The Complete History of Golf: Part III

We ended the last article on the History of Golf at the end of the 1799’s. It had been a century a fast growth for the sport of golf. It culminated with the setting of the eighteen hole course aspect of the sport.

It almost goes without saying therefore that after such a busy period, the sport needed some time to settle, to find itself. That is surely why it took close to one hundred years before the next real changes came.

It should also not be surprising that this change was related to the golf equipment, namely the golf ball. 

golf ball in grass

New Balls Please

1848 saw the introduction of a new generation of golf ball, the Percha ball was the first solid golf ball. Made by softening, molding and then hardening the dried sap of the Sapodila tree. These balls were made by hand, and were quite the craft work. Otherwise know as ‘gutties’, these rubbery balls were popular but ultimately their smooth surface resulted in a loss of distance compared to the ‘featheries’. Later in the century the ‘gutties’ would be peppered with different patterns as the quest to find extra distance began.

With the new balls in place, it was just twelve short years later that the very first Open Championship was played. Spark with it a fire that still burns today. The inaugural event was won by Scotland’s own Willie Park Senior. Considered a pioneer of the sport, Mr. Park would go on to win the Open on four separate occasions. 

Golf ball on fairway with sunset

The Winds of Change

Everything continued on nicely for a good twenty years, until the secretary at the then Royal Liverpool Golf Club decided that it was only fair that amateur players got the chance to compete for their own bit of gold. He decided to pull together the best amateurs from around the country and let them putt it out on the course. It was 1885 and the venue was Hoylake. The first amateur championships were held, with a certain Englishman by the name of Allan MacFie claiming the title.

MacFie would not claim any more gold during his amateur career, but he did make two outings at The Open Championships, which, while he never threatened to win, is an experienced we golfers would happily dream about.

As it is natural to assume, the world of golf was not only evolving based around those playing the game and the courses they played on, but competition was fierce among the manufacturers. Industry in the late 1800’s was not quite what it is today, and every set of clubs sold was a big deal, so it was quite the news, in the golfing world at least – when in 1890 it was determined that Persimmon were officially the world most popular club manufacturer. It should be said that this is with regards club heads, not the entire club, but the statement that was laid by the news was just as important nonetheless.

Panorama golf hole

Rise of the Amateurs

The final decade of the nineteenth century finished in a flurry. In 1893 the Ladies Golf Union was established, and in the same year, no doubt as a result of the above, the inaugural British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship was played. The victory was claimed by Lady Margaret Scott. A dominant figure in the world of ladies golf, Scott claimed victory in the first three Ladies Amateur Championships, and will forever be etched into the annals of history as a result.

The following year in 1894 the Unites States Golf Association was formed, and while they are surely the same organization we know and love today, they were primarily concerned at that time with amateur affairs which could explain why the all-important ‘P’ is missing from their name. Still, it was an important milestone in the game of golf, and one that ultimately shaped the face of the modern game in terms of rules, regulations and all of those other fun things we like the claim ignorance of.

As a fitting way to close off the century, 1895 saw the very first US Amateur championship played at the Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. This coincided with the US Open also played at the same course, and the Ladies US Amateur Championships played at the Meadow Brook Club in Long Island. Lucy Barnes Brown claimed the ladies title, while the male events were won by Charles Macdonald (USA) and Horace Rawlins (UK) respectively.

Golf ball, fairway and blue sky

Preparing for the new Century

The history of golf has a lot of thank on the 1800’s, and I think we can all agree it was quite the pivotal century. Of course, the game has come a long way since, and the mind boggles at the number of events the 1900’s have to offer.


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