Surgeon, Jacobite and golfer
On 7th March 1744 the City of Edinburgh Council agreed to provide the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, later to become the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, with a prize for their Open competition to be held on Leith Links.
The City agreed to purchase a Silver Club on condition that the golfers provided a set of regulations and rules for the golf match. The original 13 Articles and Laws of the playing of golf were drawn up by John Rattray and are now in the care of National Libraray of Scotland. These 13 rules were:
- You must Tee your Ball within a Club’s length of the Hole.
- Your Tee must be upon the Ground.
- You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the Tee.
- You are not to remove Stones, Bones or any Break Club, for the sake of playing your Ball, except upon the fair Green, & that only within a Club’s length of your Ball.
- If your Ball come among Water, or any watery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball & bringing it behind the hazard and Teeing it, you may play it with any Club and allow your Adversary a Stroke for so getting out your Ball.
- If your Balls be found anywhere touching one another, you are to lift the first Ball, till you play the last.
- At Holling, you are to play your Ball honestly for the Hole, and, not to play upon your Adversary’s Ball, not lying in your way to the Hole.
- If you should lose your Ball, by its being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the Spot where you struck last, & drop another Ball, and allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune.
- No man at Holling his Ball, is to be allowed, to mark his way to the Hole with his Club or any thing else.
- If a Ball be stopp’d by any person, Horse, Dog, or any thing else, The Ball so stop’d must be play’d where it lyes.
- If you draw your Club in order to Strike & proceed so far in the Stroke, as to be bringing down your Club; If then, your Club shall break, in any way, it is to be Accounted a Stroke.
- He whose Ball lyes farthest from the Hole is obliged to play first.
- Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made for the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholar’s Holes or the Soldier’s Lines, shall be accounted a Hazard; But the Ball is to be taken out Tee’d and playd with any Iron Club.
Rattray would win the Silver Club in 1744 and again in 1745.
Later in 1745, following the Battle of Prestonpans – where Rattray had gone to treat the wounded – he joined the Jacobite army and travelled with them throughout the campaign.
By the time of the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 he had become the personal physician to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Rattray was captured after the battle but was freed after a personal plea to the Duke of Cumberland from Rattray’s old golf playing partner, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, who was Scotland’s most senior judge and a supporter of the government.
Rattray and Forbes had been regular playing partners on Leith Links which probably saved Rattray’s life. After a period in prison Rattray returned to Edinburgh in 1747 after signing an oath of obedience. He returned to work as a surgeon and continued to play golf on the Links with his friend Lord Duncan Forbes and won the silver club for a third time in 1751.
In 1754 gentlemen in Fife subscibed for their own Silver Club to be played for at St Andrews and they adopted the laws signed by Rattray. The society of St Andrews assumed the role of custodian and was granted the title of Royal and Ancient in 1834.
Rattray would be amazed to know that his original rules formulated the global sport and every golf playing nation uses rules which incorporate his original thirteen articles now administered by the R&A and USGA.
Leith Rules Golf Society was formed to promote the history of Leith’s connection with golf. Over the last 10 years they successfully raised £150,000 to erect a staue to Rattray to commemorate this important moment in Leith’s history.