On May 14, 1754, twenty-two ‘Noblemen and Gentlemen’, listed below, contributed to a silver club to be played for annually over the Links of St Andrews. The first winner was Baillie William Landale, a St Andrews’ merchant, who became Captain for the year.
On This Day, in 1754 Twenty-Two Noblemen & Gentlemen Met with Proposal for What Is Now the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews
The competition was initially open to all golfers, as had been that of the Leith golfers ten years previously. The Leith golfers were specifically invited and brought their rules with them, which the St Andrews’ golfers used, with a small change to Rule 5. Thus began the foremost club in both Scottish golf history and word golf in general.
The first competition was decided by the winner of the greatest number of holes, which was complicated to work out, but by 1759 this became the lowest number of strokes, as is normal today. In 1755, there was a triple way play off, apparently the first, when Thomas Boswell, WS, beat Baillie William Landale, the first winner in 1754, and the Hon James Leslie.
Thomas Boswell would go on to win the Leith competition in 1758 and become their Captain as well as making written amendments to Rules 5 and 13. In 1757 and 1760 there were no competition at St Andrews, so it was not yet an established event.
On 4th May, 1766, the Society initiated regular play, with a decision to meet fortnightly at 11am at the Golf House, and to dine after the round at Bailie Glass’s Inn, for which they would each pay a Shilling, ‘the absent as well as the present’. (There were twenty shillings to a Scottish pound.)
The location of the ‘Golf House’ has never been established, but Baillie Glass’s Inn is marked by a plaque at the east end of South Street.
Like other clubs, they also used multiple taverns. On 28th May, 1773 the St Andrews golfers limited their annual competition to members of their own club, and those of the ‘Leith Society’, known today as The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
It marks a close association that these two clubs have had to this day.
For example, William St Clair of Roslin, who organized the creation of eighteen holes at St Andrews in 1764, also laid the foundation stone for the Leith clubhouse in 1768. He was also Captain of both Leith and St Andrews clubs multiple times.
One of the great traditions of the R&A is to retain the fiction of a competition to select their captain. The Captain is selected and then entered in a competition in which he is the sole competitor and is declared the winner after his first drive from the first tee.
The caddie who collects the ball is rewarded with a sovereign. This is called ‘playing in’.
According to legend, all Captains have been played in this way, except only General Eisenhower in 1946 who refused to play from the first tee, in the light of the safety issues created by the enormous crowd that had gathered in his honor.
According to the Club Minutes on 7th September 1810, the Society authorized the Secretary ‘to employ a tradesman to repair the Golfers’ Bridge on the Links, which is at present almost impassable, and to pay the expense thereof’.
This bridge is now called the Swilken Bridge and can be seen on the 1820 map by John Wood to the north of the old ‘Swilkin’ Bridge, which is now the bridge under the road on the Old Station Road.
In 1834, King William IV agreed to become the Patron of the Club and the Society of St Andrews Golfers became The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews also known as the R&A.
This was the second Royal accolade after Royal Perth Golf Club which had received its title the year before.
Glass’s Inn was renamed the Black Bull Inn and, until they built their own clubhouse, the St Andrews golfers used it alternately for their functions with the Cross Keys Hotel, run by Mrs. Anderson from 1835 and later by Mr. Hastie 1853.
The 1843 bill for the Cross Keys still exists. The hotel building itself is now a private house, but the old bar of the hotel, dating back to 1858, is still there. The R&A clubhouse was built in 1854 and has been augmented several times since.
Recently the Royal and Ancient voted to admit women members.