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The History and Future of the Golf Society in the UK

Golf Societies – The Early days…

There are many claims to the date in which the game was invented with some claiming that the game was first recorded in China and other claiming the game of invented by the Dutch. However, whatever the truth, it is now widely accepted that the game really to took off in Scotland following the reign of James I, King of Scots (1406 – 1437).

Some important dates (courtesy of Wikipedia)…

1421 – A Scottish regiment aiding the French (against the English) is introduced to the game of ‘Chole’

1457 – Golf banned by Scots Parliament to preserve the art of archery and prohibited it on Sundays

1502 – The ‘Treaty of Perpetual Peace’ between England and Scotland, the ban on golf is lifted

1513 – Queen Catherine, queen consort of England refers to the growing popularity of golf in England

1552 – The first recorded evidence of golf at St. Andrews

1553 – The Archbishop of St Andrews allow the local population to play on the links at St. Andrews

1567 – Mary, Queen of Scots, seen playing and is the first known female golfer

1618 – King James VI of Scotland and I of England confirms the right to play golf on Sundays

1735 – The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh is formed

Golf Societies – The First Golf Society…

It was in 1735 that The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh was formed, with the date of it’s inauguration was recorded in the ‘Edinburgh Almanac’ from 1834 on wards. Whilst open to discussion, Burgess is now universally accepted as the oldest organized golf society in the UK (not the Oldest Golf Club!). The newly formed society played for over 100 years at Bakersfield Links, close to Edinburgh Castle.

In 1876 the society later moved to Mussel burgh. The course had only 9 holes and with the popularity of golf on the rise, the Society sought a new course on the ‘Cramond-Regis’ estate in 1898, only 3 miles west of the City of Edinburgh.

The mature parkland style course was originally designed by Willie Park Jnr with later modifications by world renowned architects Dr Alister Mackenzie and James Braid.

The Society is still alive and well today, the superb clubhouse, constructed in 1899, has been elegantly and tastefully designed and extended.

Its members’ lounge has a glorious oriel window and, with a large dining room on the first floor, overlooks the course and provides amazing views of the Fife Hills and the Firth of Forth.

As a testament to the quality of the course, The R&A since 2011 have selected Bakersfield Links as a Qualifying Venue for the Open Championship.

Golf Societies – Today…

The last few centuries have seen many changes to the way golf is played and whilst the early golfers were the original ‘Nomads’, actually ‘belonging’ to a golf club, seems to be going out of fashion again!

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, golf saw a massive expansion with golf clubs and course being built at a rapid rate. Meanwhile, modern living has now put time constraints on the average golfer and coupled with the overall cost of belonging to a golf club, it is now becoming increasingly hard to justify an annual club membership anymore.

In addition, golf has seen a sharp fall in the number of ‘local’ golf societies as pubs close, workplace become less ‘social’ and the out-dated and old fashioned image of golf continues to put the new generation off the game.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The growth of the internet has allowed many to form connections and friendships to be made via online platforms, thus cutting out the middle man – The Golf Club.

These platforms are more akin to the traditional ‘golf society’ whereby they will decide where and when they play, depending on the deals being offered to them.

As such, it is predicted that as more and more golf societies move online, set up bespoke and template based websites, Facebook pages and Whats App Groups, that the golf society as we know is alive and well and have a good future.

Over the next decade it is highly likely that club will rely less and less of the ‘Annual Club membership’ model and more on the ‘Flexible Memberships’, ‘Pay & Players’ or ‘Play & Stayers’. Thus meaning the power will be given back to the ‘Nomad’.

As such, if Golf Clubs want to survive this change, they will need focus more on ‘Value’ and ‘Service’ rather than the old school tie!