It was at Leith Links that Edinburgh golfers indulged their passion. A record of 1522 mentions the "gouff ball makers of North Leith", implying the use of a stitched ball; it is thought that in early versions of the game wooden balls were used. In 1593 the Edinburgh Burgh Records condemned the citizens of the town for playing golf at Leith on Sunday mornings rather than attending church, a criticism that was often heard in later years, and it has been claimed that Charles I was playing on Leith Links when he had news of the Irish Rebellion of 1641. It is not known if the king finished his round!
Perhaps the most notable claim of Leith in golfing history, however, is that it was here that the first rules of the game were set down. On 2nd April 1744 the first ever golf tournament took place in Leith, officiated by the Gentleman Golfers of Leith, with the prize of a silver club donated by the city of Edinburgh. This became an annual competition, with the winner becoming the Company's captain for the following year. he also had his name engraved upon a silver golf ball which was attached to the club. The image below depicts this trophy being taken to Leith in 1788:
The rules were set down as follows:
|Articles & Laws in Playing at Golf - 7th March 1744.|
John Rattray, Capt
The course consisted of five holes only, and a plaque on display at Leith records the design:
As well as being the place where rules of the game were first set down, Leith is the home of the golf caddie. The name derives from the French 'le cadet' , meaning a boy or youth, and like many other French words became current in Edinburgh for the young men who acted as porters and messengers. During the eighteenth century these lads found frequent employment at Leith Links. Golf bags seem not to have been in use:
In 1768 the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (as they were now known) built a clubhouse, the first in the world and known as the Golf house, on the site of the old Leith Academy building in Duke Street, and they remained at the Links until 1831, when the area became too crowded. Thereafter they removed to Musselburgh, and finally to Muirfield where they exist to this day. Their website contains some interesting notes on the history of the club and the course: http://www.muirfield.org.uk/page/The_History.aspx