GOLFING THE ROYAL COURSES By Global Golfer (Article)


stockwell july 2017

David Stockwell

Playing the "Royals"
(© by the Global Golfer. Article should not be sold or distributed without the permission of the author)

Actually there are no "Royal" golf courses because the right to use the
prefix "Royal" is granted by the British Monarch to golf societies (2:
Perth and Burgess in Scotland) and to golf clubs (64) not to golf
courses. Two of these 66 play on municipal courses and the most
famous, the Royal & Ancient, uses the Old Course for most of its

The other is Royal Epping Forest where members play
on the Chingford municipal course outside London near the last and
most eastward, Central Line underground stop in Essex. The course is
on land which was part of the Royal Forest where both King Henry
VIII and Queen Elizabeth I hunted. Two other "Royals" in Scotland do
not have their own courses and play on public courses: Royal Montrose
which uses the Montrose Medal or Broomfield Links course and Royal
Perth which uses the North Inch Course where golf has been played for
more than 500 years beside the River Tay. Royal patronage is a
separate honour and currently only 18 of the 66 have royal patrons;
Prince Andrew is the patron of 14 of these including Royal Colwood in
B. C.

The first "Royal" was the Perth Golfing Society when, in 1833, King
William IV granted the Society royal patronage and the right to add the
prefix "Royal" to their title. The second was the Society of St. Andrews
Golfers. At first, the King only granted permission to add "Royal" to
their title, withholding royal patronage but after one of the prominent
members of the Society, Major Belshes, diplomatically wrote back to
the King’s private Secretary pointing out that patronage had been
granted to the Perth Society the previous year, in 1834 the R & A
received royal patronage as well. Golf at this time was mainly a
Scottish sport; indeed when Victoria became Queen in 1837 there were
only three golf clubs in England.

The first five "Royal" golf clubs & societies, all with Royal patronage,
were in the UK. The first club outside the UK was the Montreal Golf
Club, founded in 1873 and the oldest club in North America, which
was granted Royal patronage from Queen Victoria and the right to use
the "Royal" prefix in 1884. It was the sixth. Clubs outside the UK in
Malta and Australia followed in 1888 and 1895 respectively.
Requesting royal patronage and the addition of "Royal" to a club’s title
has changed over the years. For Perth, it was a direct request to
William IV by the club’s captain, Lord Kinnaird. Other requests were
made through the monarch’s private secretary, an MP or though the
Home Office. As golf became a more popular sport with British
royalty, requests were often made direct to various members of the
Royal Family. After some missteps it became clear that the monarch
had the final say and the Home Office brought order to the clubs that
were using the Royal prefix without "proper" authority. Requests from
British colonies increased around the turn of the 20
1919 the Home Office promulgated guidelines that had the effect to
restrict granting the title "Royal". Now in the UK, applications go
through the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office with recommendations
coming through the Cabinet Office’s Parliament and Constitution

In Canada application is made to the Office of the Governor General
providing details of why a club has a special reason for consideration.
The Governor General’s Office then forwards the request to the
Department of Canadian Heritage, State Ceremonial and Protocol
Directorate. If they see merit and make a positive recommendation
back to the Governor General (and if the Governor General agrees),
then the request is sent to the Queen through the British Deputy
Minister’s Office. However, Queen Elizabeth II has granted the
privilege to use the prefix "Royal" for golf clubs only 8 times during
her 60¬year reign, so the chances of approval are slight.

There are now 66 "Royals": 19 in England, 10 in Scotland, 8 in
Australia, 6 in Canada, 4 in South Africa, 3 in Northern Ireland, 2 in
the Channel Islands, Wales, Ireland and New Zealand and 1 in each of
Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malta, Sri Lanka, the Czech Republic, India, Papua
New Guinea and Germany. Only two are nine¬hole courses: Royal
Worlington and Newmarket and the Royal Household course in
Windsor. Some clubs were "Royals" but for various reasons are
"Royals" no longer: for example, Craggan in Scotland, Hong Kong and
the Isle of Wight. At one time there were two Royal clubs exclusively
for women: Eastbourne Ladies’ and Ashdown Forest Ladies’.
However, they merged with the mens’ clubs at Eastbourne (1937) and
Ashdown Forest so by 1951 there were no separate Ladies’ Royals.
One, Curragh in Ireland, decided to forsake its Royal title in 1920 but
in December 2013 their members voted for reinstatement so it is again
the Royal Curragh Golf Club.

Other monarchs have copied the practice: for example in Belgium,
Morocco, Malaysia, Thailand and Bhutan. And then there are clubs that
use the title without permission of the crown: examples are "Royal"
Tara in Ireland, "Royal" Papineau, Bromont, Charbourg and Laurentian
in Quebec and Niagara, Ashburn, Woodbine and Downs in Ontario.
In 1977 I had played the Royal Colombo course in Sri Lanka while on
leave during my assignment to Pakistan and Royal Colwood on my
return to Canada and thought it might be a challenge to try to play a
few more the "Royal " courses but I had few opportunities immediately
thereafter. However, in July, 1980 I played the red course at Royal
Montreal with my father¬in-law, Dr. Harry Scott, who was the longest¬playing member of the Club,
having started as a junior member in the early 1930's. His great-
grandfather, ,was the first Secretary of the Club when it began on
Fletchers Field in the heart of Montreal. I asked him about the prefix
"Royal" and he gave me some information which piqued my interest.
A posting to London in 1981 presented the opportunity to pursue more
vigorously playing the "Royals". My research indicated there were 60,
with Troon in Scotland having been the latest Royal (1978) added to
the list at that time. When I headed back to Canada in 1985, I had
played 13 in the UK bringing my total to 16. I realized that the most
effective way to get to play these courses was to write to the secretaries
of the clubs telling them of my desire to play all the royals (and how
many I had played to that point), requesting a tee time reservation and
asking to play with a member, if possible. Many replies were not only
courteous but had an added benefit of play at the "courtesy of the club"
or to pay at the much¬reduced, member¬guest rate rather than at the
rack rate. At some of the clubs, a member had written a book of the
history of the club and I was occasionally given a copy and I started to
buy "Royal" logo golf balls as souvenirs. I played with club presidents,
captains and directors but also played on my own or just picked up a
game with other fee¬paying guests. I took small bottles of Canadian ice
wine to leave with those who had helped, carefully explaining to chill
them in a freezer before pairing them with dessert. There were some
incredulous looks!! At Hobart I was invited to play in their weekly
competition and won 2 golf balls much to my delight and their chagrin.
Sometimes I was invited to club lunches or dinners after playing but
there was a quid pro quo of a short talk about my plan to play all the

It was always fun despite gale¬force winds (coming off the north sea at
Troon), snow flurries (in late May while playing the Old course in St
Andrews) or the 40 minute taxi ride from the airport in Calcutta to the
golf club, wondering if I would ever make it back to my onward flight
later that afternoon. There were magic moments too: watching hump-
back whales in the Indian Ocean from the 12
Alfred in South Africa; the 80 foot putt for a par on the 18
Course much to my delight and to the onlookers on the Links Road
who gave me a loud round of applause; a birdie on the Postage Stamp
at Troon on that windy day; having to check the tide charts so that I
could get to (and from) the Royal West Norfolk Club; the clubhouse at
Blackheath and every links course, everywhere. There is something
about the sight of gorse and broom in the spring or heather in the fall
that makes the pulse accelerate but doesn’t improve your game and a
ball lost in the gorse is truly lost. I also discovered that golf clubs in the
UK had the best fish and chips, inexpensive beer and often excellent
wine. In Scotland it was haggis, neaps and tatties; single malt with
shortbread is also a real treat.

Personal and official travel, family and golf holidays and two
assignments to Africa until my retirement in October 2004 brought the
total to 28. Two more clubs had been added to the list but one (Royal
Hong Kong) had dropped off in 1996 so I was almost half way through.
One of these new "Royals" was in the Czech Republic. This was a
surprise for me but did offer a great location for a European holiday.
By 2008 I was up to 45...but another 2 had been added. The difficulty
was getting to play the last two in Africa but after an unexpected
temporary assignment in Ethiopia 2009, I took advantage of proximity
and flew to Johannesburg and rented a car to drive to Durban and Port
Alfred, playing these two, final African Royals. Trips to Australia and
New Zealand (2012), the Czech Republic (2013), England and the
Channel Islands (May 2014) and finally Malta (in October 2014)
brought my total to 60. My plan had been to play the fifth and sixth
Canadian "Royals" (Mayfair and Regina) and then travel to the UK to
complete my quest by playing the Royal Household course in Windsor.
It was in Malta that I discovered that not 3 but 6 remained: Port
Morseby in Papua New Guinea, Homburger near Frankfurt, Germany
and the reinstated Curragh in Ireland having been added to the list. So
my travel plans have been expanded and the adventure continues.
© (The Global Golfer is a retired Canadian diplomat who now lives in
Chelsea, Quebec and who has played golf on more than 500 courses in
48 countries.)

Tags: David Stockwell