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The Scholar’s Holes and the Soldier’s Lines

The Original 13 Rules of Golf are straightforward enough, save for Rule 13 which define hazards that include the “Scholar’s Holes” and the “Soldier’s Lines’.” What were these hazards?

The Leith Rules Golf Society 1744 website explains the Scholar’s Holes, which were located near the west side of the course. The holes were named in part because the Scholar’s Grammar School was located nearby.

Additional information from the website: “According to James Scott Marshall in Life and Times of Leith (1986), he referred to The Scholar’s Holes on the ground adjacent to the town wall at the churchyard. The Grammar School was administered from King James Hospital at the south-west corner of the churchyard, now South Leith Churchyard. A series of short holes were laid out for the benefit of scholars to learn the game and for old players no longer fit enough for the main Links course. In modern terms, it was a pitch-and-putt course.” (View the full map here.)

The Soldier’s Lines are open to more supposition. Leith was a garrison town for centuries, so soldiers would have been about. Tents or barracks, arranged in lines, may have occasionally been within the footprint of the Links, which after all, was a large public space that was also used for grazing livestock, drying laundry, hosting fairs, and any sport that needed wide open areas.

Another reference to soldiers and possible hazards comes from the extremely interesting “Gazetteer for Scotland” website. “The Links were also used for mustering troops[,] and trenches were dug here during the Siege of Leith (1560). Two distinctive mounds, known as Somerset's Battery (or Giant's Brae) and Pelham's Battery (or Lady Fife's Brae) are remnants of gun positions occupied by an English army.” (The mounds are still visible today.)

A point of interest: in 1754, when the Society of St. Andrews Golfers (later the Royal & Ancient Club of St. Andrews) adopted Leith’s 13 rules, it curiously retained the Soldier’s Lines and Scholar’s Holes mentions, even though these were specific to Leith.

From Alastair Johnston’s Chronicles of Golf, “The lack of ingenuity of the St. Andrews Society was manifested by the fact that it retained the language pertaining to ‘Soldiers Lines’ which had been incorporated at Leith to address local conditions. There is no historical evidence that would dictate that the military assemblies and emplacements that were a feature of Leith Links could have had any relevance at St. Andrews.”

The “Scholar’s Holes” at St. Andrews are more plausible and could have simply been a practice area.

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