There are many debates about the origin of golf, but two countries stand out the most – Scotland and Holland. The word golf, most likely, comes from the Dutch word colf, meaning stick or club. However, sorry to disappoint all of you rooting for the Dutch origin, the actual game of golf emerged in Scotland.
Read on to discover why Scotland is the birth country of this compelling game, how it came to be, and how it spread and developed through time!
Holland is most likely the origin of the name golf, but not the actual game of golf as we know it. Once upon a time in the 13th century, the Dutch played a game with a stick and leather ball. The winner was the one who hit the ball with the fewest strokes into a target some hundred yards away.
Colf is a Dutch word for the club. The earliest mention of the game of colf was in 1261 by Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant in the Middle Dutch manuscript Boeck Melijn. Although this game does resemble golf, it’s not the origin of actual golf. The birth of modern golf traces back to the 15th century in Scotland, with one distinction that separates it from similar sports in history – the hole.
Scotland – Origins of Golf as we Know it
As we mentioned above, golf originated in Scotland, more specifically on the eastern coast in an area close to the royal capital of Edinburgh. During the 15th century, Scotland was to defend itself against the invasion of England. King James II of Scotland felt perfecting archery would be a more worthwhile sporting activity during those difficult times, so he banned the game of golf in 1457 in the Act of Scottish Parliament.
That was the first time the game was mentioned and prohibited. Although people largely ignored the ban, other banning began soon after, alongside criticism of golf as an unprofitable sport. It was in 1502 that the game gained the royal seal of approval with the Treaty of Glasgow. That’s when King James IV of Scotland became the first golfing monarch.
St Andrews Old Course, commonly called the spiritual home of golf, is the oldest golf course. It gave birth to the 18-hole game we play today. The first recorded rounds of golf at St Andrews Old Course happened back in 1552. Soon after, it became the most famous golf course in the world. Play at the oldest golf course in the world at indoor golf in NYC, and check out other well-known golf courses.
Spreading the Game
Mary Queen of Scots introduced the game to France when she studied there, and King Charles I brought the game to England. Thanks to them, golf quickly spread throughout Europe during the 16th century.
The first international golf match occurred in 1682 at one of the premier golf courses at Leith near Edinburgh. Two Scottish representatives, George Patterson and the Duke of York beat two English noblemen. However, it wasn’t until 1744 that golf officially became a sport, when the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith formed the first club and initiated an annual competition with silverware prizes.
The first 18-hole course was created at St Andrews in 1764, forming the standard for the game. Soon after was formed the first golf club outside Scotland, the Royal Blackheath, near London. At this time, golfers were playing with hand-crafted wooden clubs and the balls made of compressed feathers wrapped in a stitched horsehide.
19th Century Boom
Golf popularity exploded during the 19th century. The British Empire expanded, and golf followed. Bangalore in India was the first golf club outside Britain, formed in 1820. Soon after came the Royal Curragh in Ireland in 1856, St Andrews of New York in 1888, and Royal Hong Kong, to name a few.
The Industrial Revolution brought many changes. Golf clubs began to pop up all over the countryside. This happened because of the invention of the railways. It allowed ordinary people to travel and explore outside their cities and towns. Also, the game became more affordable because of the mass production methods used to manufacture the balls and clubs.
The predecessor to the British Open was played at the Prestwick Golf Club in 1860, with Willie Park victorious. Not long after that, in 1894 was established The United States Golf Association. By 1900, nearly 1000 golf clubs came to be throughout the USA, which quickly established itself as the center of the professional game.
Although there are some disputes about the origins of golf, it’s safe to say that Scots invented the 18-hole game as we know it today. Its name, however, most likely originated in Holland back in the 13th century.
Through time, this elegant game and its equipment evolved. However, most of the rules still stand today, and maintaining this tradition certainly has its charms.