It took a handful of imported clubs, a couple of balls, three hastily-landscaped holes, and a cowfield.
On this day 135 years ago, the United States’ love of golf began thanks to Scotsman John Reid. His is a fabled tale which helped to catch the imagination stateside as Reid showed his new, adopted country how to play the sport for the first time.
While King James IV of Scotland granted golf royal approval in 1502, 386 years prior to Reid in the States, the ability to pinpoint the exact origins of golf is unclear. But it is Reid who is uniformly regarded as having brought golf across the Atlantic.
Reid - an immigrant from Dunfermline - was the first president of St. Andrews Golf Club, then in Yonkers, New York, which is the oldest golf club in the US and is named for the historic venue of the same title in Fife.
The Links in Scotland can be dated to around 1400 (50 years before being banned by James II because it annoyingly interfered with archery practice, apparently) with the Old Course recognised worldwide as the ‘Home of Golf’. The area of land had even been involved in a turf war between avid golfers and irritated rabbit farmers for a good period of the early 19th Century.
But back to the East Coast. Then aged 48 and having lived in the US for a considerable number of years, Reid took several friends out onto a patch of cowfield and demonstrated putting with a couple of gutta percha balls in three makeshift cut holes - they weren’t even Reid’s clubs and had been borrowed from his Dunfermline friend Robert Lockhart who had returned from their homeland. Following the success of the trial, months later, Reid and his cohorts decided on forming a club. On November 14th, The Saint Andrew’s Club was born with Reid duly elected president. Today the institution proudly proclaims itself as being ‘first in golf since 1888’ and ‘revered as the cradle of golf in America’.
It is also one of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association (USGA), which was created in 1984. John Reid himself has commonly been found to be referred to as the “Father of American Golf”. However his most notable success as a professional golfer was finishing 10th at the first-ever US Open in 1895, and he has endured far more reverence for being mythologised as having had a significant influence in the instigation of the ‘19th Hole’ ritual; to have a tipple after a game. Indeed, Saint Andrews proclaims that their first ‘clubhouse’ was “an old apple tree from whose gnarled branches they hung their coats and obligatory flasks of fine scotch whisky”, with Reid and his fellow founding fathers referred to as the first ‘Apple Tree Gang’.
John Reid died in 1916, aged 75, and the Saint Andrew’s club and course has been moved from that original cowfield. Since 1897 its location has been Hastings-on-Hudson. But thanks to Reid, and those loaned golf clubs from Dunfermline, the United States continues to profit from possibly its greatest ever sporting import.