The Sports Archives – What’s in a Name? The History Behind Golf!

Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland

With increasing “Did you know”-ability, the history behind golf’s origin has been growing in nostalgia. The older the term becomes, it seems, the more willing participants are to learn about it. However, one of the most common pearls of wisdom – that golf is actually an acronym for “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden” – may actually be, well, big bowl of malarkey. While the term dates back to the 1920s, there’s no actual history that backs it up. Certainly a popular chuckle-causing story by old timers, there are no facts to support their claims.

Perhaps most tellingly is the way that the word is stylized. As an acronym, golf would be seen as GOLF, clearly outlining that each letter stood for something else all together. Or, at the very least, G.O.L.F., to help separate it from an improper noun. Other factors are cited in language origins, as well as how long the game has actually been played – modern historians date the game (in its current form) back to the 1550s. Before this time, similar sports shared the same name, although spellings ranged greatly, including gowlf, goff, and golph. Whether or not ladies and/or lassies were allowed to play these alternate versions is unclear.

Another inconsistency behind golf’s name is its ancestry. Many have sourced it back to Scottish origins as a variation on “kolf,” a word for mallet or club. However, golf was not played in Scotland at this time, but rather countries away. Finally, unless the term was coined in an English-speaking country after Middle English (which ended around 1700), as the language took a huge turn during the Modern English period, the “gentlemen only” theory remains moot.

Whether or not golfers believe in the history behind their sport’s name, there are plenty of stories to be told. From country of origin, to changes in the sport, golf is one past time that has an extensive biography – one that may never be fully pinned down. Until that happens, however, golfers everywhere will continue to exchange their tidbits and guesses that search for the truth.

Guest post by Bethaney Wallace, a freelance writer for

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4 Responses to The Sports Archives – What’s in a Name? The History Behind Golf!

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