I can fondly recall my first visit to the Honourable Company. At first, I thought the routine was a bit regimented; and a tad snooty to have to wear a jacket upon arrival. As visitors we were not allowed to play off the first tee in the morning. And—horrors!—you aren’t permitted to play your own ball in the afternoon. Well, I now chalk it up to inexperience and part of my golfing education.
The fact is, there are few finer experiences than playing Muirfield. What was initially a complaint about having to play foursomes turned out to be one of the most fun and competitive rounds I have ever enjoyed. And to keep it in perspective, allowing visitors should not be taken for granted; you can’t call Shinnecock Hills and book as an unaccompanied guest, so who am I to complain about the Honourable Company’s rules. After all, they have been at it for a while (since 1744 to be precise). And, if there is one club that is entitled to have a lot of rules, it is these chaps since they created the first thirteen rules of the game. Over its long history the club has played over there different courses: the Leith Links, Musselburgh and Muirfield.
Motivated by a new book about the club, this month we feature the books of the Honourable Company and their rich heritage.
The earliest history is the unpublished typescript The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers on Leith Links 1764-1796. Compiled by C.B. Clapcott in 1939, the hand-bound 124 page booklet with text on the recto only, gives an early history, a list of members and the original rules. It is thought that less than half-a-dozen copies exist of Clapcott’s important work.
To celebrate the club’s 200th anniversary R.M. McLaren complied The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers 1744-1944 (D & J M23560) which was privately printed in 1944. At the time, the club had wanted to produce a more comprehensive history but because their bi-centennial fell in the midst of the Second World War they settled for a 23 page softcover.
One of the scarcer books about the club is Stair A. Gillon’s The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield 1891-1914 (D & J G8080) which was privately printed in 1946. The 58 page softcover rarely comes up for auction, and when it does sells for several thousand dollars.
George Pottinger’s 1972 history Muirfield and the Honourable Company (D & J P17740) has the most colorful cover of all the club’s histories. The hardcover book’s dust jacket has an image of William St. Clair of Roslin, who was captain of the club in 1761, 1766, 1770 and 1771. A copy of the paining of Roslin hangs within the Muirfield clubhouse, along with other impressive works.
Norman Mair’s Muirfield: Home of the Honourable Company (1744-1994) was produced to celebrate the club’s 250th anniversary in two editions in 1994. The hardcover standard trade edition (D & J M7510), and the limited edition of 100 (D & J M7540) which was produced in half-gilt stamped leather and is signed by the author. Mair’s trade edition features an image of William Inglis on the jacket, who served a Captain of the Honourable Company from 1782-1784.
Peter R. Bryce produced Moments of Fascination at the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, (D & J B44170) in 1998, a 19 page softcover.
Rules and Regulations of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfer were produced twice: in 1888 and 1889 and are very rare. They are softcover and 19 pages.
The book that spurred this newsletter was The Evolution of Muirfield which was produced in 2013 by Richard Latham, the fourth in a series that includes Woodhall Spa, County Down and Hoylake. As with Latham’s other works the book is of a very high quality and includes beautiful images of the links and its history as well as a detailed hole-by-hole analysis of the course with color pictures. The progression of changes at Muirfield are carefully documented including those by Old Tom Morris, Robert Maxwell, H.S. Colt and Tom Simpson. It is a worthy addition to the Honourable Company oeuvre of books.
Now that I am more mature in my golfing education I hope to one day return to Muirfield (with a stay at the Greywalls) so I can more fully appreciate the pomp and circumstance of the Honourable Company.