The present painting is a smaller version of the portrait hanging in The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, St. Andrews, which was commissioned by the members of the Union Club of St. Andrews and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1875 (no. 212), and at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1876 (no. 320).
John Whyte-Melville of Bennochy and Strathkinness was born on 21 June 1797, and on 1 June 1819 he married Lady Catherine Anne Sarah Osborne, youngest daughter of the 5th Duke of Leeds.
His role in the history of golf is confirmed by his inclusion as one of the figures in one of the most important paintings depicting the sport; Charles Lees's celebrated masterpiece The Grand Match (1847, National Portrait Gallery of Scotland). In October 1816 he became a member of The Royal and Ancient and was elected Captain of the Club in 1823. In 1853 he seconded an important resolution proposed by John Grant uniting the Royal and Ancient Golf Club with The Union Club, and in the same year was asked to lay the foundation stone of the new clubhouse.
He is also renowned for a famous survival bet made with Sir David Moncreiff in 1820. The terms of the curious wager stipulated that on the death of one of them, the other should donate to the club a silver putter on which the arms of the two parties were engraved.
His son, George Whyte-Melville, the Victorian novelist, is recorded as having said that he could not go round the Links as well or as often as his father. The old man played until he was well over eighty-five, two rounds on three days every week, in all weather conditions.