Gems of Golf History
This is a guest post by David Bryce
Though Scotland generally takes credit for modernizing the game we all know today, the roots of golf can arguably be traced back to Roman civilization, where the game of paganica was played with a bent stick and wool-stuffed ball as far back as 100 B.C.
The history of golf is oft-repeated lore full of juicy tidbits that any player can casually drop on the course for a few extra credibility points. Let’s take a look at a few snippets…
Scotland’s Wartime Ban
In the mid-15th century, the Scottish Parliament (under King James II) passed the first of several acts banning the game of golf, along with soccer, due to both sports interfering with military training, specifically archery practice. The ban lasted several decades…until King James IV took up the sport himself and lifted the injunction.
Mary, Queen of Golf
Hogwash legends about Mary, Queen of Scots are a dime a dozen, but her love of the game of golf is a historical fact. She’s occasionally credited with coining the term ‘caddy’. But was golf responsible for her early demise? When she was spotted playing a round a couple days after her husband was brutally strangled, her rival and brother-in-law publicly scorned her, saying she should be mourning instead of playing games. She attempted to flee to England, but spent the rest of her days imprisoned instead.
Not the “Painter of Light”
A diary left behind by an Edinburgh medical student named Thomas Kincaid features the first written golf instructions known to exist. Detailing his personal physiological advice for the stance and swing, if you can get over the Olde English dialect, his tips are actually still right on the money. More or less. Not long after, in 1744, the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith put the first recorded rules of the game on paper.
Golf Goes the Distance
Introduced in 1900, the rubber-cored Haskell ball changed the face of golf forevermore. In the 1600’s, one feather-and-leather ball would cost today’s equivalent of $16 and took almost all day to fashion. In 1848, the “gutta” ball was introduced, shaped with flexible strips of tree sap and featuring a smooth outer surface. Several decades later, producers realized the texture of the ‘antique’ balls actually increased distance and started adding dents and nicks by hand. Hence, the dimpled surface of today.
The USA Births the ‘Birdie’
Golf took a while to catch on in the United States. Though the etymology of basically any term is usually hotly contested, few dispute that the feathered friends in our golf vocabulary were generated stateside. Evidently, “bird” was the “cool” of the 1800’s – frequently used with a variety of denotations. The Atlantic City Country Club lays claim to the first cited usage of the phrase. The term ‘eagle’ followed shortly and the rarely used, three-under-par ‘albatross’ rounded out the avian theme not long after.
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