What Is the Oldest Golf Course in the World?

A view of The Old Course at St Andrews, the oldest golf course in the world

Where on Earth can you play golf where golf has been played the longest? Let's rephrase the question: What is the oldest golf course still in existence? The world-record holder for oldest golf course is — no surprises here — The Old Course at St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Golf has been played on the links at St. Andrews since at least 1552. Actually, golf was certainly played even earlier than that in St. Andrews, but the year 1552 is the oldest specific year where we can say, based on written records, that golf was being played there.

The Guinness World Records recognized The Old Course as the oldest golf course in world based on what is known as "Archbishop Hamilton's Charter."

The Guinness record-keepers state that the charter, written in 1552, "is the earliest documentary evidence that allowed the people of St. Andrews to play golf on the Links." The Guinness folks further explain:

"The charter is principally a license to allow Archbishop Hamilton to breed rabbits on the links but the document also allows them to continue the 'playing at golf, football, shooting at all games, with all other manner of pastime as ever thy please.'"
This does not mean that in 1552 there was what we would recognize as today's Old Course on the links. But golfers were playing a game recognizable as golf — using clubs and striking balls from point to point and counting strokes — in 1552 on the St. Andrews Links, and some of the paths they trod and natural bunkers they faced are, in fact, incorporated into today's Old Course.

Golf didn't spring into existence on the St. Andrews Links in 1552, but earlier — remember that 1552 is just the date of the earliest documentary evidence yet discovered.

The Guinness World Records used to recognize the Old Links at Musselburgh as the oldest, with documentary evidence yielding a date of 1567. But then Archbishop Hamilton's Charter was discovered to include golf with a date of 1552. (By the way, due to possible moves of the golf course grounds, the origin date most commonly given for the Musselburgh Links today is 1672.)

There are at least two other golf courses in Scotland that also date to the 1500s and are still being played today. Golfers were knocking balls around the Montrose Golf Links (Montrose, Scotland) as early as 1562, and still are today. And the Elie and Earlsferry Links has been played by golfers in Elie, Scotland, since 1589.

Photo credit: "The Old Course, St Andrews-Geograph-3632139-by-Neil-Theasby" by Neil Theasby is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

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