Six members of the royal family have Captained The Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
Edward, Prince of Wales – 1863 (later King Edward VII)
The first Royal Captain was Edward, Prince of Wales. Aged twenty-one, the Prince had married Princess Alexandra of Demark in March 1863. In the wave of euphoria surrounding this event, the R&A decided to send letters of congratulations to the Prince and Princess as well as to Queen Victoria, who was the Club's Patron. In the letter to the Prince, the Club invited him to be its Patron.
A response was received from Marlborough House on 25 June 1863 when the Prince announced, through Lt General Knollys, his pleasure in becoming the Club's Patron. He also signified his intention of becoming Captain of the Club for the ensuing year. It is not clear whether this move was initiated by the Earl of Dalhousie, the incumbent Captain, or whether it resulted from some confusion as to the role of Patron, in view of the Club already having a Patroness. Whatever the cause, it was clearly necessary for His Royal Highness to be elected a member of the Club before he could be nominated as Captain-Elect. This was duly done at a special meeting held on 29th June.
Unfortunately, the Prince was unable to attend the Autumn Meeting, but for the first time, the press mentioned the Driving In ceremony. The Fifeshire Journal of 30 September 1863 reported:
The order of play having been balloted for, the members adjourned to the green to commence the competition, when John Whyte Melville Esq., as representing the Prince of Wales, struck off the first ball, thereby entitling His Royal Highness to the honour of gaining the Silver Club and the Adelaide Medal.
From that year onwards, the ceremonial drive became a focal point in the induction of the new captain. Perhaps introduced to add lustre to a royal occasion, the tradition has continued whereby, with a single, symbolic stroke, the new captain wins the Silver Club and the Queen Adelaide Medal.
Another Royal tradition was established when a gold ball rather than a silver ball was attached to the Silver Club.
Prince Leopold - 1876
In 1876, Prince Leopold accepted the invitation to serve as Captain. The fourth and youngest son of Queen Victoria, Leopold was a haemophiliac who was encouraged by his doctors to play golf. It was as an undergraduate at Christ Church College in Oxford that Prince Leopold became acquainted with Henry Liddell, Dean of the College, and his son-in-law, William Skene. As a long-standing member and recent past Captain of the R&A, Skene proposed to the Club in 1875 that the Prince be invited to become an Honorary Member. The following year Leopold was chosen as Captain.
The Prince drove into office on 27 September 1876. He was the first member of the Royal family to visit St Andrews since Charles II, over two hundred years earlier. The Fifeshire Journal gave an account of the shot, reporting that, “the Prince's stroke was a very good one - the ball being lifted over the heads of the crowd and down a good distance on towards the hole”. Leopold's visit created huge excitement in St Andrews and he returned the following year to demit office. He was created Duke of Albany in 1881 and died in 1884.
Edward, Prince of Wales - 1922 (Later King Edward VIII)
At the Club’s General Meeting on 2 May 1922, it was announced that His Royal Highness Edward, Prince of Wales, had accepted the invitation to become Captain of the Club.
The eldest son of George V and the grandson of Edward VII, the Prince of Wales was a keen golfer, with a fifteen handicap. He had been an Honorary Member of the R&A since 1913.
Despite the heavy rain, over 6,000 spectators gathered on the morning of 27 September 1922 to watch the Prince drive into office. “This is an awful job”, he said to Andrew Kirkaldy, the professional, who teed up the ball. “Keep your eye on the ball” was Kirkaldy’s advice. Edward took a hard swing and a low pull resulted, which the Citizen generously described as “getting the ball away a fair distance”.
William Petrie, a clubmaker, retrieved the ball and the Prince rewarded him with a gold sovereign. It was the first time that a sovereign had been offered. Prior to 1922, the caddie received an unspecified silver coin, probably a crown. Since 1926, when Sir John Gilmour also awarded a gold sovereign, each succeeding Captain has followed this practice.
To commemorate his year in office, the Prince presented a replica of the 1754 Silver Club. The first ball to be attached to it was that of HRH The Prince of Wales.
Albert, Duke of York - 1930 (Later King George VI)
Albert, Duke of York, was the second son of George V and had been invited to become an Honorary Member of the Club in 1923. When he drove into office on 24 September 1930, he became the first Captain to do so using a steel-shafted club. Steel shafts had been sanctioned by the R&A less than a year earlier. The Duke signed his ball ‘Albert’, the name by which he was more commonly known. This is now on display in the British Golf Museum.
As well as being a keen golfer, Albert was also a fine tennis player, winning the Royal Air Force doubles title and competing at Wimbledon with his partner, Sir Louis Greig, in 1926. Although he played tennis left-handed, he was a right-handed golfer.
A gallery of some 2,000 spectators gathered to watch the Duke drive in as Captain, along with about forty hopeful caddies. Andrew Kirkaldy performed the ritual of teeing the ball and the Duke, pausing only to remove his jacket, hit a straight drive about 200 yards down the fairway. The ball was retrieved by John Wilson after a spirited scramble and he was carried shoulder high by the other caddies.
In 1936, Prince Albert succeeded his brother as George VI.
George, Duke of Kent - 1937
George, Duke of Kent, who was the fourth son of King George V, accepted the invitation to become an Honorary Member of the R&A in 1935.
In May 1937, it was announced at the Business Meeting that “the Past Captains had unanimously decided to recommend that His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent be appointed Captain of the Club on the expiry of the term of office of the present Captain.” He accepted the offer and came to St Andrews on 28 September 1937 for the Autumn Meeting.
Details of the Duke’s drive were reported in the St Andrews Citizen. “His Royal Highness…had a few practice swings before addressing the ball. He wasted little time in playing the all important stroke and in his eagerness he dropped his right shoulder and so hit the ground before the ball, with the result that it carried for only about 100 yards”.
A polite description perhaps; however there was no great improvement when the Duke went on to compete in the Medal, where he was accompanied by Sir John Simon, the outgoing Captain and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Once again the Duke topped his tee shot at the first hole.
The Duke of Kent was 34 years old when he became Captain. He died in a plane crash in 1942.
HRH The Duke of York KG., KCVO; ADC - 2004
A member of the Club since 1992, Prince Andrew is the only member of the royal family to have served on committee. He was a member of the Amateur Status Committee from 1999 to 2003.
The Prince drove into office on 18 September 2003 and was Captain during the year in which the Club celebrated its 250th anniversary. Describing his feelings towards the role he said, “It is an enormous privilege, an honour and a dream come true for me to be invited to become the Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, especially in this, its 250th anniversary year”.
A painting, specially commissioned by the Club to mark its anniversary, shows HRH The Duke of York driving into office. Painted by Anthony Oakshett, it contains over 600 individuals and was completed in 2006.