The Sports Archives – Who Invented Golf?

Golf Club

The Origins Of The Game

Scotland is known as the ‘home of golf’ for good reason. References to golf date back to the 15th century, and was even banned by King James II’s parliament as being a distraction from military training, although this was lifted in 1502 and the game has been allowed to flourish ever since. After 1750, golf started evolving into the sport many keen fans and golfers will recognise today. This included the very first standardized rules for a game of golf, penned by Edinburgh golfers in 1774.

The timeline of golfing history includes developed such as early golf balls made from leather bags stuffed with feathers, the gutta-percha ball invented in 1848, and in 1898, Coburn Haskell introduced the golf world to the first rubber cored, one piece ball. In 1905 the evolution of the golf ball was complete – the dimple pattern was added, which made the ball travel further.

Equipment evolved, rules were written and introduced, and some of the world’s most prominent golf clubs were introduced in Scotland, securing Scotland’s outstanding and innovative links with golf forever. Trace the history back through the years, and you’ll find the first rules of golf, and you’ll see they were written for an early competition, which set a precedent for competitive golf in the future.

But it’s not just about the rule book, and equipment, it’s about the legends of the game in Scotland, including Old Tom Morris who broke records for being the oldest British Open Champion, and also his impact on golf course architecture. He was joined in golf course design by pro golfer James Braid, one of a number who dominated British golf in the early 20th century. Braid became responsible for designing over 250 golf courses across the British Isles, including the “King’s Course” and the “Queen’s Course” at Gleneagles.

The British Golf Museum

It you want to find out more about golf, its links with Scotland, and the rich and varied history of the sport and its stars, then head over to the British Golf Museum for a visit. Collections curated by the museum include a clubs and balls exhibit, the links between royalty and golf, and of course a collection on the origins of golf.

There’s plenty to see and take in, from displays to important artifacts, and the museum is just opposite the clubhouse at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews, and 5 minutes from the city centre. Maybe you could combine a visit with a golfing tour to Scotland, and find out more about the game before you tee off.

History Of Golf Clubs

It’s said that the earliest version of golf played in Scotland involved small pebbles hit on local sand dunes with wooden sticks. Other early versions of proper golf clubs and balls were still pretty unsophisticated. Players would at first carve their own clubs, named in the early days as spoons (short range shots), niblicks (like a wedge) and cleek (putting), along with others.

As craftsmen began carving competitive clubs more variety arrived on the market, early Woods being made of European wood for the shafts such as ash or hazel, and the heads made from tougher specimens such as holly or apple.

Factory produced clubs appeared in the 1900’s as the popularity of golf grew. When metal clubs first became available they weren’t as popular as you might expect, as they were too hard on the early ‘feathered’ golf balls, they were also made by blacksmiths in a crude way, so were often heavy to wield and control.

Lighter and better made clubs were eventually produced in factories, and around 1908 saw an important experiment to change smooth faces on irons, to the grooves you will recognise today. The result was more backspin on the ball and more distance to the shots.

The Open Championship

Since 1860, The Open has welcomed golfers such as Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Tom Watson, and Tiger Woods. It was set up as a championship, founded by golfers, to reward the best golfer of the year. The reward since 1873 has been the iconic Claret Jug, one of the most recognisable trophies in sport.

Of the 14 venues that have held the oldest professional golf tournament, 7 are in Scotland, providing various tests for the pro golfers that have visited from across the world to compete. There’s Carnoustie in Angus, which thanks to its strong winds, and long narrow course has a reputation as being one of the toughest courses in the world. Also on the roster is Musselburgh in East Lothian, Turnberry in Ayrshire, Troon, and Muirfield which held the first of 16 opens in 1892. Other courses include Prestwick, and the world-renowned St Andrews, which will host the 144th open in 2015, and is known for producing outstanding winners, sometimes labelled as the best of their generation.

Scotland really is the only home of golf. When will you take your first pilgrimage?

Featured images:
  •  License: Image author owned

Adrian Stanley is the founder of AGS Golf Vacations, which specialises in arranging golf tours to the home of golf.

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