Early Professional Golf

The term ‘professional’ became common in the 1850s. Before then, men who were not gentlemen golfers were described by their trade, for example ballmaker, clubmaker, caddie or greenkeeper. Few could make a living from playing golf alone.

The first reference to tournament golf is recorded on 22 September 1819.  Sweepstakes contributed by members of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club were played for by the town’s ballmakers, clubmakers and caddies. 

Professional matches, first reported in St Andrews in the 1830s, were common by the 1840s.  The stakes, which were often high, were put up by backers, rather than the players. 

Feather ballmaker Allan Robertson was the greatest player of his generation.  Such was his superior talent, his fellow golfers banned him from competing in the 1842 sweepstake tournament.  In a series of epic matches against Willie Dunn in 1843, 1844 and 1846, he lost only once.

Robertson also helped organise the Club’s Spring and Autumn medal competitions, and significantly oversaw the creation of double greens on the Old Course in 1856 and 1857.

The leading players who followed in his footsteps were Tom Morris Senior and Willie Park of Musselburgh, who played many challenge matches against one another.

(1) Willie Park Senior (2) Allan Robertson (3) Sandy Pirie, caddie and weaver

Did you know?

When Seve Ballesteros won The Open Championship at Lytham in 1979, he became the first winner from Continental Europe to lift the Claret Jug since Arnaud Massy from France in 1907.