The Oldest Rules of Golf

Golf's Oldest Rules

The oldest rules of golf originated from Muirfield Golf Club, near Edinburgh, when Edinburgh City Council, gave a trophy to be played for each year, to the honourable company of gentlemen golfers of Muirfield. It is interesting to note that the competition was played over 5 holes. The winner of the trophy was to be known as the Captain of Golf. A set of some 13 rules were drawn up and the winner added his signature to the bottom of the rules. The first winner in 1744 was John Rattray a physician, who came from Craighall Rattray, in Rattray, Perthshire. He again won the competition in 1745 when he joined the Jacobite army after the battle of Prestonpans and tended the wounded. In 1751 John Rattray won the competition again after his trials for being caught up with Bonnie Prince Charlies Jacobite rising of 1745.

The Thirteen Articles were adopted almost word for word ten years later by the St. Andrews Society of Golfers, later to be known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. To mark the creation of the club, Edinburgh Town Council presented the Honourable Company with a Silver Club to be contested by the members, thus was born the first club competition. John Rattray, the first winner of the Silver Club in March 1744 was also a past archery champion. The archery competitions were held on Leith Links with the winners name being attached to a silver arrow.

Rattray, a physician was brought into service as medical surgeon to Bonnie Prince Charlie's army camped in Edinburgh in 1745. At Culloden he was captured and imprisoned but fellow member of the Honourable Company, Duncan Forbes then Lord of Session secured his release. Although Forbes and Rattray were on opposite sides during the Jacobite rebellion they were back playing together for the Silver Club in 1748 which Rattray won again in 1851.

Originally the winner of the Silver Club became captain, a practice that ceased after 1837. Today the winners name is engraved on a silver replica golf ball of the day, which is attached to the silver club shaft.

The Oldest Rules of Golf were penned in 1744

The Oldest Rules of Golf were penned in 1744 and remained, undiscovered until 1937 when one C.B. Clapcatt, examined the Minute Book of the Company of Gentlemen Golfers at Edinburgh, finding the Rules recorded on the last two pages.

The pages contained both the original Rules of Golf, thirteen Articles in all, and the signature of John Rattray, Captain of The Golf. Today, the Club is located at Muirfield, East Lothian, Scotland. The Rules, as presented below are an exact  copy of these rules contained in the Minute Book and thus reflect the phonetic spelling and grammar of the day, 07th March 1744.


Eleven players took part in the first competition. They were:-
John Rattray (the winner), Robert Biggar, James Carmichael, Richard Cockburn, William Crosse, David Dalrymple, Hew Dalrymple, James Gordon, Hon James Leslie, George Suttie, James Veith., Duncan Forbes, President of the Court of Session, apparently put his name down for the competition, but did not play.

Articles and Laws in Playing Golf:-

1. You must tee your Ball, within a Club's length of the Hole.
2. Your tee must be upon the Ground.
3. You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the tee.
4. You are not to remove, Stones, Banes or any Break Club, for the sake of playing your Ball, Except upon the fair Green and that only within a Club's length of your Ball.
5. If your Ball comes amang Watter or any wattery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball and bringing it behind the hazard and teeing it, you may play it with any Club and allow your Adversary a Stroke for so getting out your Ball.
6. If your Balls be found any where touching one another, you are to lift the first Ball, till you play the last.
7. At Holling, you are to play your Ball honestly for the Hole, and not to play upon your Adversary a Ball, not lying in your way to the Hole.
8. If you should lose your Ball, by its being taken up, or any other way you are to go back to the Spot, where you struck last and drop another Ball, and allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune.
9. Na man at Holling his Ball, is to be allowed to mark his way to the Hole with his Club or any thing else.
10. If a Ball be stopped by any person, Horse, Dog, or any thing else, the Ball so stopped must be played where it lyes.
11. If you draw your Club, in order to Strike and proceed so far on the Stroke as to be bringing down your Club; If then, your Club shall break, in any way, it is to be Accounted a Stroke.
12. He whose Ball lyes farthest from the Hole is obliged to play first.
13. Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made for the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholars Hole or the Soldiers Lines, Shall be accounted a Hazard; But the Ball is to be taken out teed and played with any Iron Club.
Signed:- John Rattray,
Captain of Golf
March 7, 1744