With perhaps the exception of basketball, there’s no single place on earth where the origin of a global sport can be so clearly tied to one place. St Andrews, Scotland isn’t shy about about saying it is the Home of Golf, but it is unquestionably accurate.
The town has played the game of golf in some form since around 1400 AD on the Old Course, and while the implements have changed, the basic layout of the course truly hasn’t. There are still double greens for most holes, and the players leave the clubhouse going “out” for nine holes, then turning around playing “in” for the rest. And that’s just two of the dozens of terms you’d use at your local pub linx which originate from St Andrews.
There have been some changes beyond the equipment used. The tee box used to be two club lengths from the hole, and you used a scoop of sand to balance your ball instead of a wooden peg. The original course was also 22 holes but in 1754 some noblemen, professors and landowners, also known as the Society of St Andrews Golfers, decided some of the holes were too short, so they combined four of them to get it down to 18.
While the Open Championship dates back to 1860, the first tournament was actually at Prestwick Golf Club, but that course on the other side of Scotland hasn’t been used for the championship since 1925. The Old Course first hosted the tournament in 1873, and the 2022 event will be the sesquicentennial of The Open will be the 30th time the gold medal and Claret Jug have been awarded at that course.
To this day, the St Andrews complex remains the largest for the game in all of Europe. All six of the 18 hole layouts, and one nine-hole loop (the Balgove) can be booked in advance by anyone across the world. Unlike some of the cathedrals in the game in the United States, there is no membership required to play.
That Society of St Andrews Golfers? It eventually became the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. That group does have members, but it doesn’t own the courses at St Andrews; that’s the domain of the St Andrews Links Trust, who keeps all the links public for everyone.
So yes, you can plan and play the same track that Old Tom Morris and Tiger Woods trekked to take home the Claret Jug for the low price of 135 pounds, or a maximum of 270 pounds during the busy season. Good luck getting those rates to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium or kick a few goals at Old Trafford.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews also doubled as the governing body for golf everywhere in the world except the United States and Mexico (the domain of the USGA) until 2004. That’s when the “R&A” was formed, which is now the governing body and completely separate from the club. The R&A does have offices at St Andrews, but it doesn’t operate the courses or the club; it is just a non-profit sanctioning body that operates tournaments around the world to promote the game of golf.
St Andrews is still the Home of Golf. And that is likely to never change.