Since as early as 1691, when St Andrews was described as “the metropolis of golf”, the Auld Grey Toon on Scotland’s east coast has been regarded as the game’s spiritual home. Indeed, the very first minute of the Society of St Andrews Golfers, later to become The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, refers to the town as the ‘alma mater’ of golf.
As legend has it, the game has been enjoyed en masse on the links since the 12th century, when shepherds would knock stones into rabbit holes with rudimentary clubs. And it was reputed to be a popular pastime when the University of St Andrews was founded in 1413.
Indeed, by 1457, the popularity of the game had reached such a level that King James II outlawed it for taking men away from their archery practice: the Act of the Scottish Parliament describing “golfe” along with “fute-ball” as “sik unprofitable sportes”.
In 1552, on the proviso that Archbishop of St Andrews, John Hamilton, was able to retain possession of the rabbits on the course, the town’s right to play golf on the links was officially established.
Fast-forward 200 years and the custodians of the course – later to become the Old Course – were the Society of St Andrews Golfers. They took the decision to reduce the number of holes from 22 to 18, so creating the format that would come to represent the standard course layout the world over. From then on, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, and now The R&A, has been at golf’s side as it has evolved and developed into the game we know today.
St Andrews, however, and its Old Course, has witnessed every single change in the game over its 600-year history. Nobody has described this unique sporting relationship better than the famous golf writer, historian and St Andrean, Keith Mackie, who, in his book Golf at St Andrews writes:
“This sandy soil has felt the tread of every great champion; it has flinched as millions of golfers down the centuries have hammered and hacked, swiped and swooshed at balls of wood, leather, gutter percha and balata; it has felt the caress of hand-crafted clubs of hickory and blackthorn and suffered the sharp assault of today’s flashing blades of steel and titanium.”
For that reason, and many more besides, St Andrews truly is the Home of Golf.
St Andrews Links Trust
St Andrews Links Trust is a charitable organisation (Scottish charity number SC006161) responsible for the management and maintenance of the Links courses at St Andrews, including the famous Old Course, host of the 2010 Open Championship. The Trust was established in 1974. It employs more than 300 permanent staff and seasonal workers during the high season.
The Old Course is at the heart of the Links but it is part of a family of six public courses, three of which are well over 100 years old. Around 200,000 rounds of golf a year are played on the Links with its three championship courses, the Old, the New and the Jubilee, two 18 hole courses, the Eden and the Strathtyrum, and the nine-hole Balgove Course.
The Trust manages a number of additional facilities including the Links, Eden and Castle Course clubhouses, the Golf Practice Centre and Golf Academy and five shops. Any revenues generated go back into the running of the historic courses.
A seventh course, The Castle Course, opened for play in 2008 on a site to the south-east of St Andrews and has already won several international awards. It was named alongside the Old, New and Jubilee courses in the prestigious Golf Digest Top 100 Courses ranking in its first year.
Including The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, there are six separate golf clubs in the town.
All of St Andrews’ golf clubs share the same seven golf courses, with regular mixed inter-club competitions occurring throughout the year.