened long before, it was in 1857 with the introduction of two holes on the middle greens that extended the course into an 18 hole layout.
The first documented mention of golf appears in the 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament. This was an edict issued by King James II of Scotland prohibiting the playing of gowf and football. The reasoning was that this was a distraction for his military’s archery practices.
Early Records Of Golf Games
The ban on golf was lifted right at the start of the 16th century and then subsequent records of golf games followed a timeline detailed below:
The evidence of play at the big three locations on this list, Carnoustie, St Andrews, and Dornoch was on the same land where these Championship courses now exist.
The 13 Oldest Golf Clubs In The World
Now you know a little about the history of golf, time to move on to the oldest golf clubs, or should we say Golf Societies as they were known back in the day.
How is it measured? Golf historians have decided that a genuine formation of a club or society can only be verified based on the following criteria:
- Continuity of Existence – the club still exists with a continuation of name, location, or entity.
- Dated Evidence – that there is an authoritative reference or artifact with an exact date.
- Organisation – that there were regular group meetings held with a degree of formality with the subject matter relating to golf.
In reverse order, here is the historical list of the 13 oldest golf clubs in the world. Very few still play at the same location as when the club was first formed, the main reason being lack of space when it was time to expand to 18 holes, forcing them to move.
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First on our list of the oldest golf clubs in the world is Cruden Bay Golf Club. There is evidence, in the form of a ballot box inscribed Cruden Golf Club 1791 that a nine-hole golf course existed before the layout of today’s links course in Port Erroll.
It’s thought to have been located at Ward Hill near Slains Castle. The Cruden Bay Golf Club of today has in its possession a winner’s medal from a competition played on the Ward Hill dated 1883.
The move to where we find the links now was commissioned in 1894 by the Great North of Scotland Railway Company and fully opened in 1899 as part of the recreational facilities offered by the Cruden Bay Hotel, newly erected and opened in March of that same year.
Cruden Bay is located on the north shore of Aberdeenshire in the northeast of Scotland.
The Old Club was founded in 1797 with no actual records available as to the location at this time.
The present-day course was designed by twice Open champion Willie Park Junior who became one of the pre-eminent course designers of his time. It opened for play in 1898.
Burntisland is located in the Kingdom of Fife and is a parkland course.
The Earlsferry Golf Society has evolved into Elie Golf Club, a beautiful links course about 12 miles from St Andrews again in the Kingdom of Fife. The early play in 1787 was on the same land where today’s course is located.
From 1812 there were 20 long years of legal wrangling between the local Laird and the Burgh as golfers fought for the right to play golf over the links in the face of objections from those farming the land. This right was finally secured in 1832 and it has been upheld ever since.
The Glasgow Golf Club was an exclusive member’s club that was founded in 1787.
What is unique about Glasgow Golf Club is that they now operate two courses that are 35 miles apart. The heritage parkland course on the North bank of the River Kelvin, five miles from Glasgow city center, was laid out by Old Tom Morris in December 1903.
Then they have a coastal championship course, Gailes Links in Ayrshire is situated on the West Coast of Scotland and was designed by Willie Park Jnr in 1912.
Eleven good gentlemen met in the Crail Golf Inn and talked golf. They put quill to paper and on the 23rd February 1786, the Crail Golfing Society was formed.
Centuries of golf have been played on the land where the present-day Balcomie links stand. Much of the course as it is enjoyed today was laid out in 1895 by the master himself, Old Tom Morris.
Crail is another course in the Kingdom of Fife just down the road from Elie.
Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Aberdeen, Scotland, was founded in 1780 as the Society of Golfers at Aberdeen and became the Aberdeen Golf Club in 1815.
Until 1888 members played on the Queen’s Links close to the city before moving across the River Don to the links at Balgownie. The course now sits on the outskirts of the city of Aberdeen.
The club’s Royal patronage was awarded by Edward VII in 1903.
Following receipt of documents from the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh it has been firmly established that the Fraserburgh Golf Club was founded on 14th April 1777 and that the membership consisted of nineteen of the most prominent landed gentry in the area.
Fraserburgh Golf Club moved to Philorth in 1891 on the northeast coast in Aberdeenshire and has been playing there ever since.
Next up on our list of the oldest golf clubs in the world is the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club.
The club was originally located at the 9-hole Musselburgh Links where the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Royal Burgess Golfing Society, and Bruntsfield Golf Club also played – all clubs within this oldest 13 list.
Royal Musselburgh Golf Club is at the start of the famous stretch of golf courses on the East Lothian coast close to Edinburgh. The current course was designed by the famous Open champion and golf architect, James Braid, opening for play actually in 1926.
Pride of place is the Old Club Cup dating back to 1774, the oldest trophy still competitively played for in the world.
#5: 1776 Royal Blackheath Golf Club (England)
The year is 1603. Queen Elizabeth I has just died and the Scottish King, James VI has ascended to the throne as James I of England taking up residence at Greenwich Palace in London.
As the predominantly Scottish court began to settle into life in London, its nobles wasted no time in searching for somewhere to play their beloved game – an exotic sport of which few outside Scotland had ever heard – golf.
The higher ground at Blackheath provided perfect conditions, golf was first played here as early as 1606 becoming the golf club it is today 170 years after this date. Without this early Scottish influence, it is doubtful that this English club would have been formed so early.
Royal Blackheath modern-day course sits in the suburbs of London opening for play in 1892.
The origin of the Society dates back to 1761 when the members played over 5 holes at Bruntsfield Links where golf had been played since the 15th century. The links lie in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and golf is still played there over a 36 short hole course.
The Society consequently moved to Musselburgh in 1876 where, 10 years later, it erected a purpose-built clubhouse in Golf Place beside the clubhouses of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the Edinburgh Burgess, and Royal Musselburgh.
Bruntsfield Links Golf Society moved to its final location in 1898 that sits 3 miles west of the city of Edinburgh and is another Willie Park Jnr design.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was founded on 14 May 1754 with the first Challenge for the Silver Club. Evolving over 250 colorful years of British history, it has grown from a small society of no fixed abode into a club whose membership of around 2,500 extends worldwide.
From the late 19th century, the Club increasingly came to be regarded as a governing authority, both in the United Kingdom and abroad.
In 1744, Edinburgh Town Council agreed to present a Silver Club to the winner of an annual golf competition on the Links of Leith. The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith later renamed The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, codified and wrote the original Rules of golf as a pre-condition of receiving the Club.
From the 1820s onwards, they played more at Musselburgh Links and by 1836 the Club had relocated there. Finally, in 1890, the Honorable Company voted to move to Muirfield.
The decision to move for a second time was both brave and far-sighted. There was no course, no Clubhouse, and the nearest train station was 4 miles from Muirfield. However, in May 1891 the Tom Morris designed course was opened, with the new Clubhouse completed that December.
In 1922, the Club purchased the land for the existing links and added a further 50 acres with Harry Colt in charge of the re-design.
For the first time in two centuries, The Honourable Company owned its golf course.
We’ve arrived at the oldest golf clubs in the world – The Royal Burgess Golf Society. The earliest Members formed a competitive and spirited Society, playing golf for wagers and enjoying a lively social life. Early play was at Bruntsfield Links.
During the 1760s the Society’s fortunes became increasingly precarious until the membership stirred itself and a resurgence followed with the addition of 16 new Members in 1773. Among them were a few Burgesses and officials of the City.
The legendary Old Tom Morris and later Willie Park Jnr both had a hand in the creation of the modern-day course, followed by James Braid, former Open champion and noted golf architect, who redesigned the course in the 1920s and is located in the center of Edinburgh.
There we have it, the oldest golf club in the world is probably one that most readers will have never heard of – who would have thought that would be the case?
Have the oldest golf clubs in the world got you craving some golf in Scotland?
Why not check out our Scottish golf travel guide where we cover all the must-play courses, accommodation, and more. You might even get to visit one of the oldest golf clubs in the world!