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Formation

In 1786, two years before George Washington was elected the first President of the USA and three years before the storming of the Bastille in Paris, a group of eleven gentlemen met at the Golf Inn in Crail and together formed the Crail Golfing Society. Since then, through the upheaval of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Victorian Age, two World Wars and the Cold War, the gentlemen of Crail have continued to enjoy their golf while playing a full role in the events happening around them. Click on the 'Journey Through History' tab to see a fascinating chart showing the significant events at Crail Golfing Society alongside significant events in the rest of the golfing world, and the wider world.

There is evidence that golf was played in Crail long before 1786, on part of the farm at Sauchope under a dual rights of occupancy arrangement – golfing and grazing. According to the Gazetteer of Scotland published in 1832 there was a golf club at Crail in 1760 – there are no records.

The records of 1786 are still preserved; indeed the Society still possesses a complete set of minutes from the date of its inception. The image is of the minute of the first meeting on 23rd February 1786; click to view an enlargement. The first Secretary was Mr Stuart Grace, also Secretary to the Royal and Ancient at the time.

There are, in fact, only six older golf clubs in the world:

The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh (1735), The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (1744), The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (1754), The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society (1764), The Royal Musselburgh Golf Club (1774) and The Royal Aberdeen Golf Club (1780).

In those early days members wore scarlet jackets with yellow buttons and dined at the Golf Inn after a day on the links. The records show members being fined for failing to attend the dinner.

Monthly meetings were held until the end of the eighteenth century followed by dinner at the 'local inn'. The dinner seemed to have had at least equal importance to the golf at that time. Minutes describe the end of meetings variously but 'the members separated at a seasonable hour' is suggestive of the nature of the meetings.

The Society enforced its regulations by a system of fines, which causes the Minute Book at certain periods to resemble a police court register. The fine in 1789 for not attending the dinner, and failure to give adequate notice, was to pay for the not consumed dinner. This was deemed an insufficient punishment and it was later that year that absentees were ordered to pay an additional mutchkin of punch. The official uniform had to be worn at meetings under the same liquid penalty. What is less clear is who consumed the fines! A lesson here for the current Management Committee?

Resolution

'Several gentlemen in and about the town of Crail, who were fond of the diversion of golf, agreed to form themselves into a Society to be known by the name of The Crail Golfing Society. The Society was accordingly instituted upon the 23rd day of February 1786'.

Founder members

Although Mr Grace was appointed Secretary on 23rd February 1786 he was not admitted to the Society until 4th March so denied the opportunity to be considered a founder member. That august body was:

Sir Charles Erskine, Bart

Capt William Ranken

Patrick Murray

Methven Erskine

John Chiene

David Moncur

David Erskine

George Chiene

Daniel Conolly

William Erskine

William Chiene

 

The gentlemen who founded the Society were drawn from many classes, and consisted of landed proprietors, naval and army officers, a writer to the signet, ship masters, farm tenants, bailies of Crail and the landlord of the local inn.

The first meeting elected Capt. William Ranken to be captain of the Society, and Mr Patrick Murray, chaplain. Captain Ranken has a lasting memorial in the Ranken-Todd Bowl, gifted in 1895 by Professor John Chiene, C.B., of the Chair of Surgery, Edinburgh University, and members of the family of Fortune, in memory of Capt. Ranken and Richard Todd, tenant of Balcomie, who used to keep the links in order for the Society.

Within twenty five years three of their number, all members of the same family, had been raised to the peerage, a remarkable and probably unique occurrence in the history of golfing Societies. These three gentlemen were Charles, Thomas and Methven Erskine, the eighth, ninth and tenth Earls of Kellie, all of whom filled the office of captain. On the death of the last named the title merged into that of Mar.

Daniel Conolly was landlord of the Golf Inn and father of Matthew Forster Conolly, Town Clerk of Crail and author of historical works on Fife.