Who Invented Golf?

I used to play golf. I went to see the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance” in the theater and I liked it. What stayed with me however was that golf seemed to be a type of sport made for me–a nonathletic person who wants to be alone.

It was. But it’s also a costly sport, so I stopped, not having enough money to play. Anyway, I recently moved and I dug up my old golf club. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them from now, but it led me to where we are today, to answer the following question:

Who Created Golf?

First, where does the term “golf” come from? It is believed to have originated from the Dutch word “kolf” or “kolve,” which translates to “club.” The Dutch were known to play a stick-and-ball game similar to golf, and this word referred to the club used to strike the ball. As golf’s popularity spread to Scotland, the Dutch term evolved into “goff” or “gouff” in the Scottish dialect before becoming “golf” as we know it today in the 16th century.

The first written mention of a game called golf can be found in an Act of Parliament dating from March 6, 1457. King James II of Scotland took an extraordinary step in banning his subjects from playing football and golf. The reason behind the ban was that citizens were indulging in these games in the streets and churchyards instead of practicing archery, which was crucial for their mandatory military training. The King deemed these pastimes “pointless sports” and believed that they hindered his subjects’ preparedness for defending the country.

The debatable origins of Golf

According to many reports and pieces of evidence, the game of golf may have existed in several places throughout history, raising the question of its beginnings. A game involving using a stick to strike a leather ball onto a target hundreds of yards away was described at Loenen aan de Vecht, Netherlands, in February 1297. The winner was the player who used the fewest strokes. Some academics contend that this kind of game, which involves using golf clubs to put a ball in a hole, was also played in the Netherlands in the 17th century and may have existed before golf in Scotland.

In the 1261 Middle Dutch manuscript of Jacob van Maerlant’s Boeck Merlijn, the earliest known mention in Dutch of the game “colf” (similar to golf) was made. The council of Brussels banned colf in 1360, imposing a fine for playing the game. In 1387, a charter allowed playing colf outside the town walls, and in 1389, a field named “De Baen” was offered for exclusive use in playing colf in Haarlem, Netherlands.

Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) playing golf in the movie Caddyshack.

Golf in Scotland

The first golfing king in history, King James IV of Scotland (1473–1513), gave the sport its royal endorsement in 1502.

Apparently, at that time, two variations of the game existed in Scotland. One version, known as “short golf,” was played through the streets of villages or towns, where players hit a ball into a churchyard or down a street. The other version, called “long golf,” was played over large pieces of property, striking balls out in the open.

A long-distance game with numerous clubs was played toward a hole in the ground by the middle of the 1500s. Evidence of this game can be found in a Latin grammar book called “Vocabula,” published in 1636 by Aberdeen, Scotland schoolmaster David Wedderburn. The book contains the first mention of a golf hole as well as early descriptions of the sport.

The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers drafted the first set of golf regulations in 1744 and published them. They held their competition at Leith Links in Edinburgh under these regulations, often known as the Thirteen Articles. More than 30 clubs implemented these regulations throughout the following century.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A) didn’t present the first comprehensive rules code until 1899. In the same time frame, the United States Golf Association (USGA) was established in New York City. Both groups contributed significantly to the unification and standardization of golf’s regulations, elevating them to the position of the sport’s primary regulatory authorities.

St. Andrews, Scotland, has been associated with golf since 1552. While there are no texts from the 1500s specifically pointing to the significance of St. Andrews, by the time descriptions of golf courses emerged, it was clear that St. Andrews was considered the ultimate example of a golf course.

The China Connection

In the early 2000s, Chinese historians claimed that their ancestors played a game similar to golf, called “chuiwan” or “hit ball,” long before the Scots. They presented evidence from a Ming Dynasty scroll and a book called “Wan Jing” (“Manual of the Ball Game”) published in 1282. While similarities exist, historians like Jerris remain skeptical about labeling it as golf, as they believe that every culture had its own version of stick and ball games.

Golf in America

It is also possible to trace the origins of golf to Scotland. A Leith native named David Deas received one of the earliest shipments of golf equipment in the American colonies in 1743. The sport became popular in the 19th century, particularly following the Industrial Revolution when Scottish railways made it possible for English golf visitors to go to Scotland.

John and Elizabeth Reed are credited with establishing the St. Andrew’s Club in New York, while Bobby Jones, an amateur golfer, won the Grand Slam in 1930 and co-founded Augusta National during his retirement. Glenna Collet Vare, known as the Queen of American Golf, dominated the women’s scene in the 1920s.

Golf is not the only sport I wrote about as I already covered the invention of basketball and of chess. Also, Golf is an Olympic Game!

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