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Scottish Golfing Family History

Scotland is hosting the famous Open Golf tournament this summer, when the world’s best golfers compete on the course at Royal Troon, in Ayrshire. Scotland has a long association with the sport, so could your ancestors have been involved in the game?


A bit of Golfing History




The Scottish place most associated with golf is definitely St Andrews, and its famous Old Course. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, based in the town, is the worldwide governing body for the sport and sets the rules and regulations which all golfers must play to in competitions around the world. The club was founded in 1754 but it’s not the world’s oldest – that honour goes to The Royal Burgess Golfing Society, founded in Edinburgh in 1735. In fact, 9 out of the 10 oldest golf clubs in the world are Scottish.


Scotland’s attitude to golf is historically different to that in many other countries. In other parts of the world golf is seen as a sport for the elite, something you need a lot of money to play and be involved in. Although that is rapidly becoming the case in Scotland too, historically golf was a game for everyone, with publicly run clubs, low green fees and few barriers to joining in, meaning that people at every level of society had the opportunity to get involved.


Tracing Your Golfing Ancestors


So how do you find out whether your ancestors were golfers? Good question! If they lived in some of the coastal towns such as St Andrews, Gullane, Carnoustie or Troon where golf was so popular, the golfing scene would have been part of their life whether they played or not.

In terms of more concrete records, this is where things get a little more difficult. Golf clubs are run by committees and each creates and maintains its own records about membership, people who won medals and trophies and who served on their management committees.


Very few of these golfing records are online, and many clubs lack the services of an archivist or librarian. Usually an email to the Secretary is the best way of initiating contact, and they will be able to tell you what records exist for the period you’re looking at. You may then need to go to the club in person to see the records, and if this is not possible, then ask a professional to go for you – this is something I am more than happy to help with.


Another good source of golfing information are newspapers, accessed through the British Newspaper Archive. Newspapers regularly printed information about competitions and elections in local golf clubs, and just typing in your ancestor’s name can set you off on the golfing trail.


Women in Golf


It’s often reported that Mary Queen of Scots was fond of a game of golf, and the first women’s golfing tournament took place in 1811. The first ladies only club was founded in St Andrews in the 1860s, and many other clubs had a ladies section from around the same time. Tracing female golfing ancestors might be more difficult, but not impossible. Get in touch at glasgowgenealogy@gmail.com and I’d be happy to help.

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