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Topic Contents

The Background Story - Part I

Clubs and Balls

Teeing Ground
Order of play
Falling off tee

Playing the Ball
Wrong, Substitute
Lifting, dropping
Moved, deflected

Provisional, Lost, Out of bounds

Putting Green
Marking, lifting

Hazards, Penalty Areas
Water hazards
Lateral water hazards

Abnormal Conditions
Casual water, Temporary water
Hole, cast, or runway

Loose impediments

Rule 1
Rule 3-3
Old Course, St Andrews
Wartime local rules
Best ever golf poem

The earliest surviving written Rules of Golf were compiled by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, later the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG), on 7th March 1744 at Leith, Scotland.
The competition played under these rules was held on 2nd April, and involved ten competitors playing over the 5-hole Leith links. (These are Julian Calendar dates; the Gregorian calendar we use today was not adopted by Great Britain until 1752).

Clearly, golf was already a well established game for many years prior to this, so these rules had no need to explain the game itself, scoring or how a game is won. In some repects, a few of the rules resemble conditions of competition.

From 1744 to the mid-1800s, Over 30 separate rules codes had been issued by leading golf clubs throughout the UK. Although these Rules were basically the same, and largely based on the Gentlemen Golfers' rules, enough differences existed such that there was no universal code for golf.

During this time, individual clubs introduced many now-familiar concepts: time limit for searching, unplayable ball, lost ball, GUR, obstructions, lateral water hazard, and more. However there was no consistency in how these matters were dealt with.
For instance, all codes during this time had virtually identical rules for the teeing ground, the action of an outside agency, and for changing of a ball. But for a lost ball, a ball in water or a hazard, some rules imposed a stroke penalty, some did not; removal of loose impediments was allowed in some places but not in others.

In the early 1830s the HCEG had some problems and nearly folded. At around the same time, 1834, the St. Andrews Society gained the patronage of King William IV and was granted the title of Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. The R&A's ascendancy had them regarded as the pre-eminent Club of the time, but the HCEG's influence was still considerable.
The St. Andrews and HCEG codes were extremely similar, indeed the St. Andrews rules of 1812 are almost identical to, and adapted from, the HCEG version of 1809. In 1839 the HCEG adapted the St. Andrews version of 1829

In the following decades, other factors helped promote golf - with the R&A to the fore; the rapid expansion of the railway system throughout Great Britain, including a branch to the town of St Andrews, a general increase in interest in sporting pastimes, and an improvements in golf equipment especially the introduction of the cheap and durable gutta percha golf ball in 1848.

The Open Championship, started in 1860, was played under the rules of Prestwick (in effect the same as 1858 R&A) whenever played at Prestwick, and at St. Andrews the same rules were in effect, some differences only in the local rules.  However, when played at Musselburgh in 1874, 1877 and 1880, the Championship was played under the HCEG rules. Also, in this period, Royal Liverpool GC had inaugurated the Amateur Championship in 1885.

The number of golf clubs in Great Britain increased exponentially in the late 1800s-- from 36 golf clubs in 1860 to 58 in 1870 to nearly 500 by 1890, over 1500 in 1900 over 2500 by 1910.

It is clear from these developments and the increasing ease with which golfers could travel to other courses around the country that there was an urgent need for a universal set of rules for golf that would apply everywhere.

In the later part of the 19th century, almost all clubs had aligned themselves with the R&A. The HCEG voted to play by the R&A rules in 1883, Royal Blackheath did the same in 1889. An outstanding example from this period is the brilliantly innovative Royal Isle of Wight Rules of 1886, offered up as a universal rules code.
The R&A Rules of 1891 came close to a common code for all players, but although widely accepted, some clubs still clung to different codes. Such differences must have become a matter of concern with the increasing popularity of golf worldwide, and a desire to play the Open and Amateur Championships under rules familiar to all.

During the Amateur Championship held at St. George's, Sandwich, in May 1896 a meeting of delegates proposed setting up the R&A as the overall authority on the Rules of Golf.  The R&A Rules of Golf Committee was formed in September 1897, and issued the first universally accepted Rules of Golf in Sept 1899.

The USGA came into being in February 1895, a name change from the Amateur Golf Association of the United States. They originally elected to play under the 1891 R&A rules and later adopted the new code in February 1900.

The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith issued rules in 1744, and 1775; then as the HCEG in 1809, 1839, 1866

The Society of St. Andrews issues were in 1754, 1812, and 1829; then as the R&A in 1842, 1851, 1858, 1875, 1888, 1891

Background Story Part II  >>