Who Invented Golf?

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Everything and everyone has an origin story- even you. The same can be said about golf. It is a friendly game pitting you against friends or even with yourself. It challenges both your mind and body. Yet, many are not familiar with how golf came into existence. Let’s explore.

Who Invented Golf

A History Lesson

On March 6, 1457, Scotland’s King James II, outlawed playing football and golf. This was because Scotsmen had apparently spent more time playing these “pointless sports” instead of practicing archery skills. Mandatory military training was implemented at the time for males from the age of twelve years old. The decree stated that games can only be played for the common good and for the defense of the country.

It’s not exactly sure what exactly was considered as golf during at the time. There were two ways in which golf was played. In the first case, golf was played striking balls out in the open. This was done on areas with wide open spaces. In the other case, golf was played on the streets of a village or a town. It’s not sure which gave rise to the development of golf.

However, it has been established that by the mid-1500s the first modern version of golf was played. It was the first detailed account where  multiple clubs over long distances to a hole in the ground. It was said that the first official rounds were played in an area close to the royal capital of Edinburgh. Back then players would try to hit a pebble over sand dunes and around tracks using a bent stick or club.

The First Rules 

Golf’s first rules were penned by the Honorable Company of Edinburgh in 1744. This is one of the world’s oldest golfing societies to date. It was founded by a group of men who played on a five-hole course at Leith- a region of Edinburgh.

These rules were referred to as the “Thirteen Articles”, for their tournament at the Leith Links. For over a century, these 13 rules were adopted by more than 30 clubs. A consistent set of rules has never existed until 1899. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews presented the first established rules at this time. 

Golf Course Evolution 

Golf has been enjoyed at the St. Andrews Golf links, Scotland Since 1552. This is the birthplace of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club R&A and where the 18-hole round was recognized. To date there have been no accounts from the 1500s that point to the significance of St. Andrews. However, there are texts describing golf courses. Through this, it’s evident that this location is prevalent as the greatest example of what a golf course should look like.

The most original piece of evidence that depicted what a golf course should look like, is of a painting of St. Andrews. This artwork was first shown in the 1740s. The photo shows four golfers and two caddies on the St Andrews Course. 

Because of St Andrew’s first official playing origins, every golf course in the world is a mockup of Scottish landforms. Course designers all over try to replicate the landforms that geographically appear on the Scottish coast. There are many fantastic courses in America that were inspired and created from borrowed elements of the Scottish landscape. They reorganize and reconstruct these on an American landscape that wouldn’t be found there naturally.

Origins Of Golf in The US

The first accounts of golf being played in America are quite similar to Scotland. The first reference to golf in America was in 1659. The Dutch settlers of Fort Orange (near present-day Albany, New York) played the first documented rounds of golf in America. During the warmer months it was played in fields. In the winter it was played on ice without any changes to the rules. Then on December 10, 1659, playing golf in the streets of this city was banned. This was because of reports that windows had been damaged of houses, and exposed people to risks of being injured.

Slavery in Golf

Just a quick bit of interesting information for you. In August of 1743, David Deas, a 21-year-old slave trader from Leith, received one of the first batches of golf equipment in the American colonies. They consisted of 432 balls and 96 clubs that was dispatched from the Port Leith to Charleston. When Harleston Green was established by the South Carolina Golf Club in 1841, Deas had provided slaves that were used as caddies.

The Rising of Golf Courses and Associations

Charles Blair MacDonald was an architect who attended St. Andrews University and learned the game at the St. Andrews Golf Links. He is hailed as the “top dog” of American golf course architects. In 1893, MacDonald designed and developed the Chicago Golf Club, which was the country’s first 18-hole course.

At the same time the United States Golf Association was being formed in New York City. The USGA’s rules united substantially with those from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. The union of those two entities regarded them as the two main regulating organizations of golf. 

Golf Ball Dimples

The Evolution of Golf Balls

Just as the sport itself has developed from humble beginnings, so too did the tools used to play it. Let’s discuss the emergence of the modern-day golf ball.

Wooden Golf Balls

In many accounts it is supposed that the first games of golf were played using a wooden ball. Specifically in the 14th century. The evidence of the use of wooden golf balls is rare, so many scholars argue about whether golfers had used wooden balls. 

Hairy Golf Balls

Between 1486 and 1618, the Netherlands exported hairy golf balls to Scottish. These golf balls were round leather ball that were sewn by hand and filled with cows’ hair or straw. It was only until 1554 that the hairy golf ball was made in Scotland. Hairy golf balls were used even after the advent of “featherie” golf balls in 1618. This was mainly because they were more affordable and were the most used ball of the time. 

Featherie Golf Balls

The ‘Featherie’ golf ball was introduced back in 1618. The design was more or less the same as the hairy golf ball. The biggest difference was that this particular golf ball was made from goose and chicken feathers. This golf ball was filled with feathers and had more room for stuffing. The result was a harder ball that could fly further. 

The featherie golf ball was created using feathers and leather that was wet. The ball became hard when the leather dried, shrinking it in the process. The feathers also expanded which added to the hardness of the ball. When dried the featherie was coated and the ball-maker’s signature was added for trading purposes. 

Creating a featherie took a lot of time and consequently, they were more expensive. On the negative side, the featherie was hard to get into a round. It was also difficult to land shots with extra distance when it got wet. In some instances the ball will split open upon impact.

Guttie Golf Balls 

The Guttie golf ball was created in 1848 Dr. Robert Adams Paterson, a Scottish-American clergyman. It was made using dried sap from the Malaysian Sapodilla tree. He found that because the sap had a rubber-like texture, it could be molded into a sphere when heated. 

Gutties golf balls soon came into demand because many enticing elements it held. They were less expensive to make which made them affordable to buy. Players could also easily reshape them when damaged and their aerodynamic properties surpassed other golf balls. 

Eventually the original smooth surface of gutties was deliberately dented. It was discovered that the balls were able to achieve better and steady flight patterns, due to this modification. In 1890 gutties were produced with molds that improved their attribute while making them even more affordable. A regularly used pattern on the guttie was known as the bramble pattern. These were raised little spherical bumps that featured on the surface. It pretty much looked like a bramble fruit.

Haskell Golf Ball

In 1898 Coburn Haskell, a Cleveland businessman, made a discovery while waiting for Bertram Work- an employee of the B.F. Goodrich Company. Haskell shaped a rubber thread into a ball and started bouncing it. He found that it had a lot of bounce and Work proposed to put a cover over it. Voila, a lucky thread caused the emergence of the rubber Haskell golf ball. If you didn’t know, this is the golf ball we know today.

The initial stages of creating the rubber Haskell golf ball involved a liquid-filled or solid round core. The ball was winded with a layer of rubber thread which enlarged the round inner core. Lastly, it was covered by a slim external shell made from balata sap.

These layering methods allowed the manufacturing of golf balls with different elements. These elements made it easier to play in vast areas of the sport. 

Conclusion

From its humble beginnings, golf has stood the test of time for hundreds of years. The most unique part of it is that it is popular and significant to this day. Players from all over the world give much of their time to this ageless pass time. For some it is a way to relax, for others it is a professional sport. It is sure to evolve in years to come, but the love and passion for it won’t change.

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WRITTEN BY

Young talented golfer and writer and top rated weekend golfer. He's favorite player is Tiger and he spends most of his spare time on a golf course.

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