Golf is an incredibly popular sport in the United States and worldwide that has annual championships, massive companies, professional players and famous courses. However, many people are unaware about the origins of this wonderful sport. Here is a brief history of golf to help shed some light on this unknown topic.
The earliest origins of golf are quite unclear and hotly contested by historians. However, the origins of the standard game of golf is quite easily traced to Scotland. Some historians argue that a Roman game that used a leather ball and sticks spread throughout Europe during their conquest and inspired what we now know as golf. Some alternative theories trace golf back to ancient China, Persia, England, France and the Netherlands. While none of these are conclusive, it is clear to see that civilizations around the world were practicing a sport very similar.
While the ancient origins of golf may not be known for sure, the origins of the modern game are clearly traced back to Scotland in the 15th century. With golf rising in popularity within Scotland, King James II banned the sport temporarily because it was interfering with learning archery. In fact, this was the first written record of the sport. King James II eventually lifted the ban and became a golfer himself.
The first mention of golf clubs was also associated with King James II. One of the earliest models of golf course is known as the Old Course in St. Andrews. This course was built on naturally occurring ridges and is known in golf as a links course. Many golf enthusiasts actually see this course as a pilgrimage destination. The first standard 18 hole course was eventually created at St. Andrews in 1764 when the number of holes was reduced from 22 to 18. There are also records of golf being played at Musselburgh Links as far back as 1672. It is regarded by Guinness World Records as the oldest golf course in the world.
The activity of golf spread throughout Europe throughout the 16th century. Many royals started to play the game which helped in the growing popularity. King Charles I made the game famous in England while Mary Queen of Scots popularized the game in France while studying.
Around the mid 1800’s, golf was quickly becoming recognized as an official sport. The first golf club was started in 1744 and called The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith. The club held a competition each year in which a silver golf club was the grand prize. Formal rules were also written for the club and a clubhouse was built in 1768. The St Andrews Society of Golfers started their own club in 1754 borrowing the rules from Leith. St. Andrews was also the site of the first golf club made for women. The club is so popular and momentous in fact that King William gave the honorable title of ‘Royal and Ancient’ to the famous club.
Around this time, golfers were using modernized golf clubs that standardized the shape of modern clubs today. The club heads were often made from wood but also sometimes constructed with iron that had been forged by hand. The shafts of the golf clubs were made from wood as well. The balls used during this time were made of horse hide stitched around compressed feathers. The later import of hickory and perimmon from the United States improved the club performance.
The development of golf clubs continued to improve throughout the world. The British Empire was at it’s height during the 19th century and the production of clubs spread throughout the empire from India to England itself. However, due to the high-quality development and expensive materials, golf remained a sport and activity of the wealthy. It wasn’t until the production of iron clubs that golf became a sport that was affordable to more people. This helped the sport to spread even further and into different social classes.
These major changes eventually led to the creation of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) in 1916. People began becoming professionals at the sport and earning money through the practice of the sport. At the beginning of the 1900’s the official rules of golf differed between the United States and the English Commonwealth. The differences were eventually hashed out in 1988. The R&A and USGA meet every four years now to discuss the rules and publish the official rules.
Golf has since became a very popular sport around the world, but especially within the United States. There are accessible golf courses in several locations where normal people can go to play a quick game. Golf has become just as much a hobby as it has a professional sport. The game has developed from a humble activity played with sticks into a world-wide sport that attracts professional players and fans alike.