Museum Moment: John Reid’s Red Jacket

Oct 14, 2010

By Michael Trostel

St. Andrew’s and Early Golf in America

“In Scotland, when work ends, the good man… plays golf… The typical American, on the other hand, receives little honor at home or elsewhere. He is a drudge, a slave of gold, during all the days of his life. The ancient and royal game will remedy these deplorable conditions in America!”

Those are the words of John Reid, whose experiment on an improvised three-hole course in a cow pasture in 1888 has blossomed into a game that tens of millions of Americans play and watch each year. Oct. 14, 2010 is the 170th anniversary of Reid’s birthday, so what better way to honor the “Father of American Golf” than to take a look back at the club he started, St. Andrew’s, and its distinctive red wool jacket.

While golf’s roots are in Scotland, the game took hold in America in the early 18th century. It was established among the early British and Scottish communities in New York City in the 1770s, in Charleston, S.C., in the 1780s, and in Savannah, Ga., in the 1790s. Throughout much of the 1800s, however, enthusiasm for golf went dormant. America was a nation of spectators, not participants. Boxing, horse racing and baseball captured the country’s imagination, but there was little recreational activity for non-athletes to participate in. With an increase in leisure time by the 1880s, however, Americans were ready to play again. Golf resurfaced in such diverse places as Estes Park, Colo., in 1875, Burlington, Iowa, in 1883, Oakhurst, W. Va., in 1884, Foxburg, Pa., in 1885, and Dorset, Vt., in 1886. Once the game was reestablished in the 1880s, it grew steadily.

John Reid emigrated to the United States in 1865 at the age of 24. He served as treasurer and manager of the J.L. Mott Iron Works in New York City for more than 40 years, a connection that would later prove quite valuable when it came to procuring the equipment needed to construct and maintain golf courses. In addition, Reid was a leading member of the Scottish community in New York and had an intense passion for Scottish music. In 1888, Reid received a gift from his friend, Robert Lockhart, a linen merchant from New York, who had just been to Scotland on business. Lockhart brought back six clubs and two dozen golf balls from the shop of Old Tom Morris.

With these new implements, Reid and his friends played golf every Sunday. On Nov. 14, 1888, the group met to discuss how to perpetuate their weekly tradition. After some discussion, a handful of resolutions were passed, forming a club and naming officers and first members. They called the newly minted club “St. Andrew’s” to honor the birthplace of the game in Scotland and hoped that it would become the cradle of golf in America. St. Andrew’s is now recognized as the oldest continuously existing golf club in the United States.

John Reid’s Red Jacket

“The finest thing the St. Andrew’s Golf Club did in starting the game of golf was… that they started it right, with the right traditions.” – Robert Tyre Jones Jr.

Made by Rogers Peet Company around 1900, John Reid’s red jacket from St. Andrew’s Golf Club is one of the most distinctive artifacts in the USGA Museum. Red jackets were worn in Great Britain by individuals to distinguish themselves as gentlemen, as members of a social club, and, often, as members of the military. Following the custom of Scottish clubs, red wool jackets were worn at many American clubs as well, including Shinnecock Hills, Newport, and Brookline, at the turn of the century.

In 1894, in preparation for the first U.S. Amateur, John Reid designated an official coat for St. Andrew’s. The jacket was “hunter’s pink” with a blue collar, brass buttons and a silver St. Andrew’s cross embroidered on the lapel. In addition, the club adopted a uniform that all members were expected to wear. It consisted of the red coat, worn over a blue-checked waistcoat, a button-down oxford shirt, gray knickers, plaid socks and a pearl gray hat with blue and white stripes. The only distinguishing feature of the uniform was the tie, which members could choose themselves. In Scotland, it had been the custom of clubs to fine members two schillings or two quarts of Scotch for appearing without the red coat, but there is no indication that such a penalty was exacted from forgetful members at St. Andrew’s.

Many contemporary clubs have continued the tradition of jackets as part of a club uniform, including probably the best known example, Augusta National and its green jacket.

To see John Reid’s red jacket and read more about the origins of golf in America, visit the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.

Michael Trostel is the curator/historian for the USGA Museum. E-mail him with questions or comments at MTrostel@usga.org.