The History Of Golf: You’ve Got It All Wrong
The history of golf might not be what we've believed all these years
Many people think that golf originated in Scotland.
They might be WRONG!
Although its current form can be traced to 15th century Scotland, similar games were being played around the world much earlier.
Let's explore, shall we?
In Rome as early as 100 BC!
And in Egypt even earlier, in 2600 BC!
Or so some people claim...
So buckle up for this wild ride along the timeline of the history of golf.
There will be surprises, excitement, and a few obligatory yawning moments.
Golf is still golf.
If you love it -- you LOVE it.
If you hate it -- hopefully we'll give you a few tidbits of knowledge you can use to impress your friends.
- Bent Sticks And Leather Balls
- Jumping Ahead To The History Of Golf In 15th Century Scotland
- BUT THIS ISN'T REALLY GOLF
- Equipment Changes: Leather To Feathers
- Golf Hits The United States After Death
- RULES? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Rules!
- Gutta-Percha Changes The Ball
- Let's Have A Tournament!
- Golf Comes To New York!
- Golf Makes It To The Paris Olympic Games
- Forming The PGA Across The Oceans
- National Teams And Tournaments
- Equipment Tweaks And Improvements
- OMG! The Dimples! Golf Balls Get Their Cheeks Pinched
- Modern Golf: Where Do We Go from Here?
Bent Sticks And Leather Balls
While shy on the actual written history of golf, there are several potential clues that golf, or a similar ball and stick game, originated long before the 15th century.
An image from the Egyptian tomb of Kheti (sometimes spelled Khety) depicts two men with sticks and a ball.
We're still skeptical.
While this could be an early form of field hockey or even LaCrosse, it is linked by some to the history of golf.
That would date the game to 2600 B.C.
The Greeks have similar carvings, dating to between circa 510 and circa 500 BC, which look to be the same game depicted in Egyptian carvings.
Dated 500-510 B.C. this image depicts to people playing with sticks and balls of some sort. Image: Public Domain via: Wikimedia Commons
Other references to the game of Paganica from Rome date to around 100 BC.
That's not all:
Although no known images exist depicting Paganica, the game-play is well-documented.
Played with a bent, or curved, wooden stick, the game used a leather ball that was much larger than what we know as a golf ball.
The original objective of the game was to swing the stick, propelling the ball, and hitting a designated target. The target might have been a tree, a large rock, or similar landmark object.
Paganica play has been described as two teams, playing toward an opposing goal or direction, similar to hockey.
Probably NOT golf.
Jumping ahead several centuries:
During the Song Dynasty, from 960 to 1279 AD, the Chinese participated in the popular game of Chuíw án. Perhaps the nearest relative to modern golf, this version was played using several clubs.
Chuíw án might have been an early history of golf.
Jumping Ahead To The History Of Golf In 15th Century Scotland
Some sources report that this ties in too (we don't really believe them).
Found in Canterbury cathedral on a painted glass window is the image of a boy holding a ball in one hand and a curved stick in the other. Known as Bandy, this game received mention by William Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet."
In "Romeo and Juliet," the phrase "Bandy" means "to toss or hit back and forth, as a ball." The term "Bandying" refers "to give and take; to exchange (words) in an angry or argumentative manner."
Source link: https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/r/romeo-and-juliet/study-help/full-glossary
The Irish game Hurling uses a Hurley stick and is similar to Bandy.
Hurling remains popular today and is considered to be the fastest game played on a grass field.
BUT THIS ISN'T REALLY GOLF
Hurling combines remnants of various team sports, including "...the components of other sports such as baseball, field hockey, rugby, and soccer..." with the only remote similarities being that the stick is slightly curved and you are permitted to hit the ball from the ground to launch it across the playing field.
"The stick, or "hurley" (called camán in Irish) is curved outwards at the end, to provide the striking surface. The ball or "sliotar" is similar in size to a baseball but has raised ridges."
Source link: http://www.madisonhurling.com/what-is-hurling.html
Now we can move into REAL golf!
Golf in Scotland during the 15th Century grew in popularity.
It wasn't without some sand traps along the way.
Golf was BANNED halfway through the century in 1457!
Believe it or not.
Both golf and football (known in the United States as soccer) received Parliamentary bans due to their interference with archery practice. Parliament felt that the national defense was more important than knocking a little ball around a field.
The ban continued, receiving renewals in 1471 and 1491, under then-King of Scotland, James II.
The ban didn't last too much longer than that!
King James IV developed a fondness for the game, lifting the ban in 1500.
Shortly after lifting the ban, the king indulged his new royal pursuit by purchasing the first recorded golf equipment from a local bow maker.
After lifting the ban on the king's new passion, golf began a rapid ascent to the national pastime.
And life was grand again!
"The first surviving written reference to golf in St Andrews is contained in Archbishop Hamilton’s Charter of 1552. This reserves the right of the people of St Andrews to use the linksland “for golff, football, schuteing and all gamis”. As early as 1691, the town had become known as the ‘metropolis of golfing’."
Golf was a game enjoyed by both men and women almost from its beginning.
Mary, Queen of Scots (aka "Bloody Mary," but that's a different story) was seen often on the fields beside Seton playing golf in the 1560s.
There were rumors that she played golf just days after the murder of Lord Darnley.
Queen Mary was quite the little package, too.
Unfortunately, this is a history of golf, not a history of Queen Mary. Therefore, we shan't dally with a history lesson, but if you are curious, there are quite a few rabbit holes chock-full of information that you can research.
After King James VI arrived on the throne of England, his court was fond of occupying themselves on the Blackheath in London.
Golf continued to grow more popular.
Equipment Changes: Leather To Feathers
Golf equipment was slow to improve though.
Eventually, the transition to modernize things began.
The game strategy was to move your ball through the course, hitting it as far as possible on each swing to have the fewest swings. The end-goal was to knock your little ball into a hole in the ground.
There was a flirtation with wooden balls.
The hard leather balls flew well enough.
And the history of golf marches on...
Birds fly, right?
So if you want golf balls to fly farther why not stuff them with feathers?
Why not, indeed!
And so they did!
The "featherie," introduced in the early 1600s, was the real beginning of the golf ball that we recognize. Made of wet leather stuffed with wet feathers, it was a hard, durable ball because the leather contracted as it dried, but the feathers expanded. One drawback: If a featherie got wet, it was ruined, so you had to watch out for water hazards. Handcrafted featheries were expensive, but they were in use for more than 200 years."
The high cost of the balls meant golf became the pastime of nobility.
That would change eventually.
It just took a few hundred years.
Golf Hits The United States After Death
In the meantime...
Surely people in the United States were playing golf?
They probably were, given that we had a good number of European settlers here.
The history of golf in the early days of the U.S. are scant.
The first KNOWN mention of the game happened after the death of a player.
Contact from the grave?
William Burnet, a colonial administrator who served a period as the Governor of Massachusetts, died on September 7, 1729.
As nobility goes, he was just an ordinary sort of guy. No earth-shattering mentions of great deeds or bravery.
He is famous for having died while owning golf equipment.
His estate carried the equipment as an asset.
And thus, his place in the history of golf was sealed.
Well, not really, but we're trying!
RULES? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Rules!
Golf got along without any "official" rules for over 300 years.
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers set up the Rules of Golf in 1744.
Those first 13 rules began the game's transition into what we know today.
That's not all:
Ten years later, in 1754, The Society of St Andrews Golfers formed.
Another ten years elapsed before the course at St. Andrews received an upgrade. The course initially consisted of 22 holes but was reduced to 18 holes in 1764.
And 18 holes became the recognized "standard" for all courses.
Rules are governed and codified by the USGA and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A).
There are currently 34 rules of golf, clarified with sub-rules and even sub-sub-rules.
The balls remained the same until...
Gutta-Percha Changes The Ball
Introduction of the first "solid" golf ball, made from gutta-percha, happened around 1848.
The new ball was solid and constructed by softening strips of dried sap from the Sapodilla tree.
Yeah, we made that face too.
Here's what happened:
The prototype of the gutta-percha ball was an absolute failure.
The original, and most accepted, story of the guttie concerns the Paterson brothers.
It began in 1843:
While a divinity student at St. Andrews, Robert Adams Paterson attempted to fashion a golf ball from gutta-percha packing materials.
His attempts to heat and shape the material were not successful.
Paterson's brother (we looked, no one ever mentioned his name) took up the idea, refined it, and made the first gutta-percha balls.
The original prototypes developed by Paterson's brother and stamped “Paterson’s Composite – Patented,” although no patent ever got filed for the design.
And no one is REALLY sure about the facts...
But, there is this:
Although smooth, after being whacked a few times, and the players noticed an interesting effect.
More on that later, though.
Let's Have A Tournament!
The history of golf can be boring.
We get it.
Think about all the great fun facts you'll have to "WOW" your friends!
Tournaments made golf a spectator sport.
No discussion on the history of golf would be complete mentioning the early tournaments!
In 2020, the oldest golf tournament will celebrate its 160th year!
The Open Championship, first held at Prestwick in 1860 was won by Willie Park Senior, a golfer from Scotland.
The Open Championship awards the Claret Jug. The tournament travels to various courses around the world.
Some of the courses that have hosted it include:
The winner is dubbed "Champion Golfer of the Year."
We're not going to list all 158 champions.
That would be excruciatingly BORING.
However, golf is now played almost every weekend somewhere around the world.
In Professional Golf, There Are Four Tournaments Recognized As "Major Championships:"
THE OPEN Championship
We need to tell you about the ladies!
We mentioned earlier that women had enjoyed golf since its beginnings in the 15th century.
The first tournament play specifically for women was the British Ladies' Amateur Golf Championship in 1893. Held at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's, it was won by Lady Margaret Scott from England.
That same year saw the formation of the Ladies' Golf Union in the UK.
Since then, women have remained in the golf spotlight.
For Professional Female Golfers, There Are Five Majors:
So, while it took a bit longer for women to gain recognition in both amateur and professional golf circles, they have been holding their own in the history of golf.
Golf Comes To New York!
It did take golf awhile to become popular on this side of the pond.
Now the U.S. is home to many of the world's professional golfers.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) was founded in 1894 and served to address questions regarding the amateur status of golfers.
The Charter Members Of The USGA Were:
The following year, in 1895, golf tournaments loomed large in the US.
The US Open and US Amateur Championship were both played at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island for the first time.
Charles B MacDonald from the US won the Amateur Championship while Horace Rawlins of England won the U.S. Open.
That same year:
In Long Island, New York, the Meadow Brook Club hosted the US Women's Amateur Golf Championship. Lucy Barnes Brown of the U.S. took home the trophy that year!
Golf Makes It To The Paris Olympic Games
Golf hasn't really been a celebrated Olympic sport.
It consisted of a field of 22 participants at the Paris Games in 1900.
Yes, you read that right:
With 10 women and 12 men representing four countries, they played 36-hole individual events. Margaret Abbot and Charles Sands, both on the USA team, won gold.
Four years later, in St. Louis, golf returned, but with a much smaller field consisting only of male competitors.
A team event for the men replaced the women's competition. George Lyon took the gold for Canada, and the USA took gold in the team event.
And then golf disappeared from Olympic competition.
For more than a century!
The summer games in Rio in 2016 featured golf in the "stroke play" format. The competition included men and women, playing a 72 hole match.
The competition was stiff, with Great Britain taking gold at the hands of Justin Rose. Henrik Stenson of Sweden captured the Silver, and the USA brought home bronze with the play of Matt Kuchar.
In the women's competition, gold, silver, and bronze medals were taken by Inbee Park of Korea, Lydia Ko of New Zealand, and Shanshan Feng of China, respectively.
Qualifying for the USA team for the 2020 games scheduled in Tokyo is currently underway.
The U.S. Team is hoping to field players that will bring home the gold.
Who doesn't want to win the Olympics?
Forming The PGA Across The Oceans
The Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) in the UK became official in 1901.
Fifteen years later, in 1916, the US joined, forming PGA of America.
That same year marked the first US PGA Championship, held at Siwanoy Country Club in New York.
The ladies caught up in 1950, forming the Ladies' Professional Golfers' Association (LPGA) in the United States.
National Teams And Tournaments
The first Ryder Cup tournament was held at Gleneagles in 1921, pitting national teams against one another.
Here's what happened:
The winner that year was Great Britain, but the cross-pond rivalry continues to this day.
It didn't end there:
The following year, in 1922, the Walker Cup pitted amateurs against one another.
In a field of competitors including Great Britain and Ireland, and the USA.
Played at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York, the first title was taken by the USA.
Women entered the scene in 1932 with the first playing of the Curtis Cup, which included female amateurs from Great Britain, the U.S., and Ireland. Played at Wentworth, the US women took the title.
Enter the Masters:
Augusta National Golf Club hosted the first ever Masters tournament in 1934. Horton Smith of the US took home the title.
The women kept busy.
In Spokane County Club in Washington, the first US Women's Open was won by Patty Berg of the US.
Equipment Tweaks And Improvements
The 1900s has seen a boom in both the popularity of golf and great strides in equipment improvements.
In 1929 The R&A allowed the use of the first steel-shafted clubs.
The changes were too numerous and speedy to include in this history of golf.
Maybe next time:
Suffice it to say that this is not the same equipment your grandpa used!
Club design, driver head size, new grips, and so many changes it would make your head spin!
If you find a wooden-shafted club at the flea market -- buy it and find a collector.
OMG! The Dimples! Golf Balls Get Their Cheeks Pinched
We promised you more about the effect of nicks on gutties.
Here it is:
Probably the most pronounced improvement in the game has been in the realm of the standard golf ball.
After 200 years of dealing with unreliable featheries, the gutties didn't seem too much better.
But players noticed that they gained loft, went farther, and had a more consistent flight once they had a few nicks from being whacked.
Golfers intentionally nicked their new gutties, sometimes using hammers and chisels.
The irregular patterns gave the balls the appearance of bramble fruit or raspberries, and they received the nickname "brambles."
Three different types of gutta-percha golf balls. Image: Public Domain via: Wikimedia Commons
But that's not all!
While gutties enjoyed a half-century of popularity, they were obsolete within three years following the creation of the precursor to our modern golf ball.
Coburn Haskell, in 1898, working with the BF Goodrich folks, developed a rubber-cored ball.
The Haskell traveled a greater distance, was a lot less expensive to produce, and completely replaced the gutties within a few short years.
Designs on the outside of the new balls remained as varied as the gutties until...
Enter the dimples:
Now all the major sporting goods manufacturers have their own golf balls, offering a wide variety of choice for modern golfers.
Modern Golf: Where Do We Go from Here?
Are you exhausted?
From the potential origins and the history of golf dating back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome (we're still skeptical) to the 15th century in Scotland.
Then over 500 years of fast-paced advancements to bring us into the 21st century.
Haha -- nothing about golf is fast-paced!
We don't think we're done yet.
What could be next?
Hovercrafts instead of wheeled golf carts?
Maybe golf balls that can swim out of water hazards and return to their owner?
Self-guided balls that avoid the tree line?
It is hard to say where the future will take the game of golf.
We do know that the history of golf has been a long drive down the fairway.
As we nod and bid you good day, we leave you with the hope that all your shots are straight and true.
May all your putts hit the cup with that satisfying and beautiful little clunk!
It's all in the hips!
Drop us a few words in the comments to let us know what you think of our site.