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The Ancient History of Golf!

Although many think that the Scots invented golf, the game was really invented by the Italians to relieve stress and boredom between conquering countries.  The Italians called their game Pagnacia and it went something like this:

Both men and women played in togas and sandals. They set up sticks and small blocks of wood on the ground as their targets.  Using a bent stick, the players took turns hitting the ball of stone or hardened leather at the targets to try to knock them over.  When it came time to go off to war and conquer another country they took their Pagnacia equipment with them.  (I find it interesting that a lot of military bases have golf courses? Seems to fit with the pattern of relieving stress and boredom between wars?)  

So after roaming from place to place, conquering, plundering, killing, pillaging, etc. the Romans were nice enough to teach the survivors their Pagnacia game.  The Dutch, were one group they taught.  And they not only loved it, well they improved upon it.  In fact, they are the ones who gave Golf it's name. The word comes from the Dutch word kolf  meaning club.

But instead of out on the grassy lawn, the Dutch preferred to play  in  a paved courtyard called a "Kolf Bann."  The players tried to hit two sticks placed at opposite ends of the court with few strokes as possible.  The ball was the size of a grapefruit and made of wood and weighed about 2 lbs.

In the cold winters, the Dutch still played golf.  They strapped on their skates and grabbed up their kolf clubs and played on the ice. (Is this the origin of hockey?)

Now, from Holland the game then spread to Scotland. This is where it turned into the game as we know it today.  The Scots played in open fields with the purpose of knocking a small ball into a hole in the ground rather than have a target like the Dutch did.  At first the Scots used tree branches with durved ends for their clubs (like the Dutch).  But the Scots stopped and pondered.  They came up with the idea to attach a separate head of wood, stone or metal to the end of the wooden shafts.  The heads were bound to the shafts with wet leather which later shrank and dried, creating a tight, secure bond to the stick.

By the early 19th century golf was becoming popular worldwide.  And sporting goods companies got into it bigtime.

The first thing that needed some changes was the club.  Most of the original clubs looked like the putter today.  Then "drivers" were made for long shots and "spoons" and "baffies" (scoop-like heads) for  hitting lofty loopy shots.

The Scots liked hickory wood with metal shafts for clubs the best.  So companies made plenty.   Although a little heavy, solid iron clubs worked O.K. too.  Steel worked as good as iron.  Bamboo was tried but failed.  Then in the 1920's it was the Americans who invented golf clubs with tubular steel shafts.  And at first they were outlawed. Why?  Because they worked too well. Ha!  These clubs increased the distance that balls could be hit.  As a result they had a problem with the golf courses needing to be bigger.  It wasn't until 6 years later, in 1926, that the tubular steel shaft clubs were allowed and golf courses soon grew bigger.

In the beginning, the golf clubs were just carried loose under one arm. But then in the 1870's, an elderly, retired English sail maker came up with the idea of creating a bag for all those clubs.  He sewed together canvas and strips of leather together, he created the first golf bag for a friend of his.  Did I mention that he worked part time at a golf course also? ;)

It is said that it's the golf ball that's gone through more changes than any other piece of sports equipment in history.  The first balls were round stones.  Then came hardened leather. Then wood.  Then came "the featherie" ball.  This ball was covered in leather and stuffed with boiled goose feathers and then sewn together. To make it hard, it took a lot of goose feathers (probably a bucket full?) to stuff into that tiny leather covering.  So making them was a long, slow and expensive process.

And they had other problems.  First, their color was brown and so they were hard to find.  This was solved by painting them white. Then, with all this whacking at them, they sort of went out of shape until they'd burst open and well feathers would fly literally.  Finally, the featherie wouldn't travel very far when hit. 

So, in 1848 a ball was invented from that gutta-percha hard rubber material.  After a while these balls got all nicked up.  However, it was discovered that the nicked balls actually flew straighter and farther than the new smooth ones.  So, golfers began cutting nicks into their balls.  Later on, golf ball manufacturers began making the ball molds have little dimples in them.   These solid rubber balls with dimples were known as "gutties."  They were used for over half a century until around 1900 when rubber-core balls like those we use today were invented by Americans.

The Dutch gave the name of the sport golf.  It also gave the name of the Tee it's name.  Originally a Dutch word tuitse, it was a small, cone-shaped mound of sand from which the golfers hit their balls. For over centuries the name tuitse became the "tee", a little wooden peg with a cuplike top to set the ball in before hitting.

Also in the early days a hole was a hole was a hole.  There wasn't any standard size for the holes.  One day a pair of Scottish golfers found that one of their holes was badly misshapen and caving in. So, they spotted a section of drainpipe and inserted it into the hole to keep it's shape.  Thus the creation of the first cup was born.  Because their pipe was 4  1/2 inches across, that remains the standard cup size today.

Originally the first golf courses were just grass-covered meadows. The number of holes you played all depended on how big a meadow you were on.  Some golfers played 3 holes.  Others played 30 holes. The 18-hole golf course didn't come into practice until 1764.  In that year, it was decided that a golf course should be 9 holes and you played the game "out and back" = 18 holes.  Later they decided it was a bummer to play the same hole twice.  So 9 more holes were added, which made the traditional 18-hole course we know today.

As with all sports, rules matter.  And so golf has it's boo boos too.

T.C. Chen in 1985 hit his ball into the air and then hit it again.
(Rule: You can't hit a ball twice in the same swing.)

On the 16th  hole, Lloyd Mangrum in the 1950 US Open picked up his ball to blow a gnat off it before putting it down again and chipping into the green.
(Rule: You can't pick up a ball in the course of play unless it's on the putting green.)

In the 1983 Canadian Open,  a golfer was said to be showing off a bit by tapping the ball into the cup with the grip of his putter instead of the head. Who did this? Andy Bean.  Apparently he has beans for brains?
(Rule: The head is the only part of the club you can hit a ball with.)

All the above players got penalty strokes and in all cases caused them to lose their games.

Now women goof too.  A golfer named Colleen Walker in the 1980's had a real problem with her scorecard.  It cost her over $20,000 and more than one tournament win.  What she kept doing was mixing up scorecards and signing someone else's scorecard = an automatic disqualification.  By rule, golfers have to keep their own score.

Golf is popular worldwide. It, like many other sports, annually creates more of it's own colorful history, players, stats, etc.
The purpose of this page was to provide the basic historical foundation of the sport. But, I can't provide an entire timeline.

There are many websites on-line offering their own information to this sport.  One site I found helpful was this one that provides a DICTIONARY OF GOLF TERMS.

Golfer, Floyd Rood is famous for what?
(a) Hitting the longest golf drive.
(b) Driving a golf ball across the US.
(c) Getting run over by a golf cart during
a game.

(Place your cursor over the dot)

If using a smart phone to view these pages, just put your finger on the symbol and hold it for a moment. A pop up that contains the answer will appear. To close the pop up, just tap elsewhere on the screen.
(B) He drove a golf ball across the US`

Check out some other Sports Fun at our Main Entry Page.


Source: "When Human Heads were Footballs"
By Don L. Wulffson
Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon and Schuster) © 1998

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