Have you ever wondered how golf came to be? Well, the origins of golf date back over 800 years to 13th or 14th century Europe, and while the game looked vastly different back then, there are many historical components from the early days which still play a part in today's game.
There is still some debate about the exact origins of golf, but most experts agree that modern-day golf originated in Scotland. Some historians claim that a similar game might have been played in the Netherlands as early as the 13th century, pre-dating the Scottish version by several decades. In fact, the name ‘Golf’ is derived from a Dutch word, ‘Kolf’ or ‘Kolve’ which meant ‘club’. It was adopted into the Scottish Gaelic language as ‘Goff’ or ‘Gouff.’ The first recorded game of golf in Scotland can be traced back to the early 1400s near the capital Edinburgh.
Golf soon became a very popular game in Scotland, played mainly by the military, and while there were no written rules of the game in those early days, the main purpose of the game was to hit pebbles over sand dunes and around the tracks. Golf was so popular in those early days that King James II had to ban the game in 1457 after too many members of the army neglected their training to play a round instead.
Although many still continued to play golf illegally, the game was made legal again in 1502 by King James IV of Scotland, who was one of the first royals to become a golfing enthusiast. It became a popular outdoor sport for the elite classes across Europe, especially with Mary Queen of Scots. (Fun fact: the term ‘caddie’ comes from the French word ‘cadet’, the term used to describe the French military aides who would escort Mary across the lawn and carry her clubs as she played the game.)
Golf was officially established as a sport in 1744 after the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith formed the first-ever golf club and hosted the first amateur championship. They were also the first to record a set of rules for the game, known as the ‘Leith Rules’ which were used as a blueprint for the modern game.
Some other notable early international golf clubs were: Royal Blackheath in London (the first golf club outside of Scotland), the Bangalore club in India, (the first golf club outside of the UK), Royal Curragh in Ireland, the Adelaide in Australia, Royal Montreal in Canada, St Andrew’s of New York and the Royal Hong Kong.
The game became a favorite pastime here in the US towards the end of the 19th century, with the foundation of the United States Golf Association (USGA) in 1894. USGA acted as a governing body for golf clubs across the country, and they were the first association in the world to receive funding for prizes through commercial sponsorship. By the early 20th century, golf had become increasingly popular in the US, with over 1000 clubs being formed by 1900.
Today there are over 40,000 golf courses around the world, and about 15,500 in the USA. Many of these historic golf clubs are still around today and most are open for golf fans to take a swing on their evergreen fields.
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