Anyone who has ever had the privilege of playing the Old Course at St. Andrews—or has watched Open Championships being played there on TV—will be familiar with the stately clubhouse that stands watch from just behind the first tee. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews has a long and proud history, and its membership is a “Who’s Who” of luminaries from the worlds of commerce, politics, and golf. But the Royal and Ancient isn’t the only club that calls the Old Course and the other St. Andrews courses home.
Unlike most golf clubs in the United States, where each club owns and operates its own course, in Scotland multiple clubs often share access to the same course. This is the case in St. Andrews, where the members of several clubs enjoy tee time privileges on the Links Trust courses and routinely hold their own club events over those famed links: The Old, New, Jubilee, Eden, Balgove, Strathtyrum, and Castle, the newest Links Trust course. The clubs also play each other frequently, including during the Town Match held each September, when bragging rights are most definitely on the line.
Here’s a list of the clubs of St. Andrews, beginning with the Royal and Ancient, which one might consider to be something of a first among equals. Gaining a membership to one of them might take some doing—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club
Founded in 1754, the Royal and Ancient is one of the oldest golf clubs in the world. In 1897, the club codified the Rules of Golf and for many years served as the governing body of the game of golf outside the U.S. and Mexico. In 2004, that part of its mandate was separated from the activities of the golf club, and the organization that today is known as the R&A is a group of separate commercial entities that’s responsible not just for overseeing the game’s rules, but for developing the game in emerging golfing nations and running many championships including the Open Championship. Having jettisoned its governing-body responsibilities, today’s Royal and Ancient is “just” a private golf club whose 2000-plus members have preferred access to the Old Course for events like its Autumn Meeting tournament, as well as special privileges on the neighboring New Course, which the R&A commissioned Old Tom Morris to create and which debuted in 1895.
The St. Andrews Golf Club
The St. Andrews Golf Club is sometimes called the “Club of Champions,” as many of its members are championship winners, including Old and Young Tom Morris, Jamie Anderson, and other former Open champions. The club grew out of an organization known as the Mechanics Golf Club and was formed in 1843. St. Andrews greenkeeper, clubmaker, and all-around playing legend Allan Robertson served as Captain of the club and in 1858 became the first person to break 80 on the Old Course. Bing Crosby gave a trophy to the club in 1972, some years after losing to a club member in the Amateur Championship held on the Old Course—but gaining a friend by the name of James K. Wilson in the process. In 1993, the club celebrated its 150th anniversary by hosting a competition against 150 players from each of the other Fife clubs (which it won), and in 2018 it similarly celebrated its 175th anniversary with a match against the other St. Andrews clubs. Its current clubhouse at 13 The Links overlooks the 18th green of the Old Course.
New Golf Club
The New Golf Club was founded in 1902 and the location of its clubhouse overlooking the 18th hole of the Old Course gives members a front-row seat to the action taking place there. Old Tom Morris was instrumental to the founding of this club, which made him an honorary member (along with such other luminaries as Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson). It was here that Old Tom suffered a fatal injury after falling down the cellar stairs. The club hosts 90 annual competitions of one kind or another, beginning January 1 with its RAF Cup and including weekly Stableford events and match-play events that culminate in finals held on the Old Course. The club also owns three apartments overlooking the Old Course that its members may reserve—including the luxurious Jones Suite, which sleeps up to eight people in four en suite bedrooms.
St. Andrews Thistle Golf Club
Originally known as the Merchants Club, the St. Andrews Thistle Club stays true to its roots by playing its competitions on Thursdays, which were the early-closing days for shops when the club was founded in 1817. The main criterion for joining is to be a member of one of the three senior men’s clubs in St. Andrews: The New Golf Club, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, or the St. Andrews Golf Club. The Thistle features a full club event list throughout the year, with two events over the winter months: The Bruce Trophy over three courses and the K.C. Wright Memorial Trophy over the Strathtyrum Course. This club does not have its own clubhouse, but in the spirit of cooperation operates from the premises of the St. Andrews Golf Club.
St. Rule Club
The St. Rule Club is a ladies club whose roots date back to 1896, when Ella Beatrice Boothby and 185 other founding members created it as a social club for women. The club moved to its present location at 12 The Links in 1898, as more and more members took up golf. The current clubhouse, like that of the other clubs mentioned, overlooks the 18th hole of the Old Course. The club stages the Order of Merit ladies amateur competition and the St. Andrews Ladies Open, which is held annually on the Jubilee Course in conjunction with the St. Regulus Ladies Golf Club. The prestigious St. Rule Trophy competition, which the club started in 1984, is now being run by the St. Andrews Links Trust. Though it is a club of keen golfers, its members also enjoy a wide range of other activities together, including bridge tournaments, arts and crafts, book clubs, and afternoon lectures.
St. Regulus Ladies Golf Club
St. Regulus is the younger of the area’s two ladies clubs—founded in 1913 by 25 former students of Madras College. The club’s season begins in March with its Captain-vs.-Vice Captain match and culminates in October with its Gourlay Foursomes competition. The club is particularly proud of its junior golf program for girls, which includes a full calendar of fun events, coaching, rules education, medal competitions, and inter-club matches.
St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club
There’s one other St. Andrews golf club that must be mentioned, but the members of this one confine their activities to putting. The St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club dates back to 1867 when a rudimentary short course was created by Old Tom Morris for the local golfing ladies to use in order to segregate them from the one occupied by idle caddies. Over time, the area became just a large putting green, and today, that area is known as “The Himalayas.” The humps and hollows of this massive green will test the best of players and make for a great afternoon out.
Which of the clubs at St. Andrews would you like to join?