Contrary to popular belief, golf is not a Scottish invention. Club and ball games have been popular all over the world since medieval times, and documentary evidence suggests that games similar to golf existed in China and continental Europe as early as the 12th century. Soldiers returning from battle in France introduced a game called ‘chole’, which would evolve into modern golf, to Scotland in 1421. Over the proceeding centuries, golf grew in popularity and was played across Scotland despite being banned by successive monarchs and regional governments, who saw it as distraction from military training and an unnecessary and frivolous past time. It was not until the mid-18th century that modern golf, as we would recognize it today, began to take shape. In 1744, ‘The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ formed the first ever golf club and laid down a formal set of rules to instruct players on how they should play the game. The ‘Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf’ would become known as the ‘Leith Rules’, named after Leith Links in Edinburgh where they played, and would form the basis of the modern rules of golf. In 1764, the St Andrews course set the standard of eighteen holes making up a round when it combined its opening holes, which were considered to be too short, and thus reduced the number of holes on the course from twenty two to eighteen.
Golf remained largely confined to Scotland until the late 1800’s. Interest in the game first spread to England, with over one thousand courses built in the fifty years preceding World War One. As the game became more popular in England, so it’s popularity spread throughout the British Empire and by the end of the 19th century there were courses in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and Singapore. The first American golf club was formed in Charleston, South Carolina in 1786, but as was the case in England, it was not until the late 19th century until golf started to take off as a popular sport. The United States Golf Association (USGA) was formed in 1894 by a small group of golf clubs who sought to govern and promote the game in the United States. By 1910, there were 267 clubs and this number grew to over one thousand over the next 20 years. Interest in golf grew significantly in the post war years and by 1980, there were over 5,000 golf clubs affiliated with the USGA. Today there are over 10,000 golf courses in the USA. Although not as popular as it is in Great Britain, Ireland, and America, golf has continued to grow in popularity throughout the world since the end of the Second World War. Interest was initially limited to wealthier nations such as Japan and South Korea in Asia, and western European countries, most notably Sweden, Spain, and Italy. However, since the 1980’s golf has expanded into South America, Eastern Europe, and several Asian countries and is now considered a truly global sport.
The equipment used to play golf has developed considerably since its earliest days on the links of Scotland. Originally, all golf clubs were completely made of wood. Persimmon was the wood of choice for a club head and hickory for the shaft. Balls too were originally made of wood until the 16th century when feather filled leather balls became popular. Despite their name, the ‘feathery’ was as hard as any modern golf ball. The development of the ‘gutta percha’ ball in 1850, which was more durable than the feathery, meant that club heads could be made from iron, and by the beginning of the 20th century golf equipment began to be take on the form that we would recognize today. Steel shafts came into use in the 1890’s and the dimpled ball soon followed. In the late 20th century there was a surge in technological advancement. The use of lightweight yet very strong materials, such a graphite and titanium, led to golf club heads becoming bigger, more forgiving, and able to propel the ball further than ever before. Despite these technological advancements, golf is still one of the most difficult sports to master, and remains for many, as Mark Twain once famously stated, “a good walk spoiled.”
If you would like to know more about sport of golf and its history, consult the following links.
- Golf like game played in medieval China. Documentary evidence that traces the origins of golf to 12th Century China.
- A Timeline of Golf History. A brief timeline of the history of golf from 1353 until 2003.
- History of Golf. A detailed account of the history of golf since 1497
- Scottish Golf History. Comprehensive site detailing the origin of golf terms, information about the oldest sites where golf was played, and the oldest golf societies in Scotland.
- The ‘Leith Rules’. The first formal rules for the game of golf.
- History of Golf in America. An account of the history of golf in the USA.
- Golf Ball Museum. Information about the development of the golf ball from the 14th century up to the modern day.
- The History of the Golf Club. An account of the history of golf clubs and other equipment.
- St Andrews Golf. Homepage for golf in St Andrews, Scotland, known as ‘the Home of Golf’. Includes a brief history of golf in St Andrews and information on playing the Old Course.
- The Royal & Ancient. Homepage for the world governing body for the sport of golf.
- The PGA Tour. Homepage for professional golf tournaments in the USA. The PGA Tour is the most prestigious professional golf tour in the world and hosts three out of the four major professional tournaments.
- The Open Championship. Homepage for the Open Championship, also known as the British Open, the oldest of the four professional major tournaments, first held in 1860.