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Descendants tee up to recreate golf’s most celebrated painting

Set on the most famous golf course in the world, it captures the great and the good of 19th-century Scottish society as they indulge in the most fashionable sport of the day.

It was a time when gentlemen and their ladies would descend on St Andrews for the autumn meeting with reputations staked on a round of golf, the atmosphere often fortified by large amounts of port and wine.

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Handsome sums of money were known to change hands at the 18th hole.

Now the famous artwork, The Golfers by Charles Lees, is to be recreated this summer, featuring the descendants of each of the players and onlookers from the 1847 original.

The modern-day replica will go on display at The Old Course in St Andrews in July to mark both the painting’s original setting and the 150th anniversary of the Open Championship which will return to the historic links this year.

The original painting, which normally hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, will be on display at the British Golf Museum – just a short pitch from the Royal and Ancient club house in the famous Fife town.

While a tribute to Scotland’s golfing history, the replica also pinpoints the shifting sands of Scottish society and the dilution of the ruling classes over the past two centuries.

The project has been led by Dr Bruce Durie, director of Strathclyde University’s genealogical studies course. He said: “Some of those we have found [for the replica] are still the great and the good, but many are just Jock Tamson’s bairns. Many have moved abroad.

“In some cases it was relatively easy to trace the descendants, for example the Earl of Melville then is the Earl of Melville now. Others are a bit more recondite. The family line may have died or just disappeared.

“It is typical in Scottish genealogy to go from landed gentry to miners and weavers in two generations and then back to doctors, lawyers and teachers in another two. It only takes one generation to lose all the money, but Scots, by the virtue of education, don’t find it hard to climb their way back up again.”

The original Lees painting features four golfers surrounded by 48 selected “onlookers”, who were not actually on the course at the time of the competition.

Indeed, there is some doubt as to whether the match that saw Sir David Baird and Sir Ralph Anstruther take on Major Hugh Lyon Playfair and John Campbell of Glensaddel actually took place at all.

Lees used the emerging science of photography to create the scene and Dr Durie will also be taking this approach for the project, which has been devised to celebrate Fife’s 2010 Year of Culture.

When complete the collage will hang in Fife Council’s marquee during The Open Championship from July 15 to 18.

Dr Durie said: “Lees composed his scene using the new science of photography to help him with the likenesses. We’ll be doing much the same – using photographs to recreate a modern version.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to help recreate such a famous scene while at the same time capturing a little bit of Scotland’s modern history.”

The family histories were traced by students on the genealogical studies courses, co-ordinated by Dr Durie and genea-logy alumnus Roddy Greig.

Dr Durie added: “Everyone in the original picture is known, so that was a good start. Scotland has the best kept and most complete records on the planet. The painting was completed in 1847 and in 1855 we started to have a civil register of births, marriages and deaths.

“Now we have somebody for everybody. Whether we have the person that the family considers to be the right person is a different matter. If you are a straight descendant from someone in that picture then we would like to hear from you

“We were hoping that there would be a famous golfer turn up, but sadly it was not the case.”

While there may be no professional sportsmen in the replica, Dr Durie and his team look set to recreate a very important figure from Lee’s original – the ginger beer girl.

He said: “The identity of the girl in the painting has never been discovered but we think we may have tracked down the modern day equivalent.

“We know of the family who had the ginger beer contract at the time and we are currently checking if there is a young girl in the family today of roughly the same age.”

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