The History of Golf - The Beginnings

Golf is one of the most popular of the organised sports in the entire world right now, so let us find out The History of Golf – The Beginnings.

Golf is played, watched and followed in nearly every country, in nearly every corner of the world these days. But, when did golf actually get its start and how popular was it back then? What has changed over the centuries, and what has stayed the same? And what exactly is on the horizon for the game?

The History of Golf - The Beginnings
The History of Golf – The Beginnings

Read on for a brief history of golf, as well as a look ahead for what might be looming in the future of the game, including the ability to get online golf lessons. We will look at how the equipment has changed from wooden clubs to titanium shafts and what that has meant for the games and the players themselves. And finally, we will take a quick look at one of the most popular players that the game has ever seen. (No peeking ahead, now.)

The Much Debated Beginnings

The Scots have long claimed the right to be called the inventors of golf. Other cultures have looked into their past histories, and that right has been greatly debated, especially recently. To find the first contestant for the real father of golf, you have to travel all the way back to ancient Egypt. Yep, when the Egyptians when are not killing off their rulers and each other, it would appear that that they were developing sports that may well have been the precursors to modern sports.

According to ancient writings and hieroglyphics, a game that appears remarkably similar to modern golf was played, probably as a religious rite. And because the Egyptians were so fond of symbolism and such, it is believed that this religious rite/sporting event was related in some way to fertility. Of course, the actual game that they were playing may not have been as golf-like as originally thought, and may possibly be more closely related to baseball or cricket instead.  It doesn’t really matter though, because the ancient Egyptians, with their wars and art and other contributions to culture are not the only contenders for the claim on golf.

Next up in the debate: the Chinese. China shocked the world by laying claim to the invention of not only soccer but also judo, which has long thought to have once been a Japanese martial art. Now the Chinese have announced that their historians have found evidence of a game that appears remarkably similar in style and form to modern day golf. If the Chinese are correct in their assumption, then their golf precursor dates to around AD 945. The Chinese book, called the Dongxuan Records tells of a game called “chuiwan” (chui= to hit, wan= ball) with the accompanying description of the ten clubs that were used to play the game. These clubs were alleged to have been jewel encrusted, indicating that the game, whether it was golf or not, was meant for the wealthy.

The Dongxuan Records include a reference to a Chinese magistrate having his daughter go out to “dig holes in the ground so that he could drive balls into them.” The claim further asserts that it was Mongol traders who brought the game to Europe in the late Middle Ages, further proof that the Chinese are the ones that invented the game.

Of course, the Chinese are not the only challengers to the Scottish claim of golf’s inventor. The French insist that the game was originally “pallemail”and played sometime in the fifteenth century. And in the fourteenth century, some version of the game was thought to have once  been played by athletes in Belgium and Holland as well. So, who gets the title? The only definitive facts about the history of golf are these:

1) On March 6, 1457, James II banned both golf and football by an official act of Parliament.  (The sports were taking up too much time that he felt would be better used for archery practice.)

2) James VI brought the game to England in 1603- the game itself was basically the rough version of the game we call golf today.

3) Edinburgh golfers formed the first official club or society for the sport in 1744. The very first, thirteen rules for golf were written and a competition was held annually between golfers from any part of Britain and Ireland.

4) King William IV became the patron of the Society of St. Andrews Golfers in 1834 and the name was changed to the Royal and Ancient Golf club of St. Andrews.

5) The Royal Blackheath Golf Club of England was formed in 1766, thought to be one of the first clubs formed outside of Scotland.  This was followed in 1818 by the Old Manchester Golf Club.

6) Golf makes it to North America in 1873 with the forming of the Royal Montreal Club. Canada took to golf quite well, and the Quebec Golf Club formed in 1875, with one in Toronto forming the following year.

7) The United States did  not take to the sport as readily, and although it was thought to have actually been played sporadically, historically, golf did not really officially take off in the US until 1888 when a three-hole course was built near Yonkers. That same year, the St. Andrews Club of Yonkers was formed. Golf dug in, found its niche and by the turn of that century there were more than 1000 golf clubs all over North America.

So, who is to say which country should get the bragging rights? Most golfers and golfing enthusiasts have the same opinion: let the historians fight over who wrote what ancient paper or described some ancient game. Leave the scholars to their dusty books and dimly lit libraries. The true golfer will take the fresh air, the warm sunshine and the sweet tang of the freshly mown greens.

Is the Grass on the Greens Always Greener?

Considering that golf may or may not have been invented by bored shepherds, it is amazing the change that has taken place in golf courses. Golf courses are a testament to man’s ability to adopt and adapt to nature, sometimes bending to her will, sometimes coaxing her to bend to his. Today’s modern golf courses are beautiful, lush and a tremendous amount of work. You ask any greens’ keeper how long a day he puts in to keep his course so pristine and see what he tells you. And don’t think that the greens’ man is just a glorified lawnmower- most are highly educated, dedicated, and golfers themselves. They have to know what type of grass they are dealing with, how best to water it, feed it, cut it. They have to know what type of weather conditions to watch out for that would be dangerous to their finely maintained lawns. And they have to know the fastest, most efficient ways to keep out the vermin and varmints that can destroy a course.

Back to the beginning of the sport- the game is alleged to have been started with those bored shepherds who were using their crooked staffs to hit rounded stones into nearby rabbit holes while they sat around with their sheep in the fields. In the Chinese history of the sport, the magistrate’s daughter was told to cut holes into the ground, with no indication to the depth or location of these holes. And remaining in the modern times, there are still places where the ground can be too hard to firmly seat a tee, hence the development and use of the tripod tee.

Most courses take years of planning and millions of dollars to build. The planning that goes into a course’s layout is astounding, it is sometimes more than what goes on in building a skyscraper!

Public courses usually stick with a more basic layout because they will more than likely not see the huge revenue or return that a private club or resort type course will make in a year. Basic does not mean that these are any less cared for, there is just not as many fancy frills to them. Public courses usually have some of the same amenities as the private clubs, but with less restrictions and a little more welcoming making the public course the first step in a new golfer’s introduction to the game.

No matter where you play, the next time you head to the links for a round of golf, take note of the type of grass that is growing there. Some grasses are softer and will remain bent, while others are firmer and will remain upright, especially if they are not cut short enough on a frequent basis. The way that grass grows and is cut will affect the way that your ball rolls, so it is worth noting these things before you tee up the first shot.

Because the greens see so many stomping feet, part of basic golf etiquette is to help the greens keeper out by repairing any divots that you make, as well as raking the sand-traps clear of footprints after you are done there.  Just how much abuse does the grass take at a typical golf course on a typical day? Let’s assume that there are 15 groups of four golfers that play 18 holes of golf on the day. That is sixty people, or a total of 120 shoe-clad feet that will stomp, trample, scuff and clump through these greens.

Holey Moley- How Holes Can Be Improved

Once upon a time, golf was nothing more than stones hit into holes made by rats, rabbits and other small animals. Once the stone rolled into the hole, it was considered gone, because no self-respecting sheep herder was going to get caught up to his elbows rooting around a rabbit hole for a rock. Of course, that was probably in their best interest, because if the stone rolled in and woke the resident, a questing hand might find itself a varmint chew toy as the hole owner voices their displeasure at this invasion. (Obviously, rabbits are just not big golf fans.)

Another upgrade to the golf hole was when it began being purposely dug by the golfer’s themselves (or their servants, children, etc.) specifically for the sport. No more looking around for handy rabbit holes; no more gnawed fingers and lost round stones. The holes were crudely shaped and if the ground was too hard, not very deep, but they did actually serve their purpose.

Flash forward to the modern day: holes are a standard depth, with a lining that keeps them well maintained and prevents you from having to fight varmints for your ball. Of course, there are those that think the added thrill of a potential animal bite would enliven the game, but nobody listens to those people anyway!


This is the end of the first part of  the History of Golf – The Beginnings- continue to part 2….