The Earliest Rules of Golf

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest golf reviews from Mark Rivkin then you’d know that we’ve recently covered some historical aspects of the sport, like from where the game originates and how it was popularized. But what about the rules and regulations? Every sport/game has a set of standardized rules and regulations, without which organized competition would struggle, and likely not exist at all. So in this edition of the Rivkin Golf Review we wanted to once again take a look at the history of golf and see how today’s rules and regulations came to be.

So when does a game become a sport? Some would argue that both are one in the same; others may view sports as being more than just a game. However you choose to look at it, golf officially became a sporting event when the “Gentlemen Golfers of Leith” (later renamed “The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers”; see Mark Rivkin’s History of Golf Series) drafted the earliest surviving written rules of golf in 1744 with the goal of organizing an annual competition. The regulations were known as the “Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf” and consisted of thirteen rules including: You must Tee your Ball within a Club’s length of the Hole; You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the Tee; If a Ball is stopped by any Person, Horse, Dog or anything else, The Ball must be play’d where it lies; and He whose Ball lies farthest from the Hole is obliged to play first.

The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith draft the first rules of golf in 1744

The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith draft the first rules of golf in 1744

But before any official rules were standardized, many of the primary golf clubs often had their own set of regulations, which while generally the same had slight variations like allowing for the removal of loose impediments such as leaves and small stones. It wasn’t until late in the nineteenth century that most golf clubs began to align themselves with either the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, later the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, or the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

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