A Brief History of Golf

The history of golf is rooted in fifteen century gaming and it is derived from games formerly played in the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland. Players would, at one time, strike a stone or pebble with a stick as they hit the pebble around a course constructed out of natural obstacles like rabbit runs, sand dunes, and the like. There are many different nations that likely contributed to the invention and evolution of golf. As such, the history of golf has no clear cut inventor so to speak, but contributions to the game as we know it today have come from cultures around the world.

The Netherlands

There was much written about the game of “colf” or “kolf” which was played as early as the 13th century in the Netherlands. The basic similarities of the games with today’s game of golf were that they were played with a curved stick and ball. Foursomes were also common. Whether “kolf “was an ancestor of golf is a question many ask.

Ancient Rome

Were the Romans the first to play a game of golf? They did have a game called paganica that was played with a bent stick and a leather ball made of feathers. Historians say the game spread through Europe as the Romans conquered more lands.


History shows the Chinese had many stick and ball games that could have been a form of early golf. However when the actual game of golf was introduced to the Chinese it was quite foreign to them.


Golf likely evolved, in part, from games formerly played in the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland. Players would, at one time, strike a stone or pebble with a stick as they hit the pebble around a course constructed out of natural obstacles like rabbit runs, sand dunes, and the like. Certain historians assert that this game was influenced by the games of Chole from Belgium or Kolven from Holland; these games first appeared in the early 1420s in Scotland. It should be noted that games like Chole and Kolven, while they were ball and stick games, did not have the inclusion of a hole.

Some historical evidence clearly suggests that golf gamine was enjoyed in Scotland in St. Andrews. This location is considered the cradle of the golf game today. It is believed that the game of golf is, at minimum, six centuries old. In fact, some historians believe that the game was being played for at least a century before it was being played in St. Andrews. Some historians also assert that the game was not elite at first and that it was played by sheep herders as they tended to the flocks in the fields. It is believed that to remedy boredom that the herders began striking pebbles or rocks with a stick at various targets located throughout the landscape. Since the landscape varied a great deal, it was not long before players would encounter natural bunkers and hazards.

A Favorite of Kings and Queens

While the game of golf’s roots are somewhat unclear, historians do not dispute the fact that this game is definitely one that was birthed in Scotland.

During the fifteenth century in Scotland games like these were so common and popular that they distracted military members from necessary training. When this occurred, King James II decide to ban any kind of sports playing in the year 1457. This same ban was continued and reaffirmed in the year 1470 and the year 1491. While there were rules prohibiting gaming, people largely ignored such rules and continued enjoying their favorite pastimes. In the year 1502, after the implementation of the Treaty of Glasgow, the sports ban was repealed. This could have been due to King James IV’s, then the king of England, interests in golfing.

Golf was royally endorsed during the sixteenth century and this is what led to its tremendous popularity. In England, King Charles I helped to make the game well known and in France, Mary Queen of Scots also enjoyed the game. In fact, the term “caddie” is from the French word cadet The term was derived from the French Military helpers assisting Mary Queen of Scots at the time. Later, the first golf course would be created in Leith, a locale nearby Edinburgh. Even King Charles I played on the course in Leith as this is where he was notified of the 1641 Irish rebellion. What’s more, this is the course where the very first international golfing game was played in the early 1680s; the game was a match between two English noblemen, George Patterson and the Duke of York.

The Game’s Evolution

By 1744, the first golf club was created; appropriately the club was identified as the Gentleman Golfers of Leith. This club hosted a yearly golf competition with the prize consisting of a Silver Golf Club. Club rules were created by Duncan Forbes. Rules asserted that a ball had to be teed within a single club’s length of the hole on the course, that the tee must be placed on the ground, and that the ball that was struck off the tee could not be changed. The rules also asserted that bones, stones and other obstacles could not be removed for the purposes of play and that gaming should be honest and golfers should make no attempt to cheat. In 1768, the Gentleman Golfers of Leith changed its name to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and moved in 1836 to Musselburgh, Lothian.
In the year 1759 stroke play in golf was first introduced. Later, in the year 1764 a brand new golf course was constructed that consisted of eighteen holes. Today, the eighteen hole golf course has become a gaming standard. By 1895, the very first golf club for women was created too. This club was honored with the name of the Royal and Ancient by King William, and in 1854 the location got a brand new clubhouse construction. The club later became well known as the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews. The site had royal patronage, a superb course, and its rules were produced in a publication.

During that time, golf clubs had heads on them made of apple tree wood or beech wood while others were crafted out of durable iron. Meanwhile, shafts were constructed out of hazel wood or ash. The golf balls that were in use at the time were made of feathers that were compressed and stuffed inside a horsehide covering which was later sewn closed.

Golf in the Modern Era

During the nineteenth century, many golf clubs were erected in the Commonwealth of the British Empire. In 1766, the Royal Blackheath golf club was created just outside of the city of London, even though golfing had occurred at in London since the early 1600s. Later, in 1820, another club was established in India in the city of Bangalore. In 1829, the Royal Calcutta club was created and many clubs soon followed including the 1842 formation of the Royal Bombay; the 1856 creation of the Royal Curragh in Ireland; the 1856 formation of the Pau in France; the 1870 creation of the Adelaide; the 1873 formation of the Royal Montreal; the 1885 formation of the Cape Town club; the 1888 formation of the Saint Andrews of New York club, and the 1889 formation of the Royal Hong Kong club. Some historians will argue that the 1786 creation of the South Carolina Golf Club predates all other golf club creations.

During the twentieth century, golf underwent a number of changes. In the 1900s, the first single pieced golf ball sporting a rubber core was invented. In 1902, the first irons with grooved faces was introduced. Three years later, the very first golf ball sporting the “dimpled” pattern offering up improved aerodynamics was created by William Taylor. Five years after that the first steel shafted golf clubs were created by Arthur Knight. Six years later in 1916, the very first association for golf was established: the PGA or the Professional Golfers Association of America.

History of Golf Balls and Golf Clubs

The featherie ball was invented sometime around the early 1600s. Until this time wooden balls were used. A featherie is of painted cow-hide stitched shut; containing goose feathers. This ball outperformed the wood variety and was the standard ball until the invention of the guttie in 1848. Dr. Robert Adams is the individual responsible for this inexpensive and aerodynamically superior ball.

Wound balls were the first multi-layered ball on the scene in the early twentieth century. These balls were once of a liquid or solid core wound up in rubber thread and coated with a thin shell. More advanced manufacturing techniques allowed manufacturers greater precision when designing and producing these balls. Today's multi-layered balls employ a titanium core and a number of hybrid materials. The shell of the ball is softer these days than it was in the past. A golf ball of today will have two to four layers of synthetic material.

History of the Golf Club

Golf clubs have undergone a long evolution. In golf's earliest days people used whatever was handy to fashion crude instruments to play. The first record of a special set of clubs comes from King James IV of Scotland, who commissioned a set in 1602. One year later the kingdom appointed its first royal club maker, William Mayne. These early golf clubs were wood, relatively fragile, and expensive to make. The first metal heads date to 1750, and in fact club makers were experimenting with a number of materials in an attempt to improve the effectiveness and durability of the clubs in a game. A new club, a 'bulger', was invented to cope with the new dynamics of the 'guttie' ball in 1848. These clubs closely resemble the woods of today.

It was sometime around 1900 when aluminum became the material of choice, and in 1902 E. Burr presented iron heads with grooved faces which increased the backspin of the ball. In 1929 clubs with metal shafts were allowed officially into the professional game. In 1939 the 14 club rule was introduced as was the convention of numbering clubs instead of giving names.

The putter was only permitted in professional golf in 1951, and the graphite shaft first made its way into the game in 1973. The most recent evolution in golf clubs is the Taylor-Made 'metal woods', which now supersede the 'wooden woods' in popularity. Today's most expensive and sophisticated golf clubs utilize titanium heads and graphite shafts.

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