The history of golf is as fascinating as the game itself. Just imagine a bunch of Scots whacking a ball with sticks across the rolling hills. As weird as that sounds, that’s where it all began. These early Scottish golfers were amateur players, they weren't worrying over the perfect shot or getting a hole. Instead they were out there having a blast and unknowingly giving birth to one of the most popular sports in the world today.
We will dive into the history of golf in this article. The patchwork from its humble Scottish beginnings to its Dutch name and the sport it is today in the 21st Century. We will explore its popularity and development throughout the years.
So sit back and relax. As we take a swing through time to explore the history of golf.
Who Invented Golf?
The origin of golf is like an ancient puzzle with no clear answer. It remains to be an unsolved mystery and even the golf historians are divided on it. Some trace the game to the Roman game of Pagancia that emerged in the first century. The game involved participants using a bent stick to hit a stuffed leather ball. So, is it just a game of sticks and balls?
Others claim it originated from a Chinese game played between the 8th and 14th century known as Chuiwan. The plot thickens here with the evidence of a painting on a Ming Dynasty scroll ‘Autumn Banquet’ dated back to 1368, showcasing members of the Chinese imperial court swinging what appears to be a golf club at a small ball with the aim of getting it into a hole.
That's not all, there's even a Chinese golf book, an ancient piece called ‘Wan Jing’ which roughly translates to the ‘Manual of the Ball Game’. It was published in 1282 and laid out rules for the game. It had the mentions of greens, a hole and the equipment used was also quite similar.
The games don’t stop there. England's game of Cambucca, France's Chambot, and the Persian game Chowkan add more layers to the mystery.
Yet, still the historians debate on whether any of these games were truly golf. If there aren't controlled golf strokes, golf clubs, golf holes or 18 hole rounds and they're just running around swinging sticks, can you really call what they were doing golf?
Therefore, in the end golf’s true inventor remains a mystery.
The Scots And Modern Golf
The roots of the modern game of golf can be traced back to the 15th century in Scotland. It was first documented when King James II banned the game, because well war preparations were underway and golf had been stealing the spotlight. Becoming a distraction from archery practice and military training. James III followed the ban hammer in 1471, deeming it a waste of time.
However, the ban’s reign of tyranny ended in 1502 when King James IV lifted the ban. With “Let there be golf!”He became the world's first golfing monarch. The royal endorsements really set the stage for golf, with King Charles I who brought the game to England and Mary
Queen of Scots who spread it to France.
Fast forward to 1744, when the English Nobleman caught the golf-bug, the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith decided to form the first club. And just like that golf officially became a sport.
St Andrews, considered to be the birthplace of golf, constructed its first ever 18 hole golf course in 1764, setting a recognisable 18th hole standard for the game. King William IV honoured the club with the title ‘Royal and Ancient’ in 1834 that brought it recognition establishing it as the world's premier golf club.
From it being royally banned to being royally endorsed, adds more flavour and a touch of drama to the history of golf.
Why is it Called Golf?
The name golf is derived from the Dutch term ‘Kolf’ or ‘Kolve’ which simply translates to ‘club’. It can also be traced to words in the Scottish term or Scottish dialect such as ‘goulf’ which means ‘to strike’. The word golf spelled as it is today made its debut in the 16th century, taken straight out of King James II’s ban, where he casually referred to it as ‘ye golf’.
To spice things up a bit, let's dive into a popular scandal around the golf name. Rumours once floated that golf was an acronym for ‘Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden’. Oh the horror, but hold your golf clubs as it was debunked later. However, it does make sense considering how many prestigious golf courses gave female golfers the cold shoulder. But the women eventually stormed in 273 years later in 1900 at the Morris Country Golf Club in the US.And in the 1950s the Ladies Professional Golf Associations emerged, a historical swing towards inclusivity on the greens.
How Did Golf Develop Overtime
Scottish soldiers were armed with more than just swords as they spread the game across Britain in the 18th Century. The Royal Blackheath was the first golf club formed outside of Scotland, near London but where James VI's son Henry went to play golf. And during the 19th century as the British empire expanded so did golf, crossing the borders beyond the British Isles.
The Royal Calcutta Golf Club sprouted in France in 1892, quickly followed by Pau in 1856. The pandemic of golf had spread far and wide, touching down in Ireland, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore and South Africa.
The industrial revolution boosted the game's popularity. The birth of railways such as the Balmoral Castle allowed ordinary people to explore the world outside of their towns and cities. The active trade industry made golf more than a pastime for the elite. Making it cheaper and more accessible to the masses.
Golf In America
Fueled by a Leith native, David Deas, golf crossed the Atlantic in the 18th century. Sailing shipments from Port Leith to Charleston he delivered 432 golf balls and 96 golf clubs to the American colonies. Though the rage around golf quickly quieted down during the War of 1812.
Skipping to the 1880s golf in America had a rebirth. The United States Golf Association emerged in 1894 and by 1895 professional golfers like Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen stepped into the outstanding spotlight. And by 1910 America had a dazzling array of 267 golf clubs.
History of Golf Clothes and Equipment
In the early days of sticks hitting stones in the 1500s, King James IV commissioned a set of clubs which marked a turning point in the game of golf. The 19th century brought rise to forging irons, causing a transition from wooden to metal shafts.
Similarly, golf balls changed drastically throughout the years. With the first balls being made of wood, which is hard to imagine how they would fly straight, to the players using feathery golf balls. In 1848 the ‘Gutty’ ball was created from the dried sap of the Sapodilla tree. It had a rubber-like feel and was easier to make.
Golf clothing had its own transitions throughout time. It all started from the tweed-clad players of Scotland. But fashion evolved and in the early 1900s demanded more formal wear. This gave way to the shift towards casual attire in the 20th century, with khaki pants and collared golf shirts becoming the norm. Today, golf fashion prioritises clothing that enhances performance and provides comfort, a far step from the tweed jackets and high socks of the 13th century.
And here the wild ride of golf history comes to an end. It's been a potent journey of swings, the Scots and a whole lot of history. We have seen the reflection of history through the courses themselves, from Scotland’s sandy fields to the beautifully manicured landscapes of today’s lush courses and golf carts. The game has had its rich tapestry unfolded so now we can tip our hats to the game that had been swinging along for ages.