When James I (James VI of Scotland) selected Royston to build his hunting lodge and turned Royston into the equivalent of Falkland Palace in the south, it would not be surprising that the game of golf might have become one of the activities of his court. James’s mother, Mary Queen of Scots, played golf in Scotland and the tradition was brought south when James succeeded Elizabeth to the English throne.
Therfield Heath, positioned on the side of the chalk scarp, was used for grazing by stint holders providing traditionally a landscape full of patches of long and short grass, which may have offered something like the coastal links where golf had been played in Scotland. George Villers, 1st Earl of Buckingham, was recorded playing on Therfield Heath in 1624 and it is possible that golf was played there in the two decades before that. Villiers could be claimed to be the first English golfer.
Two centuries later, two Cambridge undergraduates thought that the Therfield chalk hills would be an excellent location for a course that could be used by fellow students, making it possibly the oldest 18-hole golf course outside of Scotland. Andrew Murray (later Lord Dunedin) and George Gosset, both very keen golfers, travelled from Cambridge with their bags of clubs and a hole cutter and set about arranging their golf course establishing the holes by position and distance according to their striking of a golf ball.
The course was well received and the Cambridge club soon had seventeen members, paying a 2/6 (2 shillings and six pence) annual subscription. However, the course unfortunately only lasted two years when in 1871 it was felt that twelve miles from Cambridge to Royston was too far.
In 1890 local townsfolk promoted the reconstitution of the club and course. This time it was with the encouragement of the Therfield Heath Conservators and the help of two gentlemen from the new formed Cambridge University Golf Club. The course followed much of the original eighteen holes set out in 1869. This was the prelude to the establishment of Royston Golf Club on May 1st, 1892.
Notably the club’s professional in 1893 was Andrew Kirkaldy. He played in the Open between 1888 and 1899, finishing second twice, third three times and fourth twice. He was subsequently one of the pioneers of professional golf in the USA before returning to Scotland after serving with distinction in the World War I to become head professional for the R&A.
Women played golf on the course in the early years of the Club but in 1907 Royston Ladies Golf Club was founded with their own clubhouse behind the main clubhouse building. In 1956 the Ladies Golf Club was amalgamated with Royston Golf Club.
The course has gradually evolved since these early days, more particularly over the past thirty years, with changes in layout to increase length and avoid playing over the Therfield road. However, the essential character has been successfully preserved, allowing players today to experience more than 125 years of golfing history.
Royston town itself is steeped in history, after growing up around the crossing of two ancient highways. In Norman times, a lady called Rosia marked this famous crossroads with a wayside cross that was erected on a stone base. This became the site of a settlement known as ‘Rosia’s Cross’ where the carefully preserved stone base can still be seen today in the centre of the town crossing. The derivation, it is believed, of the name Royston.