The Battle of the Barbers and the Leeches

The above title refers to the friendly rivalry between the Physicians and the Surgeons of Edinburgh for the annual Handicap event played by the Royal Colleges Golf Club. The inaugural match teed off in 1890 and continues to be held every May at Luffness New Golf Club. It was founded by, and first captained by Douglas Moray Cooper Argyll Robertson (1837-1909), President of the Surgeons 1885-1887.

DMC Argyll Roberston c.1900, by Sir George Reid (1841-1913)

Argyll Robertson was an ophthalmic surgeon of great repute, one recognition of this being his appointment as Surgeon Oculist to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. Outside his profession he was just as enthusiastic. His interest in art resulted in his election as one of the judges for the Royal Scottish Academy, whilst he also excelled in a range of sports, golf being one of them. He won the Gold Medal of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in 1865, 1870, 1871 and 1872.[i] His portrait now hangs in the RCSEd Birmingham Office.

The Golf Cup

The Golf Cup was donated to the College in 1898 by John Chiene (1843-1923) during his Presidency of 1897-1899, and was presented to the winners each year, to be kept at the respective College until the next meeting. It was made in Edinburgh by Marshall & Sons in 1890, the silver trophy alone weighing 115oz. On one side is the coat of arms of the Surgeons and on the other, that of the Physicians. On top of the lid stands the god of medicine, Asclepius. Around the mahogany base hang 56 silver shields engraved with the names of the participants and the results of each match (it was not played during the World Wars). The shield from 1897 is shown here and includes a host of notable names on the Surgeons’ side. No less than seven Presidents are on the team: Sir David Wallace (PRCSEd 1921-1923); John Duncan (PRCSEd 1889-1891); John Chiene (PRCSEd 1897-1899); George Mackay (PRCSEd 1919-1921); Sir James Hodsdon (PRCSEd 1914-17); Sir George Berry (PRCSEd 1910-1912); and Joseph Cotterill (PRCSEd 1907-1909). The combined achievements of this distinguished group of men is remarkable – perhaps there is a link between surgical skill and golfing prowess?

Up close with the shield from 1897

Having been recently conserved by Harry Beale Collins, the Golf cup is due to be displayed in the main College reception until it is fought over once again next May. Historically the Surgeons dominated the competition from its inception through to 1980, winning 64 of the matches played. Victory has been relatively shared of late and 2016 saw a draw. Hopefully the Surgeons will regain the trophy with John Orr (PRCSEd 2006-2009) as current captain of the Royal Colleges Club.

[i] BMJ 1990;301:1462


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