Rising early to get to the 1st tee is something most golfers are familiar with. In St Andrews, however, it is not unusual to see a large section of the town’s population make their way to the Old Course first thing in the morning once a year to welcome the new Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews as he begins his tenure with a ceremonial drive into office.
Tomorrow Keith Mackintosh will commence his year in office with the long-established custom as the Club’s Autumn Meeting concludes in the town.
While an aura of tradition surrounds the Captaincy, over the years the responsibilities of the Captain have increased and in modern times his role has expanded to that of ambassador for the game and figurehead for the Club’s world-wide membership.
Evolving from a title of victory by winning the Silver Club Challenge, to one of election, those who have served as Captain represent a distinguished array of individuals. From royalty to leading political, military and sporting figures, the common factor has been a passion for golf.
The rules of the first Challenge for the Silver Club stipulated that the “Victor is to append a silver ball to the club for the year he wins”. This practice has continued and over the years two silver clubs have been filled, with a third currently in use. When the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) became Captain in 1863, the first member of the Royal Family to hold office, he presented a gold ball, and successive Royal Captains have followed this precedent.
The ceremonial drive into office is an occasion that for many years has attracted a strong local audience, and is thought to date back to the Captaincy of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward III) . Unable to attend the Autumn Meeting, it is thought that the single drive was introduced to add a sense of ceremony to proceedings. Every Captain since then has hit a single shot from the 1st tee of the Old Course, thus gaining the Silver Club and the Queen Adelaide Medal.
Another element of the ceremony is that a gold sovereign is paid by the new Captain to buy his golf ball back from the caddie who has retrieved and returns it. American caddie Oliver Horovitz returned the Captain’s ball for the third time last year after also retrieving it at the driving-in ceremony of 2014 for George Macgregor OBE and 2011 for Alistair Low.
Outgoing Captain Gavin Caldwell began his year in office with a drive at 8am as a cannon fired on the first tee on September 25th last year. Mr Caldwell has spent the past 12 months representing The R&A supporting the organisations working developing golf around the world.
“I have had a wonderful year,” Mr Caldwell said. “I have greatly enjoyed serving in the important role as Ambassador for the Club as Captain and it has been an honour to represent The R&A at many events all around the world. I managed to attend all but one of our amateur championships and witnessed some fine displays of golf.
“The driving-in ceremony was of course a nerve-wracking experience, especially with what felt like the entire town of St Andrews looking on, but it was a wonderful day and a memory I will always cherish. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me as Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews over the past 12 months and wish the very best of luck to my successor Keith Macintosh.”