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A Short History of St Andrews Links and the Acts of Parliament

The information in this document is taken from the Acts of Parliament applicable to the Links (linked) and an excellent history of the Links by Tom Jarret.*
An area of the Links was granted to the Burgh of St Andrews by King and Church in 1123 and the right to play golf on the links was first noted in 1552 the century in which the development of the Old course began. The Society of St Andrews Golfers, later the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) was founded in 1754.

The first and 18th fairways have never been out of public ownership but because of financial difficulties St Andrews town council sold parts of the Links at the end of the 18th century and the land had a number of owners notably the Dempsters who farmed rabbits on the land which caused ruination of the golf courses and conflict with local golfers. Resolution followed the purchase of the land from the Dempsters by James Cheape Laird of Strathtyrum and a member of the Society of St Andrews golfers.

The Old course was the sole golf course on the links for most of the 19th century and no charge was made for play, maintenance was paid for by the R&A. Golf became more popular as the cheaper gutta ball replaced the featherie and maintenance was made more expensive with the development of the more destructive iron headed clubs. The Leuchars to St Andrews railway line opened in 1852 transporting increasing numbers of visitors to take advantage of the free golf. A second golf course was required and Mr Cheape initially sold his part of the links to the R&A; however the town council pursued compulsory purchase and the parliamentary Act of 1894 conferred ownership to the town council and agreement for the R&A to build a second course on the links, the New Course opened 1895. The R&A continued to fund course maintenance but were allowed to charge visitors for use of the New Course.

The rough and ready 12 hole Jubilee course designed for beginners and ladies was constructed by the council and opened in 1897, it was extended to 18 holes in 1905 and was managed by the Town Links Committee which also managed the Eden Course once constructed. In addition to proposing a fourth course (The Eden Course) the Parliamentary Act of 1913 reserved daily Times on the old course for the R&A and on Thursday and Saturday afternoons for local golfers. The Act allowed for visitor charges for play on the courses but golf remained free for R&A members and local golfers, defined as the municipal voters of St Andrews and their families. Important changes included reduced charges for students of St Andrews University and for members of local golf clubs who were not resident in St Andrews, this led to relatively inexpensive golf for non- resident members of local clubs which led to a significant increase in such members who now form a substantial majority in local clubs.

The commitment of the R&A to maintaining the Old and New golf courses brought strain to the finances of the R&A towards the middle of the twentieth century which led the town council to propose charging local people to play on the links to assist with maintenance costs. Understandably there was considerable resistance to this which was orchestrated by the St Andrews Golf Club. The St Andrews GC reached an agreement with the town council that charges for local residents’ golf would not exceed 25% of those charged to other golfers. The 1946 Act of parliament provided for charging local residents for their golf but did not include the restriction of charges to 25% of that charged to other classes of golfer, it also allowed for the town council to make a contribution to the R&A for the maintenance of the golf courses although the amount was unspecified.

The 1974 Act was a response to the oncoming Scottish local government reorganisation which would amalgamate St Andrews District and the ownership of the Links into a larger region. At the time there were concerns that control of the Links might reside in Dundee or Edinburgh, but initially the Links ownership moved to North East Fife District and subsequently to Fife Region. In order to maintain control at a local level the 1974 Act set up the St Andrews Links Trust and the Links Management Committee. Of the eight trustees responsible for the Links three are nominated by Fife Council, three by the R&A, one is the local MP and one a Scottish Government nominee. The 1974 Act preserved the rights of local golfers and the R&A to some tee times and restricted the playing rates for resident golfers to one third of the ordinary rate although this could be overridden by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

* St Andrews Golf Links The first 600 years. Tom Jarrett. Mainstream Publishing Company Edinburgh Ltd 1995.

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