“The Home of Golf,” it’s a term we’ve heard all week leading up to The Open Championship, but what exactly does it mean? We know that golf was born in Scotland, but are we really aware of the history behind the Old Course? Before the guys tee it up on Thursday, get yourself educated on how things all began at the sacred grounds of St. Andrews.
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Reflections on a Pilgrimage to the Home of Golf
It all started back in the 1400s when golf was first being played on the Links at St. Andrews, but because of one of the most evil man in the history of the world, James II of Scotland, golf was banned in 1457. For whatever reason, James thought it was more important for the young lads to be practicing their archery instead of golf. (What an idiot that guy was).
The ban continued to be upheld until 1502 when the hero of golf, King James IV, picked up the glorious game himself and removed the ban. In 1552, Archbishop John Hamilton gave the people of St. Andrews the right to play on the links course and all was right and well with the game.
After a financial scare, the course decided to allow rabbit farming to compete for the popularity of the land and was eventually sold to commercial rabbit breeders in 1799. From there, the “Rabbit Wars” were born. A 20 year battle ensued between the golfers and pesky rabbits who were destroying the land with their rapid growth rate.
In 1821, St. Andrews was saved from the rabbits by a man named James Cheape. Cheape, a fellow golfer, became furious with the rabbits destroying his lawn and decided to put an end to it by buying the land.
After buying the links course, Cheape proceeded to survey the land and set the boundaries to lay the foundations for St. Andrews golfing property. Thus, James Cheape ended the Rabbit Wars and became the hero of St. Andrews.
Prior to the Rabbit Wars, a group of noblemen, professors, and landowners founded the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, which later became known as the Royal & Ancient. The R&A is one of the oldest and most prestigious golf clubs in the world and is the governing body of golf outside of the United States and Mexico. James Cheape eventually sold the Links to the R&A, who outbid the Town Council for the course.
The course originally had 12 holes, ten of which were played twice, making for a 22 hole round. In 1764, the members decided that the first four holes were too short and combined them to make two holes, thus, the 18 hole round we know today was made.
Many attribute the modern development of St. Andrews to Old Tom Morris. Around 1863, Old Tom had the 1st green separated from the 17th green, creating the 18 hole layout of the course we still know today, with seven double greens. He would become the greenskeeper and a professional of St. Andrews in 1865.
The Old Course is home of The Open Championship, golf’s oldest major, and has held the tournament there 28 times since 1873. The golfing world gets the privilege of seeing the major played at St. Andrews every five years.
“I could take out of my life everything but my experiences here in St. Andrews and I would still have had a rich and full life.” -Bobby Jones
So while you’re sitting at home or a pub enjoying a nice cold one this weekend watching The Open, take the time to look around the golfers at the beauty of the course. Take a minute to curse James II of Scotland for ever putting that ban on golf and thank King James IV for lifting the ban. Have a pint for James Cheape who saved St. Andrews from those dang rabbits. Tip your cap to Old Tom Morris for making the course what it is today. But most importantly, take a second to appreciate the history of one of the greatest places in the world.