Oldest Courses Outside Great Britain & Ireland


Ron Fream

August 2013

There has been a shortage of accurate information concerning the origins of golf beyond the shores of Great Britain & Ireland. It is recognized that the game originated more than four hundred fifty years ago along the seaside in the east of Scotland, near Edinburgh, in the area of Leith and in the sandy ground of St Andrews. Early mention was in writings from 1552 referencing golf being played in the Edinburgh area. Leith dune areas were adjacent to Edinburgh.

Golf migrated south of Hadrian’s Wall in 1603 as King James l (King James IV of Scotland) and his Scottish nobility settled in at  The Royal Palace, Greenwich, following the death of Elizabeth I, the daughter of King Henry Vlll and Ann Boleyn.

The golf plot was on an upland site at Blackheath near Greenwich. King James son Henry Fredrick, Prince of Wales, was an active player having learned the game at his home area near Edinburgh Castle (on the five hole links of Leith?). The Blackheath club was constituted in 1608, golf was played earlier. The course was only five holes played three times for a round of 15 holes. In the early days of this course, few Englishmen knew about or played golf.  The current clubhouse of The Royal Blackheath Golf Club was originally constructed as the residence for the banker to King James in 1664. This course is said to be the oldest constituted club of golf in the world.

There is written evidence that Scottish military personnel were observed playing golf on the sandy isthmus at the north side of the Rock of Gibraltar in 1772 and 1773. Britain gained control of The Rock in 1713.

The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith first held an international competition between English and Scottish contestants over the Leith Links in 1681 (over five holes played several times). This group formulated the first written rules for the game, 13 original rules, in 1744. The clubhouse at Leith was constructed in 1768. The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith played at Leith Links until 1831. They reassembled at the nearby Musselburgh Golf Course in 1836 with seven holes and two more holes were added in 1870.  The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers then shifted again to their home at Muirfield, Gullane overlooking the Firth of Forth in 1891. Musselburgh remained a public course.

The first Open was contested at Prestwick Golf Club (formed in 1851) in 1860, three times twelve holes, won by Willie Park of Musselburgh Golf Course.

The Society of St Andrews Golfers was organized in 1754. In 1897, the now Royal & Ancient Golf Club was given authority to consolidate various British local golf rules into one standard document. The formal rules were first issued in 1899.

Golf has had an addictive effect on many followers. It seems that as the ambitions of The Royal East India Company (Queen Elizabeth l sanctioned the company in 1600) took hold in what then were remote outposts, or the emerging markets of their day, the often Scottish sea fairing adventurers, merchants and military personnel took golf too.

Golf did not explode upon these new market opportunities. It was first introduced at the headquarters settlement of The Royal East India Company, a quasi-governmental, military and administrative authority figure that traded with the Mughal Empire that controlled much of India in the early days of British colonial expansion. The Royal East India Company oversaw the Indian subcontinent and farther points of early conquest or settlement habitation for the British Crown. Early British contact with the port of Calcutta began about 1690, earlier at Madras and Bombay. The settling of Calcutta as an administrative center and mercantile port was about 1757. The golf course only followed 72 years later.

The original, first course to be established by the gentlemen and administrators of The Royal East India Company, that was to become The Calcutta Golf Club course opened in 1829. The course was the landmark golfing and elite social venue for the English and Scottish gentlemen who transited Calcutta en route to stations in the interior of India, onward ports or to the expanding tea plantations of Assam inland from Calcutta. The early clubhouse was rather basic. The current majestic clubhouse dates to the relocation of 1910-1912.  Indians only entered the clubhouse as employees. It was not until 1911 when the Royal warrant was granted by King George V and his Queen Mary upon their visit to Calcutta.

Royal Calcutta-1829, is the first club course set up outside the United Kingdom that remains, but not in the original location. It appears that golf was played in Tasmania, at Bothwell, as early as 1822 or 1823 on the Ratho Farm. Newspaper documentation confirms flourishing play in the 1850s. The settlers here were from Eastern Scotland, Edinburgh, Leith, St Andrews, East Lothian area where the Leith Links course and the St Andrews course had been in use for many years. A couple of the settlers were members of the Society of St. Andrews Golfers back home. The Ratho Links course saw Bothwell Golf Club organized in 1839.The original course was six holes out, six holes in along the River Clyde.  Sheep provided the grass mowing. In later years horses pulled the fairway mower. Today 200 Merino sheep attend to the fairways. The course remains in its original location with six new holes added for 18 as hickory shaft or championship play.

There was a diversity of follow-on courses, mostly sponsored by Scottish and – or English adventuring colonial, business and merchant fortune seekers and settlers. What is interesting however is that the third oldest, Pau Golf Club, (1856), South West France may have been a bit of joint English-French collaboration seeking to share the joy of golf with gastronomy, foie gras, Claret and Armagnac. The Scots brought a wee bit of Whisky too.

Early golf developed primarily following the colonization, military and business pursuits as the British Empire expanded. An effort was made at Otago (Edinburgh of the South) in New Zealand to form a golf club in 1863 but it was not until six years later (1869) that the first balls were struck, and the club formed in 1871. An early mover at Otago had been a Scottish settler who came from the town of Bothwell and Ratho Links in Tasmania. Number four, Manchester Club was an outgrowth of the sugar, citrus and rum trade in Jamaica. Batavia Golf Club was a product of the competition between the British and the Dutch to control the wealth coming from the Spice Islands.

As is today, golf was a social event as much as recreational, a pastime activity and a status symbol for many, especially when other forms of entertainment or recreation were lacking. Golf was like a comfort food to them.

It appears that the colonial overlords of India, particularly those of Scottish decent did their best to remind themselves of home. The Royal Bombay Golf Club was established in 1842 but did not survive. The British also inserted golf into Burma sometime after 1886 with the 5th Bengal Infantry at Pyin Oo Lwin (early 1900s May Mao Golf Club), a hill station in the cooler highlands out from Mandalay. A full 18 holes emerged early in the 20th century.

These old courses did not begin as 18 hole proper courses. Founders or members or local citizens and often nature, were the architects. Five, seven, nine or even twelve holes became the form. The Old Course at St Andrews was twelve holes in 1764. It was expanded over time to 22 holes but in 1857 several holes were combined to yield the first 18 hole circuit. In 1867 Old Tom Morris expanded Carnoustie from 10 to 18 holes. Prestwick expanded from 12 to 18 holes in 1882. The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers relocated from Musselburgh to Muirfield at Gullane, East Lothian in 1891, first 16 holes with two more added the following year. The course was created under the direction of Old Tom Morris. In 1923 Harry Colt did a substantial redesign which is played to this day.

Greens may have been smooth spots on the sandy ground, or indigenous grass mown short by goats, sheep or cattle. Bunkers emerged from wind or water erosion or the action of the rabbits or other animals. Ponds were only if naturally occurring. There was no artificial irrigation. The grasses were what was growing in the location. Turf maintenance was rudimentary or minimal, or provided by the local livestock. Elegant clubhouses were not the case until later times.  A tent canopy or lean-to was sufficient early on.

To many Brits, any golf was better than none, when residing so far from the civilization of the home island. These courses evolved often as selective members clubs.

The current locations of some courses are removed from the original land due to various expansion, economic, consolidation or political pressures. Ratho Golf Links-Bothwell (1839) in Tasmania, Jorhat Gymkhana (1876) and Bangalore Golf Club (1876) in India may be the oldest residing yet on the original ground.

This listing is a means to give insight to the depth of golf beyond the land of origin as a sport and recreational life style. Not all of these courses began as private clubs but merely groupings of likeminded sportsmen. The British, more pointed, the Scots, surely brought golf to the world.  The following is a listing of what I believe to be the oldest existing courses created outside the United Kingdom. No doubt there were others added as the new century 1900 approached.

From Leith and St Andrews to the world.

1  Royal Calcutta Golf Club, Kolkata, India. 1829.

First golf course organized outside the United Kingdom. Originally at Maidan area. Relocated to Tollygunge area in 1910. Royal designation 1911 from King George V. The club had 420 members in 1892. First All India Amateur Championship in December 1892. Event continues as longest running championship after The Open. Ladies reluctantly admitted by vote in 1886. The first Indian Captain was elected in 1963.

2  Ratho Golf Links-Bothwell Club, Bothwell, Tasmania, Australia.

Golf began in 1823 with Scottish settlers from Leith, Edinburgh, East Lothian area, club formed 1839, six holes out, six holes back to the start. First course in   Southern Hemisphere.  Recently expanded to 18 links inspired holes. The original square green shapes have been retained.

3  Pau Golf Club, Billere, Aquitaine, Pyrenees Atlantic, France. 1856.

First course on European soil.

4  Manchester Club, Golf Course. Mandeville, Parish of Manchester, Jamaica. 1865.

Established as a hill station country club with golf. Nine greens, 18 tees. Oldest and first course in Western Hemisphere. Six hundred twenty eight m (2061ft) above sea level. “The most English town in Jamaica”   Adjacent Mandeville Hotel from 1875.

5  Otago Golf Club– originally Dunedin Golf Course, Dunedin, Maori Hill, South Island, New Zealand.

First press mention about golf here in 1863. First balls struck in 1869, club organized 1871, nine holes.  Second course in Southern Hemisphere. Became Otago Golf Club at Balmacewen in 1896.

6  Jakarta Golf Club, (Batavia Golf Club) 1872, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Nine holes. Relocated to Rawamangun district of Jakarta in 1937 expanding to 18 holes. Now in middle of the city.  The third course below the equator. In 1953 name change to Djakarta Golf Club, 1975 to Jakarta Golf Club. First course in South East Asia to convert putting greens from local Sarangoon grass to Hybrid Tifdwarf super fine Bermuda grass, 1976.

7  Christchurch Golf Club, (Shirley Links), Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. April 1873.

Originally at Hagley Park, nine holes. Relocated to Shirley location in 1900. Expanded to 18 holes in 1910. Ladies club formed in 1892. Commencement of annual interclub competition with Otago Golf Club, 1892.

8   The Royal Montreal Golf Club, Lle Bizard, Quebec, Canada.

Founded by eight gentlemen in November 1873. Relocated to Dixie in 1896 and to the Bizard home in 1959. Oldest course in North America; Royal designation from Queen Victoria, 1884.

9  Royal Quebec Golf Club, Boischatel, Quebec, Canada 1874.

Founded by Scot-Qubecer businessmen. Originally on the Plains of Abraham, where Scottish solders were noted playing golf in 1760. Relocated in 1915 and again to current location in 1925. Royal designation from King George V in 1934. Second oldest course in North America.

10- Niagra on the Lake Golf Club, Ontario, Canada, 1875.

Originally Mississauga Links, at the site of Fort Mississauga, beside Lake Ontario. Expanded from several to nine holes. Club formed in 1881. First USA – Canada cross border tournament in North America played here in 1895. Charles Blair MacDonald won. Originally a links style course; now fully turfed. Remains nine holes on original site.

11  Jorhat Gymkhana Club, Jorhat, Assam, India,  early 1876.

Second original course remaining in India. A few original greens continue in play. Shares site with annual Governor’s Cup horse race week in early February, which began in 1877. Adjacent to Tocklai Tea Research Station established in 1911.

12  Bangalore Golf Club, Bangalore, India, founded in late 1876. Originally 9 holes. Remains in original location, now central Bangalore city. Compact 18 holes.

13 Toronto Golf Club, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada 1876.

Clubhouse constructed in 1894.  Relocated to current site in 1911.

14  Madras Gymkhana Club (Guindy Golf location inside race track) Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.

Golf play started in 1877.  Club founded 1884. Home and home inter club matches began between Madras Gymkhana and Bangalore Golf Club in 1878.

15  Shillong Golf Club, Polo Grounds, Shillong, Maghalaya, India.

Play started in 1878. Colonial hill station location. Founded by British Civil Service officers. Club incorporated in 1886. Primarily original site expanded to 18 holes in 1924.

16  Royal Colombo Golf Club, Colombo, Sri Lanka 1879.

Royal designation from King George V, 1928

17  Oakhurst Links, White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. 1884.

A small course, 30 acres, (12.5ha) nine holes, laid out by Russell Montague, a Scottish emigrant. First golf course in USA.  Now part of the Greenbrier Resort. Only Hickory shaft clubs may be used. Period costumes encouraged.

18  Taiping Golf Course, Taiping, Perak, Malaysia. 1885.

Nine Holes, founded by English tin miners and rubber planters. Merging into New Club Taiping, 1895, play continued at the location until 1995 when the site was converted to a public park.

19  Royal Cape Golf Course at Waterloo Green, Wynberg Military Camp, South Africa. November 4, 1885

Founded by Lt. General Sir Henry Torrens. South Africa’s first course. Relocated in 1891 to Rondebosch Commons then to present home in Wynberg, Western Cape in 1905. Royal warrant from King George V 1910.

20 St. Andrews Golf Club, Yonkers, New York, founded February 1888, by the Scot John Reid.

Originally 3 holes, using an apple tree as clubhouse shelter. Expanded to 18 on relocation in 1897. Remains on this site. One of five founding clubs of USGA. Oldest continually existing golf club in USA. Twenty miles from New York City.

21  Royal Antwerp Golf Club, Kapellenbos, Belgium. Founded in 1888, relocated to Kapellenbos , north of Antwerp in 1912.

22  Le Golf de Biarritz, Biarritz, Pays Basque, France. 1888. British summer holiday area. Located at original sea side cliff location.

23 Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, 1889, at the town of the same name, Sri Lanka, began as a colonial hill station course founded by British tea planters in the central highlands. Located on original site.

24  Hong Kong Golf Club was formed on May 10, 1889 by ”thirteen golfing enthusiasts“ at Happy Valley. By 1891 there were 100 members. The course moved to Deep Water Bay in 1898 with nine holes; shifted to present location, Fanling, New Territories in 1911. Royal added by Queen Victoria in 1897. The name reverted to Hong Kong Golf Club at time of handover of Hong Kong to Peoples Republic of China in 1996.

25 Mena House Golf Course, Pyramids Road, Giza, Egypt. Hotel, owned by an English family, opened in 1886, golf added in 1889. Nine holes with dual tees, mostly sand.  Adjacent to the Giza Pyramids. Remains in original location.

26  Oporto Golf Club (originally Porto Niblicks Golf Course), Porto, Portugal. 1890. Sand course. Founded by English Port wine producers and traders. Original membership was 24. Relocated in 1900 to become Porto Golf Club.

27 The Singapore Island Country Club. The Golf Club, in Singapore, was founded in June, 1891 at the race course, nine holes. British only membership. Bukit Course 18 opened in 1924. Race course site abandoned. Would evolve to Royal Singapore Golf Club in 1938 and then become Singapore Island Country Club in 1963 upon the merger of two private clubs to present 72 holes over the two retained locations, Bukit 36 and Island 36. Current principal membership 7,800; with family members 18,000.

28 The Gulmarg Course, originated in 1891 at a hill station- (2650m-8695ft altitude) British colonial summer retreat in the foothills of Himalayas out from Srinagar in Jammu-Kashmir, India. Winter ski area.

29 Ooty Golf Course, Ootacamund Gymkhana Club, Nilgiris  mountains, Tamil Nadu, south India.   Hill station location. Altitude of 7,200 to 7,400 feet. English district engineer Colonel Ross Thomson, set up small golf in 1891. Nine holes in 1895. Club formed in 1896 with fifteen holes. Relocated in 1899 to have 18 holes. Sand greens converted to grass in 1929. Same site since 1899.

30 Shinnecock Hills, South Hampton, Long Island, New York. Formed in 1891, twelve holes, expanded by Willie Park to 18 in 1895. Hosted second US Open in 1896. Shifted to adjacent site in 1931. First purpose built golf club house in USA, 1892.

31 Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, Illinois. In 1892informal nine holes at Belmont; added nine in 1893. Charter for Chicago Golf Club 1893. In 1894 relocated to Wheaton and space for proper 18 holes. First full 18 holes in United States. Founded and designed by Charles Blair MacDonald. Site of first US  Amateur Championship 1895. Membership restricted to 120: invitation only.

32 The Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts was founded in 1882 as the “First Country Club” in the United States. Early informal golf, with informal golf course of six holes.  Relocated in 1886, expanding to 18 holes in 1899. Fifteen USGA Championships and the Ryder Cup have been played.

33 Selangor Golf Club, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was formed by Scottish coffee growers in January 1893. Golf had been played earlier at the Lake Garden site with five holes.  Club play began in October of that year with thirty members and a tent for a clubhouse. Relocation to Petaling Hill, was followed in 1918 when a larger site was arranged at the current Circular Road location where play began in 1921; then on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Royal designation by Malay King added in 1963.

34 Newport Country Club, Rhode Island, USA. 1893. Nine holes originally, expanded to 18 in 1915, Donald Ross design. Site of first US Open, 1895.

35 Tacoma Country and Golf Club,  Lakewood, Washington, 1894 golf only.

Promoted by Scottish settlers. Relocated to American Lake location in 1905 with country club and golf. First golf course west of Mississippi River.

36 Tullygunge Country Club, Tullygunge, South Kolkata, India. 1895.

Originally an indigo plantation. Began as out of town family country club.  Eighteen holes of golf on 40 ha. (100 acres). Club house is an estate mansion over two hundred years old.

It must be of interest that so many of the old remaining courses are to be found in India. There are more old and small courses in tea garden estates in Assam, north east India, that have not been sorted out which date back 100 years or more. In all there are 22 of these “tea courses” mostly nine hole, in Assam that originated with the tea industry pioneered by the the Royal East India Company from 1840.  One of these early layouts dating from 1878, Madden Memorial Gymkhana Club, near Dibrugarth in far east Assam was washed away by a major flood of the Brahmaputra River in 1955; quite a loss.

This list can be expanded by those so inclined to list other courses which were founded prior to 1900.  Two American courses, Presidio Golf Course (1896) at San Francisco and Del Monte Golf Course (1897) at Monterey, California are among those closing on 1900. Ipoh Golf Course, later Royal Perak Golf Club, in Perak, Malaysia was founded as nine holes on the race track some time before 1900, by tin and rubber planters. It was relocated and expanded to 18 holes in 1932.

As the new century approached, national economies were expanding. The introduction of new country and golf clubs for those with the money increased. There may be ancient courses elsewhere that can impact this listing. So be it. The list does deserve to be updated or adjusted or corrected to be accurate. Bragging rights go with this listing. Some courses once thought to be nearer the beginning have been demoted as the remote and ancient South Asia hill station and tea garden courses are discovered and other old gems elsewhere in the remains of the Empire such as Ratho Links are recognized.