St Andrews Golf Club - 175th Anniversary in 2018: Part 2 – The Minutes, Old Course and “Cracks”
The minutes of golf club committee meetings are typically uninspiring. However the early minutes of St Andrews G.C. could be quite lively. At the annual meeting of 1844 a new Captain would normally be proposed, seconded and agreed. This was approved, but Robert Wilson a Blacksmith declined and proposed the present Captain serve for another year. Much discussion and uproar followed. At the 1845 annual meeting the committee fell out over badly over details of a proposed medal competition. Amongst the discussion came a proposal that the Secretary be replaced, the Secretary then resigned effective from the next meeting. By the time of the 1846 meeting Alan Robertson was on the committee. Recognised as the best golfer in Scotland and respected by the R & A and club members he appeared to stabilise the proceedings. The secretary was not changed and Alan proposed that the medal completion would be played twice a year on the links which was agreed. At a later meeting rules for members, new members and administration were laid down.
The Old Course
By the time St Andrews G.C. was formed in 1843 it was played as 18 holes, nine out and nine back but using only nine greens. Games approaching the same hole from different directions gave way to the first group to reach the green. Greens were roughly formed with grass kept short by sheep and rabbits. It was not unknown to get a poor lie on a green. Nobody had designed the course. It had narrow fairways that wove through whin (gorse), scrub thickets, brambles, heather, nettles and weeds. Golfers vied with sheep for space on the links which had other uses for the local population also. By 1857 the greens had been improved and 2 holes provided on all but the first and last greens. This significantly reduced congestion and delays. In 1864 Tom Morris returned to St Andrews from Prestwick to supervise the links for the R & A. He introduced many greenkeeping innovations and improvements to the links. These included grass cutting machinery, heavy rollers and watering greens. He widened the fairways provided sand boxes for teeing off and defined the holes by fitting metal cups.
A professional can be defined as ‘a person who engages for their livelihood in an activity also pursued by amateurs’. It follows that members of St Andrews G.C. such as Alan Robertson, Tom Morris and others were professional golfers. Both of these members initially earned their living making golf equipment, caddying for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, gambling on golf matches and playing challenge matches. Alan Robinson and Tom joined the club soon after the formation. Their skills and reputation in the early crucial years of the club was important.
The term “Cracks” is a short term for ‘crack shot caddies’ which Robertson and Morris certainly were. Robertson was not directly employed by the R&A. They had no formal handicap system as all matches were decided on holes. He was the best golfer on the links and well respected and trusted to organise the R & A member’s handicaps. As each match would involve bets this was important. Alan and Tom would also get involved in their club member’s handicaps but they did not compete against the amateur players in club tournaments. Alan Robinson was Club Captain in 1854 and while not competing he played in Medal competitions and enjoyed the club balls in the town hall.