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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Scotland is the home of golf. It is regarded as one of the country’s greatest assets and a national icon. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, Scotland is golf’s world governing body (except for the US and Mexico). The Open Championship, or the British Open, the oldest of the four major golfing championships, has been held at the picturesque St Andrews course more often than any other course. Scottish golfers have won the event 42 times, although the last one was in 1999.

The modern game of golf started in Scotland, on a Fifeshire sheep pasture where a shepherd was hitting pebbles with his crook when one of them happened to fall into a rabbit hole. He then tried to deliberately hit pebbles into the hole. A friend was watching and he challenged him. Each of them tried to sink his pebble into the rabbit hole. The site for this impromptu game would become St Andrews. It soon became a popular pastime, causing the Scottish Parliament to complain that soldiers were hitting stones into holes when they should be practicing archery. James II of Scotland subsequently banned the new game. But royalty, including Charles I, James II of England, and Mary, Queen of Scots, enjoyed the game and the ban was soon lifted.

The first golf tournaments in the world were played between Scottish burghs, or towns. The concept of an 18 hole golf course was also first developed in Scotland. Old Links, now surrounded by Musselburgh Racecourse, is the world’s oldest golf course. It dates to at least as early as 1672, although it is thought Mary, Queen of Scots may have played there in 1567. Scotland took the game to the US in 1743 when 96 clubs and 432 golf balls were taken to South Carolina from Leith. Scottish merchants set up the first golf club in the US, the South Carolina Golf Club, in 1786. Standard rules were first set down in 1882, by the St Andrews club.

While golf is often regarded as an elitist sport in many countries, it has been enjoyed by people of all classes in Scotland, which has traditionally been an egalitarian society. Council golf courses have low fees and are dotted throughout the country. In all, Scotland has about 550 beautiful and spectacular golf courses. Thousands of international tourists travel to Scotland each year on golfing holidays. Nearly all golf courses in Scotland are open to the general public.

Scotland has many famous golf courses apart from St Andrews. The Prestwick course was where the first Open Championship was played back in 1860. Other great courses where the Open has been played include Carnoustie, Muirfield, Royal Troon and Turnberry. Royal Dornoch in the mountains is a course that probably features in a list of many people’s top 10 golf courses in the world. Loch Lomond is a beautiful course next to the water and has Scotland’s longest hole at 625 yards. Nearly every course and club in Scotland has a link with the sport’s traditions.

The country has produced some great golfers, including Willie Anderson, Tommy Armour, James Braid, Dorothy Campbell who was the first dominant international champion in the women’s game, Tom Morris Senior, Tom Morris Junior who won the Open four times in a row, Willie Park, and Allan Robertson. All of these players are in the World Golf Hall of Fame and live on in the memories of all keen golfers in Scotland.

The Scottish Golf Union, established in 1920, is amateur golf’s governing body in Scotland. It looks after 630 golf clubs around the country and has 260,000 members, including 196,000 adult males, 33,000 adult females and 30,000 juniors. This is a greater number of golfers per capita than almost any country in the world. The union arranges amateur championships and manages the country’s national teams. It encourages youngsters to play, provides support to members, and lobbies the government to look after the game’s interests.

Scottish golf is rich in history. Scotland is the proud inventor of a game that is now one of the biggest sports in the world. It has produced many of the world’s finest golfers. In Scotland, golf is a game for all people, being relatively cheap and accessible. It is indeed an important part of Scottish culture.

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