Monday, 8 June 2015

Driving Forward Education in the North of Scotland

The creation of the new Professional Golf BA (Hons) degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands, North Highland College-Dornoch, in association with the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, has further solidified the connection between golf and education in the north of Scotland. In Dornoch, the country’s favourite pastime has been connected to education for at least 400 years! Since the seventeenth century, golf has had an integral role in the education of young Scots. John, the adolescent earl of Sutherland, was known to golf, ride and practice his archery while enrolled at the Dornoch Grammar School from 1616. The connection between golf and education can be traced back even further. James Melville, a student of St. Andrews University in 1574, was a golfing fanatic. His journal reflected his passion for the sport and was illustrative of how it was played. He also recounted that Robert Stewart, Bishop of Caithness, whose seat was at the Dornoch Cathedral, was a very competent sportsman who favoured golf and archery above all other recreations.

The young earl of Sutherland continued his education in Edinburgh and in St. Andrews. It was there where he befriended James Graham, the earl of Montrose. The young earls were archery, hunting and dining companions. Montrose’s accounts frequently recorded expenses for golfing. Unfortunately, Sutherland’s accounts are not as thorough but it is very likely that he joined Montrose on the links. The next generation of Sutherlands continued to play golf while pursuing their education in London from 1654 to 1656. About this time, David Wedderburn, headmaster of the Aberdeen Grammar School, solidified golf’s position in grammar school curricula with his vastly popular Latin phrasebook, Vocabula. This book served as a learning aid for pupils, introducing them to conversational Latin. It remained in print from 1636 until the early eighteenth century. It dicussed numerous sports such as Archus (Archery), Bacculus (Golf), Globi (Bowls) and Pila Pedalis (Football) so that the students would continue to use Latin while out on the links exercising. 

The links at Aberdeen, as well as at Dornoch, had long been associated with sport. Gordon of Rothiemay in 1661 described the links as a place for sport. In 1715 Forbes of Forveran wrote that golf and bowls on the Queen’s links were healthy recreations for school and university pupils. As far back as 1594, James VI secured Monday afternoons for school pupils’ recreation, to help mitigate the profanation of the Sabbath by practicing sport on Sundays. Kings and Marischal Colleges then designated supervised periods of physical education on the links for their students.  The links were a busy place and cheers and jeers would have been heard from students for keen strikes as well as for duffed shots. 

In the eighteenth century, golf, along with other sports, remained an important feature of a young Scottish gentleman’s education. In the nineteenth century, during the heyday of club formations in Scotland, and subsequently Britain, the association between golf and education persisted. While many schools supported team sports to teach leadership skills and teamwork, they also encouraged golf. It offered an opportunity to hone precision, develop strategic thinking and provided moderate and healthy exercise. From 1879, to the beginning of The Great War, 385 golfing societies were founded in British cities, eighteen percent of those were associated with education! In Edinburgh alone, there were twenty-two golf societies linked to educational institutions.

The Royal Dornoch Golf Club and the University of the Highlands and Islands continue this tradition. Together they further affirm the importance of golf in the educational experience of school pupils and university students, as well as providing them an opportunity to make it a career. The launch of the Professional Golf degree, the impressive record of the Golf Management degree and the support of the Royal Dornoch PhD Studentship drives Dornoch forward as a leading centre for golf and an excellent place to obtain a robust education. As students walk up to the first tee after class to enjoy an evening round they should recognise that they are following in the footsteps of generations of golfing students. 

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