The History of Golf and Royalty

No country takes royalty as seriously as the United Kingdom does. Although the British crown is no longer the seat of government, it still holds plenty of historic, symbolic and popular interest. Members of the royal family are celebrities, and titles bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II are coveted rewards of status and accomplishment.

It’s an honor to be recognized by the monarchy, and it’s no different for golf clubs. The circle of golf clubs in the British Commonwealth with Royal status is an exclusive one, with just 61 members. In the past century, only two Scottish clubs, Royal Troon and Royal Burgess, have received Royal status.

The relationship between golf and the monarchy started in 1833 when King William IV bestowed the appellation upon Scotland’s Royal Perth Golfing Society. The king was also a patron of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which he crowned one year later. Since then clubs in 12 countries have been honored.

Officially, only the British sovereign can bestow Royal titles, but it does so upon the advice of the Ministry of Justice, to which interested clubs submit applications. As part of the vetting process, clubs must provide: reason(s) why the title is being sought; history of the organization; future plans; the present administration and activities; details of leading members and membership numbers; reports and accounts for the last three years; details of any royal/government associations; details of publications, providing examples where possible; and any other information considered appropriate.

In the past 50 years, the Secretary only has approved five clubs. While the exclusivity would give the appearance that the honor comes with numerous perks, the tangible rewards are few: Prestige and reciprocal playing privileges at similar clubs around the world are the main benefits that come with the title. Nor is there much pomp and circumstance with a successful bid: Clubs are quietly notified via letter.

Although reasons for acceptance or rejection remain veiled, there are certain factors that help a club’s cause. One of the most important is a connection to the royal family. Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title to Royal Marianske Lanze in the Czech Republic to celebrate King Edward VII’s role as one of the club’s founding members in 1905. The Prince of Wales played at Royal Johannesburg Golf Club while in South Africa in 1930 and liked it so much that King George V granted Royal approval the following year.

Anniversaries, centenaries and location are other factors. The most recent club to earn the title—Canada’s Royal Mayfair Golf & Country Club in 2005—received its status during Alberta’s 100th anniversary. Royal Troon, celebrating a centenary in 1978, noted in a successful bid both its position in the Open rota for 55 years and that no club in the west of Scotland had yet to receive Royal status at that time.

Timing also matters. A club lucky enough to submit a request during the reign of King George V had a very good chance of approval—between 1910 and 1935, he granted Royal status to 21 clubs in nine countries. But in recent decades, approvals have trickled.

Chalk that up perhaps to fewer royal golfers and a stricter application process.

Buckingham Palace by no means holds a monopoly on granting royal status to golf clubs. Outside the British Commonwealth, Belgium (Royal Waterloo Golf Club), Morocco (Marrakech Royal Golf Club) and Malaysia (Royal Selangor Golf Club) have royal courses. There was once even a Royal Baghdad Golf Club, built in the 1920s by British residents and anointed by then King Faisal.

But when it comes to royalty and golf, no country can match the combination of the storied, celebrated British monarchy and some of the best courses in the world.