Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows I enjoy a good game of golf. Anyone who has ever golfed with me knows I must also enjoy a bad game of golf because I keep going back. The other day I was golfing with my sister-in-law and the same old questions came up: Why do we keep putting ourselves through this? and Who ever thought of spending a perfectly good afternoon (or morning) hitting a little ball with a club, trying to get it into a little hole? I wasn’t able to find an answer to either of those two questions, but I did find a few facts about the evolution of the game.
15th Century: The game originated on the eastern coast of Scotland. Players hit a pebble over sand dunes and around tracks using a bent stick or club. The game was so popular when the country needed to once more prepare to defend itself against the “Auld Enemy”, King James II found many neglecting their military duties. The king’s parliament banned the sport in 1457. The people largely ignored the ban.
16th Century: The game was given the royal seal of approval in 1502 by King James IV, the world’s first golfing monarch. It quickly spread throughout Europe. King Charles I brought it to England. Mary Queen of Scots introduced it to France. The term “caddie” came from her French military aides, cadets.
17th Century: Leith, near Edinburgh and one of the premiere courses of the day, hosted the first international tournament in 1682. The Duke of York and George Patterson of Scotland beat two English gentlemen.
18th Century: Golf officially became a sport when the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith formed the first club in 1744. They hosted an annual competition and gave silverware for prizes. The rules drawn up for the competition sound very much like our rules today. The first reference to golf at St Andrews is in 1552, but it wasn’t until 1754 that the St Andrews Society of Golfers was formed to host its own annual competition following the Leith rules. The first 18-hole course was built at St Andrews in 1764. This established the now recognized standard for the game. The first club formed outside Scotland was Royal Blackheath, near London, in 1766.
19th Century: St Andrews was honored with the title “Royal & Ancient” by King William IV in 1834, thus establishing the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Andrews as the world’s premier golf club. The Industrial Revolution of the Victorian Era gave birth to the railroads, allowing ordinary people to explore outside their cities and towns. Golf clubs quickly spread throughout the countryside. This led to mass production of clubs and balls, making the game more affordable. Before this, clubs were hand-crafted from beech with shafts of ash or hazel, and balls were constructed from compressed feathers wrapped in a stitched horse hide. The game’s popularity exploded. The forerunner to the British Open was played at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860. The United States Golf Association (USGA) was established in 1894. The first club formed outside Britain was in Bangalore, India, in 1820. The Royal Curragh, Ireland, formed in 1856. The Adelaide in 1870, the Royal Montreal in 1873, Cape Town in 1885, St. Andrews of New York in 1888, and the Royal Hong Kong in 1889.
20th Century: By 1900 more than 1000 golf clubs existed in the United States. Funding through commercial sponsorship established the USA as the center of the professional game. US courses are beautifully sculpted and landscaped. British courses are typically rough links. But some of the most famous courses are still found in Scotland: Gleneagles, The Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Prestwick, just to name a few.