The club's origins lie in the creation of the Society of St. Andrews Golfers by 22 Noblemen and Gentlemen of the Kingdom of Fife in 1754.
Under the names of the 22 founders, the first written account reads: 'The Noblemen and Gentlemen above named being admired of the Ancient and healthful exercise of the Golf, and at the same time having the interest and prosperity of the ancient city of St Andrews at heart, being the Alma Mater of the Golf, did in the year of our Lord 1754 contribute for a Silver club having a St. Andrew engraved on the head thereof to be played for on the Links of St. Andrews upon the fourteenth day of May said year, and yearly in time coming subject to the conditions and regulations following.'
In 1834, King William IV conferred his patronage on the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, giving them the title of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Agreement was later reached with the Union Club to use their premises overlooking the golf course, and later the two clubs merged. The imposing clubhouse which, in much extended and modified form, stands sentinel behind the first tee of the Old Course today, was built in 1854.
The R&A had become a model of stability and the leading authority of the game. This role was officially recognized in 1897 when the explosive growth of the game led to a general demand for a uniform code of rules rather than the use of local regulations. The leading clubs of the day turned to the R&A for guidance and the first Rules of Golf Committee was appointed.
Today the club has four distinct areas of responsibility, the administration of the Rules of Golf, in conjunction with the United States Golf Association, the running of the Open Championship and other key events, the encouragement and development of the game in existing and emerging golfing nations, and the operation of a private club with almost 2400 members.
Profits from the Open Championship are used exclusively to fund a wide range of projects throughout the world, with great emphasis given to the coaching of junior golfers. In depth studies are also carried out into key areas such as the provision of more courses and practice facilities, greenkeeping methods and conservation.
The R&A does not own the Old Course - the land is public and owned by the people of St Andrews. However, the R&A has had a long and close connection with those responsible for the Links. For many years this was the the Town Council. Then in 1974, with the abolition of the St. Andrews Town Council , a new Act of Parliament created St. Andrews Links Trust, an independent and charitable body charged with the running and protection of the courses.