First Rules of Golf

First rules of golf captain John Rattray

The first rules of Golf

John Rattray statue with Leith Links where he played in 1744

Perthshire man John Rattray, is the signature under the first written rules of golf in 1744.

Golf was regularly played in Scotland surprisingly not always with the same rules being applied.

In 1744 The Edinburgh City Council provided a trophy in the form of a silver golf club, to be played for by the best golfers from Scotland, England and Ireland. The condition stipulated by the council was that there should a written set of articles for the competition.

John Rattray was one of a number of eminent golfers of his time. He was mentioned in the World’s first golf publication ‘The Goff” in 1743, which refers to him as ‘Rattray for skill’.

Thirteen articles and Laws were written down. The Silver Club was played for at Leith Links in parties by ten gentlemen esteemed as the top rate players at that manly diversion. The year was 1744.

John Rattray on Leith Links EdinburghThe winner was John Rattray. He was called Captain of Golf and signed the rules on behalf of the Honourable Company of Gentleman Golfers. The competition was played on Leith Links. He also won the silver arrow and has the distinction of holding two trophies in different sports in the same year. Described by Pat Denzler of the Leith Links Statue Committee as ‘the Rory McIlroy of his day’.

In 1745 John Rattray again won the silver club. He then went and joined Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite army as a physician, to the Prince and his army. He was captured after the disastrous Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Deals done on the golf course. 

This must be the first recorded case of golf saving someone’s life. Everyone was sure that John Rattray would be hung on account of his role in the Jacobite army. Luckily for him, his golfing companion was Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President of the Privy Council the senior Scottish legal office. Duncan Forbes successfully pleaded for the life of his Golf Captain and John Rattray was freed by the Duke of Cumberland.

The Rattray Golf Statue.

Plaques to be unveiled include the first rules, John Rattray and the donors who helped pay for he statueThe Leith Rules Golf Society  was formed in 2002 with the aim of promoting Leith as the home of the first recorded rules of golf, a prominent place in golf’s history.

In 2009 a Leith Rules Statue Committee was formed under the very capable chair of Pat Denzler. It was their task to create and fund a statue of John Rattray to be placed on the links.

On the 11th September 2019, 275 years after the written rules, a statue of John Rattray the signatory under the rules was erected on Leith Links.

Miniature Rattrays in every golf club.

A limited number of miniature ‘Rattrays’ are available to purchase from the Leith Rules Golf Society . The funds raised will go towards completing the John Rattray statue landscaping. These miniatures are exact copies of the full size statue. ‘Every golf club should have a Rattray’ and it should be played for annually to remind everyone of the early history of this international game.

A short video briefly explaining the origins of the world's first rules of golf.

The video below records in detail, that special day of when the John Rattray Statue was unveiled on Leith Links, Edinburgh.