By James M. Lane
United States Golf Managers Association, Contributing Writer
How Golf Management Began
No one knows exactly who invented golf, or managed the first golfing society or club, but the Flemish, the English, the Scottish and now the Chinese have all laid claim to one or the other. Someday an enterprising archaeologist might well discover a foursome painted on a wall by cave-dwellers of the Ice Age, for all that was needed to play the game was a target, a club, a ball, some kind of talent for accuracy, and an enjoyment of the fellowship of the game.
If it was the compelling happiness of threading a ball through Scottish gales to nestle a ball by its intended target that drove the game’s popularity, it was fellowship and camaraderie that drove the formation of the actual golf clubs. And, with the formation of these clubs, the field of golf management was born.
Though fanciful golf art has for many years portrayed lonely Scottish shepherds playing golf by ones or twos with Gaelic crooks in the Highlands, when golf gained its first wave of recorded popularity in the 1400s it was among the Lowland Scots around Edinburgh, and by 1457 the Scottish Parliament was alarmed enough at the effect of golf on archery practice to ban the game altogether.
By 1415, the English turned from invading Scotland to using longbow tactics against the French, who ran into such disasters that Scottish mercenaries were hired to come to the Flemish lowlands to assist the French resistance. In 1423, a Scottish regiment aiding the French against the English at the Siege of Bauge is introduced to the game of chole. Hugh Kennedy, Robert Stewart and John Smale, three of the identified players, are credited with introducing the game in Scotland.
They were members of a new class of society in Scottish life – the gentleman, a class standing between the nobles on the one hand and the yeomen and peasants on the other. Typically descended from the junior lines of nobility and holding coats of arms, they filled out the growing military and merchant ranks, and collectively the gentlemen of Scotland were largely responsible for the game’s spreading popularity, to Carnoustie by 1527, the Old Course by 1552 and Glasgow by 1589.
Introduction of Rules
But, the home of the game for some time remained in Edinburgh, and its heart at the five-hole links at Leith, which grew steadily in popularity until, in 1744, the City of Edinburgh paid for a Silver Cup to be awarded to the annual champion in an open competition played at Leith. It was a companion to a Silver Arrow given to the finest in archery. But, golf needed rules if it were to have an open competition (for it had been played only in match style until then), and the gentlemen golfers of Edinburgh united as, unsurprisingly, “the Gentlemen Golfers,” and codified the original 13 rules of golf. Thus, 1744 was a watershed year for golf management, as an element of formality was introduced.
Though the Gentlemen Golfers had come together to codify and compete at golf, they found tremendous fellowship in the game deepened by the Society they had formed, and by 1764 the City of Edinburgh limited competition for the Silver Cup to members of the Gentlemen Golfers.
But, they were not yet a club. In fact, only in 1800 did they become, in the vernacular of the time, “The Honourable Edinburgh Company of Golfers.” The first “club” was in fact formed in England, with the founding of the Blackheath Club, near London.
The Formation of Clubhouses
“Club,” as it turns out, is an English term — borne of chocolate- and coffee-houses of the early 18thcentury, and out of tavern houses of an earlier time. The Kit-Cat, the World, and the Beef Steak were typical of the time. White’s originated as White’s Chocolate House in 1698, while Scottish Jacobites met at the Cocoa-Tree, a chocolate house in London.
The clubs used taverns and coffee-houses as their meeting places, but soon they acquired their own premises, and it was the same with the golf club. The first was established in 1768 at Leigh, and appropriately called “The Golf House.” It is no longer standing.
The oldest golf club still intact (and today in use as a nursery school) is located at the clubhouse of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, originally erected in 1854.
Golf Management in the New World
Like today at St. Andrews, there was a separation at the time between the course, the pro shop, and the club. The course was generally for the use of all; the golf shop was a privately run affair, usually managed by the course professional but sometimes not; and the club was for its members, who were exclusively men and few in number.
The club was for changing, for club storage, for lodging in some cases, for drinking and dining in all cases, and for the holding of trophies, and the overall stewardship of the game. A sharing arrangement between The Honorable Company, the R&A and Prestwick in oversight of the rules proved impractical, and sole rule-making authority was invested in the Royal & Ancient by the 1830s.
The club, and therefore club management, moved well beyond United Kingdom shores in the 1700s and early 1800s. The South Carolina Golf Club was formed in Charleston, the first golf club outside of the United Kingdom. In1820, the Bangalore Club was formed, the first club in India. In 1833, King William IV confers the distinction of “Royal” on the Perth Golfing Society. As Royal Perth, it is the first club to hold the distinction, while the title “Royal and Ancient” was bestowed on “the Golf Club at St. Andrews” in 1834.
With growing appeal, a degree of professionalism would be demanded of golf management, and in 1774 the Edinburgh Burgess Society hired the first golf professional. He also served as the greenkeeper.
Amid the general rise in affluence through the 19thcentury as the Victorian Era unfolded, golf management became very similar to what we see today as courses acquired greenskeepers, golf shops acquired professionals, and clubs acquired secretaries. Well-known professionals like Old Tom Morris began competing for a Professionals Championship in 1857, three years after the first recorded book of golf instruction, The Golfers Manual by H.B. Farnie, was published.
More Structured Golf Management
In the 1880s, golf began to achieve a striking renewal in popularity, primarily driven by the keen interest of Lord Balfour (British Prime Minister 1902-05), who wrote enthusiastically of the game and played it well. The game also began to achieve popularity in the United States, and the US Open was first staged in 1895, the same year that the Chicago Golf Club becomes the nation’s first 18-hole course,
In other ways, golf management was becoming more specialized and professional in its approach. Donald Ross launched his professional design career with his first course at the Carolina Hotel (later Pinehurst) in 1901, while the UK’s Sunningdale became the first course with grass grown completely from seed.
At the golf club itself, the process of unifying the roles of greenskeeper, golf professional, and club manager under one set of management was accelerating in the United States. In part, this was achieved by the development of the country club, and in part by the rise of the golf resort.
The Advent of Golf Resorts
The first country club to include golf was The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, which was founded in 1882 and added golf in 1893 with a six-hole layout, expanded to nine holes in 1894, and 18 holes by 1899. The original club featured horseback riding. The concept of the country club — with tennis, swimming, equestrian sports, archery and badminton among the featured sports — established the role of the professional club manager as a permanent feature. Brookline would go on to have more than 1300 members, and the large membership cadre inspired more division of management into specializations such as membership services, dining, and golf.
The most important early resort in golf — and still, like Brookline, a major force today – was Pinehurst, originally founded in 1895 as a health resort (known then as a sanitarium) and situated to take advantage of the healthy climate of the Carolina Sandhills, but it quickly embraced golf.
Pinehurst was one of the first fully-integrated golf complexes. It featured not only its array of courses, including the famous Number 2, but also extensive resort facilities, hotels, dining, instruction, and a location on the edge of a planned village that existed because of, yet contributed much to, the grandeur of the golf resort.
A feature that would be always associated with Pinehurst was its blend of resort services that anyone could enjoy, and golf authenticity and tradition that equaled any private club in the country. From locker facilities, to restaurants, to golf instruction and course design, golf management was no longer divided between the elegance of private clubs and the rough-hewn nature of public facilities. At Pinehurst, there was the best of both.
Specialized Golf Management
In the 1920s and 1930s, champion golfers such as Bobby Jones and Marion Hollins, along with celebrated architect Alistair Mackenzie, developed legendary, integrated, and intensely private golf meccas at Cypress Point and Augusta National. A small group of members, supervising a professional staff, oversaw not only member operations, including dining, golf and private lodging, but began the operation of large-scale, popular, annual golf tournaments, such as the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am and the Masters. These tournaments would rival the major tournaments such as the US Open and PGA for attention, yet be played each year at the same course. Golf management was now a popular profession.
These operations were also pioneers in the integration of media with golf — one of the finest pressrooms in the world is at Augusta – and the participation of numerous celebrities in the Crosby. But, it was next to Cypress, at Pebble Beach, where the development of a first-class resort, course, and real estate went hand-in-hand on a major scale for the first time.
After the Second World War, land developer Charles Fraser took up the idea of the fully integrated golf complex, combining public and private golf, resort hotels and real estate, golf instruction, as well as other sports, and sublime and friendly golf in a pristine “getaway” setting with the development of Sea Pines Plantation in 1951, on Hilton Head Island. Here, integration reached a pinnacle, with management overseeing golf schools and clinics, private and public club facilities, and private and public dining options. At Sea Pines, there were resort accommodations, as well as private home options raging from short term rentals, to timeshares, to seasonal rental, to condo ownership, to private homes and estates. Owners Associations provided a balance to the resort management, under a master-planned concept that would be repeated by Charles Fraser at Kiawah Island in Hawaii, and by his imitators around the world. Though relations could become prickly between guests and owners, for management it introduced a whole new range of required skills – the politician’s gift for getting people to work together towards a common vision.
As the 1960s gave way to the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of new real estate and timeshare developments would feature a private golf course, and upscale daily-fee courses developed partly in reaction to the privatization of top-flight golf, and private “golf only” golf clubs developed in reaction to the tie-in of real estate and golf. In each case, golf management had to respond to new needs, and develop new services, such as more extensive golf instruction programs on-site. The rise of off-course golf pro shops challenged the revenue base of golf operations, as did the decline in food and beverage sales at golf clubs, as members broadened their palates and their restaurant selection.
Golf Management Education
In 2009, the United States Golf Managers Association began certifying golf club managers through their home study program. Recognizing the need to provide golf management education by those directly involved in the field, the USGMA provides a unique approach to certification. Golf managers provide their perspective from various disciplines, providing the necessary information which all golf managers need to succeed. The Designation of Certified Golf Club Manager® is reserved exclusively for those who have successfully completed the online certification course.
About the author
James M. Lane is the author of The Complete Golfers Almanac, and Peterson’s Golf School and Resorts. He lives in Key Biscayne, FL and Lake Arrowhead, CA.