Is St Andrews The World's Oldest Golf Course?

It's called the Home of Golf for a reason and here's why

St Andrews Old Course
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Establishing the birthplace of the game and identifying the world's oldest golf course is something that has had golf historians conversating for years and whilst there isn't a conclusive answer, evidence points you in one direction - to a seaside town northeast of Edinburgh, on Scotland’s east coast.

The first documented mention of the game appears in the 1467 Act of the Scottish Parliament where King James II issued an order that prohibited the playing of golf and football. At the time, archery was the preferred sport as it was a skill utilised by the military whereas golf and football were seen as unwelcomed distractions. 

King James IV lifted that ban in 1502 after he became interested in the game himself, allowing the people to partake it what was once a beloved pastime. 

The earliest piece of documented evidence prevalent to a golf course was Archbishop John Hamilton's Charter of 1552 that allowed the people to play golf on the land on which the Old Course now sits. Oddly, the charter was primarily a licence to allow Archbishop Hamilton to breed rabbits on the grounds but the document also granted the "playing of golf, football, schuting at all gamis, with all uther maner of pastyme as ever thai plais."

The golfers and rabbit farmers battled for the territory and in 1821, the dispute concluded when a local landowner and golfer by the name of James Cheape bought the land for the sole purpose of golf, paving the way for the likes of Daw Anderson and the 'Grandfather of Golf' Old Tom Morris, who sewed the seed for the modern layout we see before us. 

By 1754, the course consisted of 22 holes; although ten were played twice. Just two years later, then-captain William St Clair of Roslin authorised the change to 18 holes. 

The game's popularity in Scotland continued to soar and in 1860, the Open Championship was birthed. It was held annually at Prestwick Golf Club before it arrived at the Old Course for the first time in 1873 - where it was won by Tom Kidd; a local caddie and St Andrews member. 

Kidd was the first recipient of the Claret Jug, although he received it with the name of Young Tom Morris, the winner the year prior, already engraved. Kidd tragically died of heart complications age just 35. 

James Hibbitt

James joined Golf Monthly having previously written for other digital outlets. He is obsessed with all areas of the game – from tournament golf, to history, equipment, technique and travel. He is also an avid collector of memorabilia; with items from the likes of Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Francis Ouimet, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Adam Scott and Ernie Els. As well as writing for Golf Monthly, James’ golfing highlight is fist bumping Phil Mickelson on his way to winning the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013. James grew up on the east coast of England and is the third generation of his golfing family. He now resides in Leeds and is a member of Cobble Hall Golf Club with a handicap index of 1.7. His favourite films are The Legend of Bagger Vance and Tin Cup.