Your Best Link to the "Links"--A Brief History of Golf

May 1


Larry Denton

Larry Denton

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Golf, as we know it today, originated from a game played on the eastern coast of Scotland during the 15th century. Players would hit a pebble around a natural course of sand dunes and rabbit trails using a stick or a primitive club.


Some historians believe that the games of Kolven from Holland and Chole from Belgium influenced the game. The latter being introduced into Scotland in 1421. However,Your Best Link to the while these are stick and ball games, they are missing that vital ingredient that is unique to golf--the hole. Whatever the argument, there is no dispute that Scotland gave birth to the game we know today as golf.

The status and popularity of golf spread quickly throughout the 16th century due to it's royal endorsement. King Charles I brought the game to England and Mary Queen of Scots, who was French, introduced the game to France while she studied there. In fact, the term "caddie" stems from the name given to her helpers who were cadets in the French military.

The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith (near Edinburgh) was the first club(formed in 1744) to promote an annual competition and to draft the club's rules. The first reference to golf at the historic town of St. Andrews was in 1552. The now famous clubhouse was erected there in 1854 and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews became the premier golf club because of it's fine course, the publication of rules, and it's promotion of the game as a proper sport.

By this time, golfers were using proper clubs and balls. Club heads were made from beech wood and some heads were made from hand-forged iron. Shafts were usually ash or hazel wood. Balls were made from tightly packed feathers wrapped in a stitched horse-hide sphere.

The industrial revolution brought with it many social and economic changes. The growth of railroads gave rise to mass tourism and for the first time, ordinary people could explore the countryside as weekend visitors. Golf courses popped up all over the United Kingdom and people could enjoy the challenge of playing a different one each week.

Since most golf equipment was handcrafted it was, therefore, quite expensive and golf was dominated by the wealthy. Once metal club heads and shafts and gutta percha balls (1848) began rolling off production lines, the average person was able to afford golf.

The growth of golf as an organized competitive sport in the United Kingdom was paralleled abroad in India and the United States. In 1894, the United States Golf Association (USGA) was established to regulate the game in the U.S. and Mexico.

By 1900 there were more than 1,000 golf courses in the U.S. Chicago was the first to sport 18 holes. Importantly, American golf courses were specifically designed like parklands unlike those in the U.K., which were typically links courses.

The beginning of the 20th century brought several technological innovations to the game of golf. The one piece rubber-cored ball appeared in 1900, and grooved-faced irons were introduced in 1902. In 1905, William Taylor invented the first dimpled ball and in 1910, steel-shafted clubs first appeared. Within a decade, golfers could hit further and with more accuracy than ever before using equipment which was mass produced rather inexpensively.

While there have been thousands of unbelievable golf shots throughout the centuries, the most famous golf shot must surely belong to Alan Shepard who hit a ball on the moon in 1971, watched by an audience of millions around the globe. Golf--the first sport is space! The club he used can be viewed in the USGA museum in Far Hills, New Jersey.

As prize money grows, so does the sport of golf itself. Millions of people around the world now play the sport, and other millions watch the game religiously on television. Golf is a game for young and old, short and tall, thin and hefty. Golf is truly a "people's game," and continues to grow in popularity.

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