golf

Golf originated from a game played on the eastern coast of Scotland in the Kingdom of Fife during the 15th century. The Scots were playing golf in its very basic form. Players would hit a pebble around a natural course of sand dunes, rabbit runs and tracks using a stick or primitive club.

In fact, the earliest known reference to golf comes from King James II of Scotland, who, in 1457, issued a ban on the playing of golf and football (soccer). Those games, James complained, were keeping his archers from their practice.

In 1502 with the Treaty of Glasgow was the ban lifted with King James IV (James 1 of England) himself taking up the sport. Thus, golf’s status and popularity quickly spread throughout the 16th century. King Charles I popularised the game in England and Mary Queen of Scots, who was French, introduced the game to France while she studied there.

The premier golf course of the time was Leith near Edinburgh. Indeed King Charles I was on the course when given the news of the Irish rebellion of 1641. Leith was also the scene of the first international golf match in 1682 when the Duke of York and George Patterson playing for Scotland beat two English noblemen.

The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith (1744) was the first club and was formed to promote an annual competition with a silver golf club as the prize. The club was later renamed the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers with a clubhouse erected in 1768 (moved to Musselburgh, Lothian in 1836).

In 1754 the St Andrews Society of Golfers was formed to compete in it’s own annual competition using Leith’s rules. Stroke play was introduced in 1759 and in 1764, the 18-hole course was constructed which has of course become a de-facto standard.

The first women’s golf club in the world was formed there in 1895. King William honoured the club with the title ‘Royal & Ancient’ in 1834 and the new famous clubhouse was erected in 1854. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) became the premier golf club because of it’s fine course, the publication of rules, it’s royal patronage and it’s promotion of the game as a proper sport.

By this time golf equipment was handcrafted and therefore expensive. Golf was therefore the preserve of the affluent. Once metal club heads and shafts and gutta percha balls (1848) began rolling off the production lines, the average person was able to afford to play golf.

The Victorian Industrial Revolution brought with it many social and economic changes. The growth of the railways gave birth to the mass tourism industry. For the first time, ordinary people could explore the country as day-trippers or weekend visitors. Golf clubs popped up all over the country and people could enjoy the challenge of playing a different one every weekend. Both of these factors directly contributed to the phenomenal growth of golf.

The growth of golf as an organised competitive sport in the United Kingdom was paralleled abroad in India and the USA. Gate receipts were used as prize money for the first time in 1892 in Cambridge, England. The first international golf tournament was the Amateur Golf Championship of India and the East in 1893.

By 1900 there were more than 1000 golf clubs in the USA. Chicago was the first to have 18 holes. Significantly American golf courses were usually specifically landscaped parklands unlike those in the United Kingdom, which were typically links courses.

The game attracted the attention of the media and business sponsorship which raised it’s profile enormously. In 1897 the first monthly magazine, Golf, was published in the USA. The USA became the centre of the professional game due to the proliferation of commercially sponsored competitions. However the prestigious events were still those hosted in the United Kingdom. Interestingly, it was the amateurs rather than professionals, which were exalted by the public.

Golf was confirmed as a global sport when it was made an Olympic sport in 1900.