Carrol Ezell’s painting of the historical arrival of the shipment of golf clubs and balls from Leith, Scotland, to the colonies by way of David Deas of Charleston, SC, in 1743, shows the opened crates on board with a harbor view. The inscription includes details of the historical event: David Deas the recipient, May [10th/16th/18th(?)], 1743, 96 clubs and 432 balls.
My question is why is the crate opened? From the windowed cabin, it would seem that these are in the captain’s quarters at the stern. So perhaps, a Leith or Fife-man himself, he was grooving his swing during the long voyage across the Atlantic, perhaps even sending a few rounded wooden balls out into the sea off the main deck!
The most important issue for the arrival of the game of golf to America in Charleston, as opposed to New York or some other major [even more major] city, is the fact that Charleston had a wonderful context for the game:
Charleston had an obvious plot of land in immediate access to the people of the city, the Harleston Green a parkland in common use by the public for riding and gaming.
Charleston was an extremely important shipping port due to a very rich agriculture (rice and tea), unfortunately as well as the horrible slave trade.
Scots were a significant population in the city because of the merchant shipping.
As with many rather unique points in history, there was an individual(s) that had the idea and went with it. David Deas received the shipment of golf clubs and balls, but the interesting thing about the shipment is its quantity. 96 clubs and 432 balls are a major amount. Today, with players having a 14 club bag, this would outfit almost 7 full limit bags, but at that time when the typical players carried 5-8 clubs, this amount of clubs would be good for 12-19 people! So whether Mr. Deas was alone in his project and was merely an experienting enthusiast with lots of money to blow on expensive custom handiwork or merely the shipping agent (and possibly not even involved in the gaming), the point is that the amount shows that it is highly probable a dozen players were ready and waiting that shipment.
Regarding the involvement of David Deas, a Scottish shipping merchant that had moved to Charleston, he was from Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, where in 1744 the first golf club was formed (the “Gentlemen Golfers of Leith,” who developed the first recorded rules of the game at that same time for their Annual Challenge for the Edinburgh Silver Club) and a five hole course existed. All this prior to the club and course at St. Andrews (1754). Of course, it is documented that golf, or “golfe”/”gauf”/”gawf,” was a part of Leith and the area as early as the mid 15th century. So Mr. Deas was from the historical homeland of golf.
This interesting mix of circumstances that made a welcome environment for the game of golf to come to America is only a part of the historical context of the area:
A major fire hit the city of Charleston in 1740. What bearing might this have had on the activity of the city for producing an environment of leisure or need for some folly and sport?
A new warehouse district due to a growing shipping business in 1740 (this is now known as Rainbow Row).
The population reached a significant 7,000 in 1742.
Charleston, SC, the city, the peninsula, the people, and the timing all lined up in 1743 for some group of men of the great city to carry a few mashies and featheries out to Harleston Green for golf.