Custodians of the Game
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club is the custodian of a distinguished collection, comprising paintings, maps, trophies and medals, as well as clubs and balls. Through the preservation and study of its records and artefacts, much has been learned about the history of the Club, the members who shaped its history and indeed the history of golf in general.
Below is a small sample of the collection to enjoy. More can be found by clicking here.
Where better to begin than with Old Tom Morris (1821 – 1908), the father of the game, who was reported to have said on seeing this portrait for the first time, “you’ve got the checks on my bunnet a’ wrang”.
Morris was born in St Andrews in 1821. Apprenticed to Allan Robertson, he worked with him for 11 years. He established his own club and ball making business before moving to Prestwick, where he was employed as custodian of Prestwick Links. He would remain there for 14 years. He returned to St Andrews in 1864 and worked for The Royal and Ancient Golf Club as Keeper of the Links, a position he held for forty years.
Tom Morris won The Open Championship four times, in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867. Until the emergence of his son Tommy, he was the best golfer of his day. He died in 1908.
The portrait of Old Tom, which was painted by Sir George Reid (1841-1913), was commissioned in the autumn of 1902 and delivered to the Club the following spring. Reid was President of the Royal Scottish Academy from 1891-1902 and was knighted in 1891. He was paid £250 for the painting of Old Tom.
The Old Course can lay claim to being one of the most painted and photographed scenes in the British Isles, if not the world. This particular example was painted by prolific Scottish artist John Blair (1850-1934), who is well known for his vibrant watercolour views of the coastline of south east Scotland. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Institute.
The painting shows two gentlemen golfers and their caddie in the foreground, with another caddie, possibly part of this group, standing off to the right. Other figures are dotted over the course and on the West Sands. Landmark architectural features are visible in the distance, including The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, the Castle, Cathedral and the tower of St Salvator’s College Chapel. Also notable are the sheep grazing on the course.
This scene graced the first Life Association Calendar in 1892.
The collection also includes important scenes from the Club’s history, like the one above. Painted by Alexander H. Wardlow, Medal Day shows Arthur J. Balfour driving in as Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club on 26 September 1894. This large scale work, measuring 193 x 333 cms, contains 191 individual portraits.
Wardlow was a London based artist, who advertised himself as a ‘miniaturist’. He was commissioned to undertake the painting by Dickinson & Foster, a fine art publishing firm. Their interest in art was to make money from the sale of prints. The themes that they commissioned in this period varied and included cricket, racing, hunting and battle scenes. They also commissioned a portrait of Tom Morris, by the artist Henry J. Brooks.
Medal Day took about three years to complete. Wardlow began the painting around 1895 and made visits to St Andrews, where members of the Club sat for him.
In October 1897 an article in Golf magazine reported that despite not being finished, it had been on display at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, “where it had attracted considerable attention”. It must have been finished soon afterwards, as the print was registered in July 1898.
The Right Honourable A.J. Balfour had been an R&A member for less than six months when he was nominated as captain-elect. He entered politics in 1874, at the age of 26, and was elected Conservative MP for the borough of Hereford. He served as Irish Chief Secretary and in 1891 was appointed Leader of the House of Commons and First Lord of the Treasury. At the time of the painting, he was Leader of the Opposition. Balfour was Prime Minister from 1902-1905. He would later become First Lord of the Admiralty (1915-1916) and Foreign Secretary (1916-1919).