The Origins of a Great Game

Unlike many sports, which have evolved over the years and now find them unrecognizable when compared to their ancestors; games such as tennis, the game of golf has remained largely faithful to the original image from which it was cast.

In theory, golf can be traced back to around about 100BC, as a Roman game known as Paganica. The game bears a likeness to the modern game as it was played with curved sticks that were used to beat a ball.

You could also attribute the history of golf could also be attributed to a Chinese game Chúw án. However, the most likely origins of the great game can be traced back to their Scottish roots. The game most likely came into existence around the early fifteenth century.

While the exact date is not known, what is documented is the in the year 1457 the Scottish Parliament actually issues an order that specifically banned the game (and football). 

Golf Clubs in Bag

Banned from Playing Golf

Bans in sport are not uncommon, banning a sport in its entirety is. You would be forgiven for thinking that, given its association with football, that some form of hooliganism was to blame for the ban on playing golf. Acts of disrepute that brought shame upon the name of the game and the nation of Scotland. In many ways you are right. The act was passed because golf had become a danger to the safety and security of Scotland as a nation.

I know it sounds very dramatic, but trust me, the reasoning behind it is much more banal. Those enjoying a round of (early) golf, were deemed to be disrupting the archery practice sessions, which were, in that time, vital skills used for the defense of the country (from those dastardly English fiends). 

Appeal Denied

While I cannot lay claim to in depth knowledge of the appeal process in that time, I do know that the act that banned people from playing golf was reaffirmed on two separate occasions, in 1471 and then again two decades later in 1491. That is quite the hefty ban. Then again, come the turn of the century, people calmed down a little and realized maybe there was more to blame for the poor archery skills than the interference of a four-ball on a Sunday afternoon. The King, who had changed several times in the intervening period – with his namesakes James II and James III being killed in battle, but no neither occasion as a result of shoddy archery skills – James IV rescinded the ban in the year 1500. He subsequently took up the game, and by all accounts was not that bad. 

Golf with the Sun as the ball

St Andrews Makes Its Mark On History

There are a great many golf courses throughout the world, but there is only one Royal St Andrews. I know, that is a pretty cheesy line, and knowing my luck there is a small pitch and putt in Kitts and Nevis with the same name that renders my point moot, but you know where I am going with this.

In the year 1557 a charter from Archbishop John Hamilton (of Saint Andrews) (1512 – 1571) which recognized the rights of the people to play golf on the ‘Old Course’ at Saint Andrews. 

What is any Game Without a Good Scandal

Even back in the day, the game of golf was not without scandal. Having survived being painted as a threat to national security, the royal family were once again at the center of a rather sordid golf affair when, in 1567, Mary Queen of Scots was reported to have gone out for a game just three days after the death of her husband. You can imagine the outrage that must have caused.

While it must have been the talk of the palace, I must admit that it makes me think of the classic gold tale of:

Two men are playing gold when a funeral procession rolls by. They are standing on the tee and one man stops and moved away from his address of the ball. Take off his hat, holds it against his heart and bows his head until the procession has gone by.

His friend, dumbfounded by this display of sentimentality has to comment. “In all the years we have played golf, in all of those years, I have never seen you do anything like that. Are you feeling alright?”

To which the first friend replies. “Of course, I mean, we were married for forty-seven years, so it was the least I could do.” 

Golfer in sunset

The Start of World Domination

Playing golf had been a strictly Scottish affair for over two centuries, but that changed in the year 1603 when James VI ascended to the British throne and not wanting to be separated from his favourite spoiled walk, began to play the game at Blackheath in London.

You can guess what happened once the English got their hands on the game. Well, I’m hoping not, because otherwise you won’t be back to read The History of Golf: Part 2, but I think we can safely say that with golf being a sport and England being English the players sucked at it. 


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