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A Group Of Golfers At St Andrews in 1855

Golf at St. Andrews

Golf is an ancient game that has evoked great emotion over the centuries. In 1123 King David gave the land that is now St. Andrews golf course to the people of Scotland. By the 1400s the game had been invented and was being played at St. Andrews. In 1457 King James II banned the game because he felt it was distracting young men from archery practice. The ban was upheld by Kings James III and IV.

In 1502 King James IV (1473-1513) had a change of heart, bought a set of clubs from a Perth (the capital of Scotland at that time) bow maker for 14 shillings and soon golf stories were once again being told in the St. Andrews pubs.

In 1754 came the founding of the Society of St. Andrews Golfers. The club established rules and conventions as all clubs like to do. By 1797 the club and lands belonged to the town of St. Andrews but the town was in some serious financial difficulty. They borrowed money using the links as collateral but in the end, lost the land.

My Connection

The land changed hands a couple of times and in 1799 the links were purchased by a couple of farmers: my 4x great grandfather, Cathcart Dempster (1764-1839) and his father Charles (1742-1809).

Not exactly avid golfers, Cathcart and Charles used the links to raise rabbits. Other folks, who were still avid players, complained that the rabbits were destroying the course and in turn, their favourite game.

In 1805 the Court of Session decided that inhabitants of St. Andrews had the right to kill and destroy rabbits on the links. Thus began the "rabbit wars" pitting putters against bunnies.

The "war" was ended in 1821 when the course was again sold. The purchaser was James Cheape of Strathtyrum, a local landowner and keen golfer, who, in his own estimation, 'saved the Links for golf.'

Here is a detailed chronology if you are interested.

In 1842 Lt.-Col. Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair (1786-1861), the middle son of my 5x great grandfather Rev. James Octavius Playfair DD (1736-1819) and therefore my 4x great grand uncle, was named Provost and then in 1856 was named the Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. (Lineage is from my paternal grandmother Mabel C Potts b1895 to Dempster to Hickey to Playfair).

I have played a few rounds of golf but I think I take after gt. gt. gt. gt. grandfather Cathcart: I’d be better off raising rabbits.

My 4x gt grandfather

Cathcart Dempster

My 4x gt grand uncle

Lt-Col Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair