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The first reference to golf at the historic town of St Andrews was in 1552. The clergy allowed public access to the links a year later. In 1754 the St Andrews Society of Golfers was formed to compete in it's own annual competition using Leith's rules. Stroke play was introduced in 1759 and in 1764, the 18-hole course was constructed which has of course become a de-facto standard. The first women's golf club in the world was formed there in 1895. King William honoured the club with the title 'Royal & Ancient' in 1834 and the new famous clubhouse was erected in 1854. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) became the premier golf club because of it's fine course, the publication of rules, it's royal patronage and it's promotion of the game as a proper sport.
Of course, by this time golfers were using proper clubs and balls. Club heads were made from beech or the wood of fruit trees such as apple. Some club heads for were made from hand-forged iron. Shafts were usually ash or hazel. Balls were made from tightly compressed feathers wrapped in a stitched horse hide sphere. The sport was somewhat exclusive due to the expense of the handcrafted equipment. After 1826, perimmon and hickory were imported from the USA to make club heads and shafts respectively. Today these antiques are highly prized by collectors. The British Empire was at it's pinnacle during the 19th century. Indeed the phrase 'the sun never sets on the empire' was coined to reflect Britain's world-wide influence. Most of the early golf clubs outside the British Isles and America were formed throughout the Commonwealth.
The first golf club formed outside Scotland was Royal Blackheath (near London) in 1766. However golf is believed to have been played there since 1608. The first golf club outside Britain was the Bangalore, India (1820). Others were the Royal Calcutta (1829), Royal Bombay (1842), Royal Curragh, Ireland (1856), the Pau, France (1856), the Adelaide (1870), Royal Montreal (1873), Cape Town (1885), St Andrew's of New York (1888) and Royal Hong Kong (1889). Some say that the South Carolina Golf Club, Charlestown of 1786 precedes all of these.
The Victorian Industrial Revolution brought with it many social and economic changes. The growth of the railways gave birth to the mass tourism industry. For the first time, ordinary people could explore the country as day-trippers or weekend visitors. Golf clubs popped up all over the country and people could enjoy the challenge of playing a different one every weekend.
Hitherto golf equipment was handcrafted and therefore expensive. Golf was therefore the preserve of the affluent. Once metal club heads and shafts and gutta percha balls (1848) began rolling off the production lines, the average person was able to afford to play golf.
The First World War decimated Scottish golf. Every village war memorial attests to the numbers who fell in France and few clubs are without a memorial to some rising star, who played out his last match on the fields of Flanders. Some great players survived but the consequence of terror gutted their game. Those that came through unscathed were few in number, determined never to see the like again and often took the decision to play in America - golf's promised land.
There was one notable exception in the mercurial George Duncan. Born near Aberdeen, George served his time as a carpenter before rejecting his trade and the offer of professional football with Aberdeen FC to become the professional at Stonehaven, before moving to the lucrative South and acclaim. He won the first post-war Open at Deal in 1920 when Sandy Herd at the age of 51 was runner-up. Duncan also played in the Ryder Cups of '27 and '29, captaining the side in 1931. Scottish golfers were sorely tried by the wave of first generation Americans that returned to assault the Championships after the War. These players transformed the game, bringing a flair and lifestyle that induced some disquiet in the home based players.
Though life in America did not suit all tastes, with the Dunne's and Willie Park Jr. among those who went and returned, there were many more who did not make the return journey.