When the home of golf decides to publish a golf book it is a noteworthy event.
“The empire on which the sun never sets” is the subject of a new book commissioned by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The book highlights the sixty-six clubs that have received Royal patronage, or the right to use the word “Royal” in the club’s title. The book was written by Scott MacPherson, who previous book, published in 2006, was St. Andrews – The Evolution of the Old Course. The foreword was written by the most golf obsessed member of the royal family: HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
Golf’s Royal Clubs is not only big in volume at 486 pages, but it is also democratic, in that every club in the book gets equal coverage: six pages are dedicated to each. The first fifty-seven pages of the book give background and history on the use of the Royal title and there is an interesting chapter on who has the ability to grant a Royal title. The process has evolved over time, when various members could each grant a club a title and it was doled out freely. Today a member of parliament or other dignitary makes an application request to the Home Office under a strict set of rules and only the sovereign can grant a royal title.
The first three clubs to be granted titles were the Royal Perth Golfing Society (Scotland) in 1833, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews the next year, and the Montrose Royal Albert Golf Club in 1845 (today it is called the Royal Montrose Golf Club). In terms of the heyday of Royal appointments, it was the period between 1880 and 1910, when twenty-three clubs received their Royal designation. King George V was the most prolific grantor of the title, with twenty-one club receiving their designation from the impressively mustached sovereign. Queen Victoria was also a fan of granting the title with twelve receiving the privilege from her.
The book gives a brief summary and the history of each Royal club, and all the well-known clubs that host the Open Championship are obviously included. Where the book provides real value added is in its focus on those clubs that are not as well known.
Two nine hole courses have the designation: the Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club and the Royal Household Golf Club. The latter is one that I have never heard of before and is located at Windsor. It was built by order of His Majesty King Edward VII and was designed by Samuel Mure Fergusson in 1901. As the book highlights: “In those early days the course was reserved for the Royal Family and their guests, however in time senior courtiers were permitted to play.” There are not many courses where a horse and carriage can pass alongside your fairway (let alone one used by a Queen) during your round, as can be done of the 4th hole at Royal Household.
The Royal Household Golf Club at Windsor (4th hole with carriage riding alongside)
Among the less well-known clubs to have received a commission are the Royal Epping Forest Golf Club, which received their patronage from Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught. And, the impressively titled Princess Louise, Dowager Duchess of Fife granted the title to the the Duff House Royal and the Royal Tarlair Golf Clubs.
Macpherson did an extensive amount of research to produce the book, including making Freedom of Information requests to have records and correspondence of the Royal Household retrieved so he could appropriately document the history of each club. The end of the book contains a useful four-page fold-out that lists all the clubs in the book with their relevant details related to their status as a Royal club.
From Golf’s Royal Clubs: a sampling a Royal club logos
Alas, the granting of a royal title is no guarantee of prosperity. Eight clubs that were conferred the royal title no longer exist, including the Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club, the Royal Cornwall Golf Club and the Royal Craggan Golf Club. The book provides a delightful way to fritter away a rainy afternoon and provides many surprises and insights.
Macpherson’s book covers golf clubs granted by the British Royal Family only. Readers looking for a broader survey of golf clubs with the Royal designation can consult Sir Peter Allen’s Sunley Book of Royal Golf which includes coverage of those in places as far afield as Morocco, Belgium, and Spain and defunct Royal courses in Teheran and Baghdad.
— John Sabino