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Statue only fair way to honour 'home of golf'

Its exact origins have long been shrouded in mystery, but that has never prevented various "home of golf" claims being made.

Now Leith has bolstered its bid with plans to create a major new landmark honouring the captain of the first club to lay down the rules of the game.

One of Scotland's leading sculptors, David Annand – who was behind statues of three-time motor racing world champion Jim Clark, accordion legend Sir Jimmy Shand and poet Robert Fergusson – has been commissioned to create a two-metre high statue of John Rattray.

He was a founding member of the Company of Honourable Golfers, which was to stage the first official match at Leith Links, where the statue will be located, in 1744. It was instigated by the then Edinburgh Town Council to replace a custom of making up the rules on the day of a game. It was another ten years before golf was played competitively at St Andrews.

Historians in Leith, where golf is reputed to have been played in the 15th century, launched a bid to have the port established as the home of golf nine years ago, when games were reinstated on Leith Links.

Rattray, a surgeon, signed off the very first rules and went on to win the first competition, for the Silver Club donated by the council, to replace previous wagers such as legs of mutton, or firkins of whisky.

He won the competition the following year, but left to join the Jacobite army and tended the wounded after the Battle of Prestonpans. He was persuaded to accompany Bonnie Prince Charlie's army south to Derby and back to disastrous defeat at Culloden, where he was seized. He was spared from the noose when Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Forbes, a golfing partner of Rattray's, made a personal plea on his behalf.

The bronze statue of Rattray is earmarked for a proposed new pedestrian entrance to the links at Salamander Place. A £150,000 campaign is being run by the Leith Rules Golf Society to pay for the new monument, which will be erected on a circular pavement platform and will also feature two stone columns carved with the original rules of the game.

A spokeswoman said: "It will become a most significant visitor destination as well as a place of peace and contemplation for the community itself."

Mr Annand, who is based in Kilmany, in Fife, said: "It's very unusual being asked to create a sculpture of someone from such a long time ago. There are no photographs and only a few paintings. The other interesting thing is that golf was played very differently in those days, with one foot in front of the other."

Leith councillor Gordon Munro said: "Leith is the home of golf and this statue is apt for the place where the first rules of the game were agreed."

Ancient game has roots throughout Scotland

Although Leith Links may be the place where the rules were first written down, it is not the only place in Scotland to claim a long association with golf.

Bruntsfield Links, in Edinburgh, inspired the first written account of a game of golf – dating from 1456.

The following year King James II, fearing the popularity of the game was distracting his archers from their battle drill, issued an edict demanding: "fute-ball and golfe be utterly cryed down and not to be used".

The ban was not formally lifted until 1502 – when James VI became an enthusiastic player of the game.

Musselburgh Golf Course in East Lothian is widely held to be the oldest golf course still in use – having been established in 1672.

Although the fundamental rules were drafted in Leith in 1744 it was the Society of St Andrews Golfers, founded in 1754, which was to publish and formalise the rules. It was the golfers of St Andrews who introduced stroke play and who constructed the first 18-hole course.

The Fife home of golf became known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews when King William IV became the patron in 1834.

St Andrews was also the home of the first women's golf club in the world, founded in 1895.

Prestwick, in Ayrshire, holds a record of its own – being the site of the first professional Open Championship held in 1860. But it was on Leith Links where the first international golf championship was held – when a team of the Duke of York and George Patterson, playing for Scotland, beat two English noblemen representing their own country.

Source: Brian Ferguson, The Scotsman, Tuesday, 27th April, 2010