A BOLD move to put Leith on the map as the birthplace of golf has been given a boost after a planned statue of one of the sport’s founders was given the Queen’s blessing.
The proposed Leith Links site is protected common land, which meant “royal assent” was needed to build the two-metre bronze tribute to John Rattray – the winner of the first “Open” golf competition at the Links in 1744.
Rattray also signed off golf’s first recorded rules, written by competitors at the Links.
The Leith Rules Golf Society wants to commemorate his achievements with a statue by renowned Fife sculptor David Annand, and described the royal seal of approval as a “major milestone”.
It paves the way to launch a massive fundraising campaign to find the £250,000 needed – and the society hopes to secure the backing of a “high-profile” Scottish golfer.
Pat Denzler, chairman of the society’s John Rattray Statue Committee, hopes the statue will benefit from increasing “golf tourism” in the Lothians – it was reported last year that the sport was worth £1 billion a year to the Scottish economy.
He said: “Tourists go straight to places like Edinburgh Castle when Leith has such a lot of history.
“This would be something that would encourage them to spend more time here.”
The statue – for which £60,000 has already been raised – will depict Rattray, surgeon to Prince Charles Edward Stuart during the Jacobite rising of 1745, stepping into his swing.
It will be based on a structure designed by award-winning landscape architect William J Cairns on the original first hole. Plaques will tell the story of Rattray, plus the contribution made by others to the sport.
Leith councillor Gordon Munro believes donations will pour in from all angles. He said: “I am sure funds will be found to make this great idea happen.
“The memorial to the Merchant Navy at Malmaison raised funds quickly for their tribute and I am sure that the Royal College of Surgeons will make sure their members pay tribute to their former member, that the Royal and Ancient at St Andrews will ask members to pay tribute to the man who drew up the first ever rules for the game of golf and Jacobite sympathisers will pay tribute to their fellow Jacobite.”
Mr Annand’s previous commissions include the statue of poet Robert Fergusson outside Canongate Kirk.
He has been consulting experts to make the piece as historically authentic as possible.
He said: “He will be stepping into the swing as you would in hockey because that is how they used to play.”
During a debate in the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, in which MSPs passed a bill allowing development on the Links, Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said heightened interest in golf in Scotland in September when the Ryder Cup is held at Gleneagles would generate donations.