The Royal Burgess Golfing Society is the oldest in the world
The Royal Burgess Golfing Society is the oldest in the world Image Credit: Courtesy Royal Burgess Golfing Society

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, growing up in north-west England, my old man was a member of Morecambe Golf Club and played most weekends and in any conditions. I definitely inherited that strange gene. I recall that he was also a member of a ‘golf society.’ As if paying an annual membership fee wasn’t enough and much to my dear mother’s dismay I suspect, this meant additional days that she was widowed to the sport.

So what is a golf society? I looked up the meaning of ‘society’ and rather like this definition — ‘the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community’.

A golf society is almost akin to a golf club without a course or clubhouse. Many players enter the sport this way after being invited to join a golf society day with ‘the boys’ (and ladies) then joining that society.

For established club members, it often provides a means of playing different courses and with a group of friends or colleagues that are not linked to the player’s home club.

The first official golf society was formed in Edinburgh in 1735, The Royal Burgess Golfing Society. Thanks to local shoemaker Orlando Hart for sorting that out. An increasing number of companies, associations, pubs and merely groups of golf-minded enthusiasts are forming societies to take advantage of reduced green fees at certain courses. Most will receive a hefty discount on standard prices if multiple players gather under one society banner.

Reductions are usually also available if food and beverage are required before, during or after the event. (Often before, during and after in my experience). After all, this is great business for the host golf club. Members at these clubs tend to frown when societies are swallowing up valuable weekend tee times, paying ridiculously low rates compared to their exorbitant annual fees and ‘digging up’ their precious track and not observing local course rules. While I sympathise, they do need to accept the commercial realities their home clubs face. In any case, many society members are talented low handicap players and generally all participants are very respectful golfers.

A golf society, such as the one I belong to for example — ‘The Creek Hack House Harriers’ — may choose to anchor itself at one club (or not) and will normally set a fixed schedule of events for the year. The organiser would issue handicaps based on existing club handicaps, previous scores in the society events, adjusted handicaps according to the host course’s standard scratch and slope rating (let’s not even go there in this article).

This brings me back to my choice of ‘society’ definition, ‘a more or less ordered community.’ As with club members, there will be some ‘bandits’ to watch out for (harder to spot now with us all wearing a mask!) as the society concept, if it isn’t strictly monitored, can facilitate a little bending of the handicaps by players. A common response by a first-timer at a golf society event when asked their handicap is: ‘Well last time I played it was about, 24.’ I jest of course, but beware.

Around the world there are literally thousands of golfing societies and anyone can set one up, for any reason. To do this properly however and receive recognition from the relevant governing bodies of golf, there are certain steps to take. Best to just ‘Google’ how to set up a golf society, but remember, if you take the official route, it will mean that your society will need to run events that conform to the ‘Rules of Golf’ and ‘Rules of Amateur Status’ as laid down by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

There will be many golf societies in your area and a quick online search will no doubt reveal them. Club member or not, this is a really fun aspect of the game and very cost efficient if you are not a club member and only play occasionally.

Watch out for my in-depth report on the Creek Hack House Harriers golf society, coming soon.