Development of the Links at St Andrews "Home of Golf"

1123 - King David I’s charter ratifies that the Links is common land belonging to the townspeople of St Andrews.

1552 Charter and the Kirk

King James IV, who lifted the 'ban' on golf in 1502 by buying the first set of clubs in Perth, is also recording as spending money to play golf in 1503, possibly when he was in St Andrews. The Lord High Treasurer noted several expenditures on golf and clubs and balls between 1502 and 1506, when the King was in Edinburgh or Stirling. The Royal Court moved from palace to palace in those days and Falkland Palace was the Stuart 'sporty' palace. Under the 1503 entry for golf-related payments, there is a payment to John Barbour with the Bishop of Saint Andrews, which suggests the golf may have been there.

In 1552, Archbishop John Hamilton of St Andrews was given a charter to establish a rabbit warren on the north part of the links. The Charter confirmed the rights of the local populace to use the links, inter alia, to play golf on the links at St Andrews.  These rights were confirmed in subsequent local and royal charters.

In 1583, 1598 and 1599, as elsewhere in Scotland, there are records in the Kirk Sessions in St Andrews of sinners being taken to task to task for playing on the 'golf fieldis' on the Sabbath (Sunday). However, as much as they were banning golf, the Kirk was also promoting it. Many ministers trained at St Andrews and learnt golf there and took it with them throughout Scotland.

Golf has been played on the Links at St Andrews since around 1400 AD, and the Old Course is renowned throughout the world as the Home of Golf. What was one simple track hacked through the bushes and heather has developed into six links golf courses.

Origin of Bunkers

Amazingly bunkers came about due to geography and topography surrounding the origins of golf and golfing on the windswept desolate Scottish early historic golf courses/ because these holes were sheltered from the cold Scottish breezes, sheep would take refuge in these areas. Thus the holes expanded. When this land came to be used for golf pursuits, it was often too much hard work and time for grass to grow back. Hence the locals took advantage of the sheep's efforts and fashioned sand filled bunkers from the holes.

On these old courses, the golfing greens were sited so as to maximize the bunker's threat to golfer's shots. Hence the sand traps, properly called "Bunkers" came to be named "hazards" in the rules of golf and golfing. Later on in golf and golfing course architecture, golf architects would place these insidious "traps" so as to penalize wayward shots. As a result golf course bunkers are seldom in the middle of the golf fairway - they are usually on the sides of the golf course fairways. Talk about mean and sadistic.

By 1754, St Andrews consisted of twelve holes, ten of which were played twice, making a round of twenty-two holes in all. The course wends its way 'out' along the coast, and then turns back 'in' to the clubhouse. The instructions for playing the first competition there contained references to some of the Old Course holes which are still in existence. The last winner over this configuration was William St Clair of Roslin, who then, as Captain, authorised changes to the layout.

The Development of the Old Course

St. Andrews, 4th October 1764

The Captain and Gentlemen Golfers present are of opinion that it would be for the improvement of the Links that the four first holes should be converted into two, - They therefore have agreed that for the future they shall be played as two holes, in the same way as presently marked out.


In 1764, the 'Captain and Gentlemen Golfers present' of the club now known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews decided the first four holes, which were also the last four holes, were too short and converted them into two holes to be played 'in the same way as presently marked out, thus creating an eighteen-hole golf course. It was actually ten holes, of which eight were played twice. William St Clair of Roslin, three times captain at St Andrews and four times captain at Leith. 

Competing uses for the St Andrew's Links created friction between the golfers and others. The Town Council's financial difficulties resulted in the links being sold in 1799 to the commercial rabbit breeders Charles and Cathcart Dempster, but in 1805 the local inhabitants won the right to kill the rabbits. For sixteen years the 'Rabbit Wars' were waged over the links and in court, until, in 1821, James Cheape of Strathtyrum bought the links for the golfers and laid the foundations of St Andrews' golfing prosperity. 

The relationship between The Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the Old Course has often been misunderstood.  The Club does not own the Old, or, indeed, any of the courses in St Andrews.  Archbishop Hamilton’s deed of 1552 refers to the public ownership of the links, which were used for playing sports and grazing livestock.

Golf was largely a winter game until the middle of the 19th Century, when mechanical grass cutters allowed play in the summer as well. With the increased prosperity of the Victorian times and the expansion of the railways, golf tourism took hold all over Britain.

By 1857, there were second holes on the middle greens and the course became the first 18-hole golf course in the world. Other courses soon followed.

In 1863, Old Tom Morris was appointed Custodier of the Links by the R&A. Old Tom was a St Andrew's man who had studied under another great St Andrew's golfer, Allan Robertson, before Tom had gone to Prestwick to be appointed Keeper of the Green there. Robertson died in 1859, and Old Tom returned to St Andrews to conduct extensive remodelling of the course as well as building others. Many people credit Old Tom with developing the manicured links that we see today. He also owned a shop and workshop at 8 The Links, which still exists.

James Cheape subsequently sold the Links in 1893 to the Royal and Ancient Club, who bid £5000, which was £500 more than the Town Council. However, the Council successfully petitioned Parliament to keep the Links in common ownership. Ultimately, after many Acts of Parliament, the Links were taken over by the Links Trust who run it today.

Over the years, the ownership of the links changed hands. In 1797, financial difficulties forced the Town Council to sell the links into private hands. Later, a period of dispute, known as the Rabbit Wars, led to the purchase of Pilmour Links by the Cheape family of Strathtyrum in 1821.

By the end of the 19th century, golf had become so popular that overcrowding was a serious problem. In 1890 The Royal & Ancient offered to buy the links from Alexander Cheape and build another golf course on the land. The offer was turned down. In 1893, following Alexander’s death, the opportunity arose again and the Club purchased the links for £5,000. The Town Council were also interested in gaining the land at this time and bought the links from the Club, whilst granting The Royal & Ancient the right to build a second course – the New Course. 

The Old Course at St Andrews is considered by many to be the "home of golf" because the sport was first played on the Links at St Andrews in the early 15th century. Golf was becoming increasingly popular in Scotland until in 1457, when James II of Scotland banned golf because he felt that young men were playing too much golf instead of practicing their archery. The ban was upheld by the following kings of Scotland until 1502, when King James IV became a golfer himself and removed the ban.


In 1552, Archbishop John Hamilton gave the town people of St. Andrews the right to play on the links. In 1754, 22 noblemen, professors, and landowners founded the Society of St Andrews Golfers. This society would eventually become the precursor to the Royal and Ancient which is the governing body for golf everywhere outside of the United States. and Mexico. St Andrews Links had a scare when they went bankrupt in 1797. The Town Council of St. Andrews decided to allow rabbit farming on the golf course to challenge golf for popularity. Twenty years of legal battling between the golfers and rabbit farmers ended in 1821 when a local landowner and golfer named James Cheape of Strathtyrum bought the land and is credited with saving the links for golf. The course evolved without the help of any one architect for many years, though notable contributions to its design were made by Daw Anderson in the 1850s and Old Tom Morris (1865–1908), who designed the 1st and 18th holes. Originally, it was played over the same set of fairways out and back to the same holes. As interest in the game increased, groups of golfers would often be playing the same hole, but going in different.

St Andrews Links

There are now other courses on the Links. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club built the New Course in 1895, designed by Old Tom Morris as well as the Jubilee course, which was opened with 12 holes in 1897 and named in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee that took place that year. It was extended to 18 holes in 1905. The Eden Course was opened in 1914 and the Strathtyrum in 1993. The nine-hole Balgrove course, designed for beginners and children, was first created in 1972, but substantially remodelled in 1993, when the Strathtyrum was completed. The latter three courses are built largely on land purchased at various times from the Strathtyrum estate of the Cheape family.

The Old Course was pivotal to the development of how the game is played today. For instance, in 1764, the course had 22 holes. The members would play the same hole going out and in with the exception of the 11th and 22nd holes. The members decided that the first four and last four holes on the course were too short and should be combined into four total holes (two in and two out). St Andrews then had 18 holes and that was how the standard of 18 holes was created. Around 1863, Old Tom Morris had the 1st green separated from the 17th green, producing the current 18-hole layout with seven double greens and four single greens.

Golf has been played on the Links at St Andrews since around 1400 AD, and the Old Course is renowned throughout the world as the Home of Golf. What was one simple track hacked through the bushes and heather has developed into six links golf courses and four other courses in the immediate area including our own Duke’s Course, attracting hundreds of thousands of golfing pilgrims from around the globe.
Golf became popular in the middle ages, so much so that the game was banned in 1457 by King James II of Scotland, who felt it was distracting young men from archery practice. Succeeding monarchs repeated this ban until James IV became a golfer himself.

18 holes

By 1764, the Old Course consisted of 22 holes, 11 out and 11 back, with golfers playing to the same hole going out and in, except for the 11th and 22nd holes. The golfers decided the first four holes, therefore also the last four holes, were too short and that they should be made into two holes instead of four. Thus the number of holes per round dropped from 22 to 18, and that is how today’s standard round of golf was created.

Rabbit Wars

In 1797, the bankrupt St Andrews Town Council sold the links to local merchants who promptly turned them into a rabbit farm. There followed more than 20 years of “war,” both legal and physical, between the rabbit farmers and the golfers. Success went to the golfers when, in 1821, James Cheape of Strathtyrum, a local landowner and keen golfer, bought the links and saved them for golf.

Double Greens 

Golf started to become more popular at St Andrews in the middle of the 19th century, and the course became more crowded. The result was that golfers playing out began to meet golfers playing in, at the same hole. Not surprisingly, this led to difficulties and disputes. To solve the problem, the decision was made to cut two holes on each green, with white flags for the outward holes and red flags for the inward holes. This was the origin of the famous double greens.

To experience the links at St Andrews "Home of Golf" check out this St Andrews Golf Package.

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