Legal disputes concerning the lawful production of golf balls in Edinburgh date back to 1554, when a group of cobblers were found illegally making featheries.
The connection between golf and education can be traced back even further. James Melville, a student of St. Andrews University in 1574, was a golfing fanatic. His journal reflected his passion for the sport and was illustrative of how it was played. He also recounted that Robert Stewart, Bishop of Caithness, whose seat was at the Dornoch Cathedral, was a very competent sportsman who favoured golf and archery above all other recreations.
As far back as 1594, James VI secured Monday afternoons for school pupils’ recreation, to help mitigate the profanation of the Sabbath by practicing sport on Sundays. Kings and Marischal Colleges then designated supervised periods of physical education on the links for their students. The links were a busy place and cheers and jeers would have been heard from students for keen strikes as well as for duffed shots.
In 2016 Dornoch will mark four centuries of golf being played in the area with the earliest concrete evidence of the game known to this point dating back to 1616.
John, the adolescent earl of Sutherland, was known to golf, ride and practice his archery while enrolled at the Dornoch Grammar School from 1616.
King James VI, a known patron of the game, intervened in the industry in 1618 and granted James Melville a twenty-one year monopoly for ball making. Melville’s high-handed actions however created further legal action as his rivals from Leith petitioned the Privy Council in 1629 for their intervention. John Dickson, one of the petitioners against Melville, moved from Leith to Aberdeen in 1642 and found a new market for his golf ball making abilities. Dickson then received a licence for his craft from the burgh, as the community was without such a craftsman.
David Wedderburn, headmaster of the Aberdeen Grammar School, solidified golf’s position in grammar school curricula with his vastly popular Latin phrasebook, Vocabula. This book served as a learning aid for pupils, introducing them to conversational Latin. It remained in print from 1636 until the early eighteenth century. It discussed numerous sports such as Archus (Archery), Bacculus (Golf), Globi (Bowls) and Pila Pedalis (Football) so that the students would continue to use Latin while out on the links exercising.
The professionalization of the craft continued westward to Elgin. In 1652 George Watsone, mentioned in a previous post, appeared in the Elgin council records as a burgess and ‘golfballmaker’ in a non-golf related commercial dispute.
To compliment the work of Dickson and Watsone, Alexander Gordon and his son James plied their trade making golf clubs as burgesses of Banff from 1652 to at least 1691.