St Andrews Photography Festival: Scots on the Green

Thursday 31 August 2017

In this final focus on the Library’s exhibitions for the St Andrews Photo Festival, 1-30 September 2017, we feature images of golf.

Throughout Scotland, golf is ubiquitous. That’s not to say that there are merely lots of golf courses; that could be said of many places around the world. In Scotland, golf is an integral part of the community and has been for centuries.

GMC-8-15-3 Golfer’s wife at the British Amateur Championship, St Andrews, 1950.

This ‘Scots on the Green’ element of the 2017 St Andrews Photography Festival gives just three examples of community involvement – the citizens who make their living from golf, the women who have always been part of golf and the golfing elite who helped to make golf global. Other examples are myriad and are worthy of further research and identification.

A recurring theme throughout the Golf Photography Collection held by the Special Collections Division of the University of St Andrews Library is one of commonality; all sections of society – from royalty to labourer – shared a worship of the game and this is reflected throughout the collection. It is also worth remembering that most of the early champions were very much from the working class in Scotland; a trend that continued well into the 20th century.

GMC-FF-178-5 Tom Morris at the Road Hole, the Old Course, St Andrews 1905.
GMC-FF-190.5 Golfing group 1860, St Andrews.

Early Open Champions were all Scottish and almost all came from very mainstream backgrounds; caddies and labourers dominated the championship and very few were able to turn their golfing prowess into a lucrative career. Tom Kidd (1873 Champion) sold his clubs and winner’s medal to a St Andrews publican; Jamie Anderson (triple champion from 1877-1879) died in a poorhouse – these sad stories are far from unusual.

Golf has remained more of a community sport in Scotland than perhaps it has elsewhere in the world but the Scottish ideal of golf being inclusive provided the initial spark in exporting the game around the globe. Again the working class uptake and dominance was mirrored: JH Taylor (one of the ‘Great Triumvir’ along with Harry Vardon and James Braid) was an English orphan who started work as a caddie while still a child. Braid himself – a five time Open Champion – was of such low social stature that, having designed the famous links at Elie, he was denied membership of the club. He was clearly not ‘people like us’. Further afield the take up of the game among the poor continued, although perhaps not to the same degree as in Scotland. Nevertheless the likes of Sam Snead, Lee Trevino and Sevvy Ballesteros provide examples that support the view of golf as a sport for all sections of society.

GMC-9-17-7 William Deas with the gold sovereign for retrieving the new captain’s ball, the Old Course, St Andrews, September 1953.

The ‘Scots on the Green’ exhibition focuses purely on golf in ‘the Old Country’ and demonstrates that golf is not (and was never) restricted to the great and the good – all classes and both genders were involved to a greater or lesser extent. With the 21st century’s focus on ‘community’, golf stands as a shining beacon from the past.

2008-1-29774 A complicated manual scoreboard to the right of the fifth hole is too much for one operator during the 1990 Open Championship.

This beacon drew communities together in a common passion and has provided a means for many to earn a living and for communities to thrive. While global golf participation has stuttered in the wake of widespread economic difficulties, countries such as Sweden have flourished, due in part adoption of the early Scottish model of community involvement. Children are often able to play golf for free; women are especially encouraged and golf courses are as much a social hub as a sporting centre. Swedes are now ‘on the green’ and it is nice to think that this is partly because Scotland showed them how to do it most successfully.

2008-1-7226 A kilted caddie at The Open Championship in St Andrews, 1990.

Although the early signs of social exclusion in golf were occasionally evident in Scotland (see Braid above) they did not come to dominate as they seem to have in some other countries. The fascination with the game and the camaraderie provided on the links has managed to survive in Scotland. When Scots are on the green, snobbery (whether traditional or inverse) is rarely apparent and caddies and labourers still adorn championship boards across local clubs – an object lesson for our golfing brothers and sisters across the planet. Scots are on the green and they are likely to remain there for some time yet.

Trevor Ledger
Golf Collections Project Cataloguer

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