The origins of golf are a bit murky (just ask the French or the Dutch) but one thing can be declared a fact: The first 13 Rules of Golf were drawn up in 1744 in Edinburgh for the world’s first ‘open’ golf competition at Leith. The Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh, who would go on to become The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, set them down as articles and laws for all who would play the game. (Many thanks to the website: http://www.scottishgolfhistory.org/ for this valuable information.)
Listen to this short podcast to learn what some scholars speculate are the origins of the game:
The First 13 Rules of Golf
- You must Tee your Ball within a Club’s length of the Hole.
- Your Tee must be upon the Ground.
- You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the Tee.
- You are not to remove Stones, Bones or any Break Club, for the sake of playing your Ball, Except upon the fair Green and that only / within a Club’s length of your Ball.
- If your Ball comes among watter, or any wattery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball & bringing it behind the hazard and Teeing it, you may play it with any Club and allow your Adversary a Stroke for so getting out your Ball.
- If your Balls be found any where touching one another, You are to lift the first Ball, till you play the last.
- At Holling, you are to play your Ball honestly for the Hole, and not to play upon your Adversary’s Ball, not lying in your way to the Hole.
- If you should lose your Ball, by it’s being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the Spot, where you struck last, & drop another Ball, And allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune.
- No man at Holling his Ball, is to be allowed, to mark his way to the Hole with his Club, or anything else.
- If a Ball be stopp’d by any Person, Horse, Dog or anything else, The Ball so stop’d must be play’d where it lyes.
- If you draw your Club in Order to Strike, & proceed so far in the Stroke as to be Accounted a Stroke.
- He whose Ball lyes farthest from the Hole is obliged to play first.
- Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made for the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholar’s Holes, or the Soldier’s Lines, Shall be accounted a Hazard; But the Ball is to be taken out teed /and play’d with any Iron Club.
For centuries, the rules were thought lost but, in 1937, they were re-discovered by Mr CB Clapcott, on the last two pages of the Honourable Company’s Minute Book. The pages contained the original thirteen Articles and the signature of John Rattray, the first winner, who was ‘Captain of the Golf’ 1744-1747 and 1751.
Ten years later in 1754 the golfers at St Andrews, who would later become the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, adopted these rules almost verbatim for their own competition, including references to features in Rule 13 that only existed at Leith. In the eighteenth century, other clubs, including the Burgess at Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh and those at Aberdeen and Crail also drew up their own rules.