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  • “A Swing through Time”
  • Jane George
National Library of Scotland June 18, 2010 – March 20, 2011 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh

The pre-history of golf as well as the formalization of the game with the establishment of the first golfing societies and clubs is explored in an exhibition at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) documented by Olive Geddes, senior manuscripts curator at the NLS. Charting the social history of golf in Scotland and highlighting the influences that made golf the familiar game of today, this exhibition features many fascinating artifacts, some in the possession of the NLS and others from loans—some of which have never been on show until now. The exhibition coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Open Championship, the first having taken place at Prestwick in Ayrshire in 1860. In tribute to this, the Claret Jug won at the 1985 Open by Sandy Lyle is displayed along with souvenirs from former Open Champions including the golf bag and clubs used by the last Scottish winner, Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999.

Amongst the historical artifacts on loan from the Scottish Record Office is the earliest known written reference to golf contained in the decree of March 6, 1457, from James II where football and golf were banned because they were distracting his subjects from their archery practice. This edict suggests that both football and golf were popular with the common people but frowned on by the authorities. A more personal account of golf in Edinburgh in 1687 before the formation of any golf club or society is contained in the diary of Thomas Kincaid, a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, who recorded his own experience in what must be a very early instructional manual on “how to play golf.”

The first minute book of arguably the world’s oldest golf club, the Company of Gentlemen Golfers (now the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers), 1744, “open to all noblemen and gentlemen players paying an entry fee” is displayed along with the Silver Club festooned with silver balls. Each winner of the annual competition had to add a silver ball with his name engraved on it to the Silver Club. Alongside this on loan from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is David Allan’s portrait of William Inglis on the links at Leith in 1787 with his barefoot caddy. In the distance can be viewed a glimpse of the silver club in procession, which gives some context to the leisurely world of the Gentlemen Golfers at this time.

Among the more unusual items on display is Vincent Lunardi’s account of five aerial voyages made in Scotland in 1786. This enterprising balloonist touched down in Cupar and was invited to dine with members of the Society of St. Andrews golfers (the R&A) and [End Page 302] to play a few holes. The golfers then proceeded to make him an honorary member of the club.

As well as written documentation are an array of paintings, photographs, silverware, and golfing equipment with a story to tell. Those who played the game provide some insight into class and gender roles. Paul Sandby’s early eighteenth-century watercolors of Bruntsfield links depict this area of Edinburgh as popular sporting ground. This is confirmed by an interesting minute book from 1859–1868 recording the Bruntsfield Allied Golf Club. The members of this club were printers and engravers as well as ball and club makers who lived and worked close to the links. An artist’s impression of Mary Queen of Scots attempting to hit a ball on the links of St. Andrews in the 1560s is viewed rather unenthusiastically by her male playing companion, no doubt indicating the attitude of the time. Despite the sexist attitudes of men women did participate in golf from the mid nineteenth century onwards and formed their own clubs. The ball was set rolling with the formation of the first ladies’ club in St Andrews in 1867. When the Ladies’ Golf Union (LGU) was formed in 1892, it lost no time in instigating a Ladies’ Championship.

On the whole the exhibition gives women golfers a fairly low profile with the artifacts relating to...


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pp. 302-303
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