On March 6, 1457, King James II, who was King of Scotland from 1437 until his death in 1460, banned citizens from playing football and golf in an Act of Parliament. The Scots would have played these games in the streets and graveyards, instead of practicing archery for their compulsory military training.

“No part of the country should practice football, golf or other unnecessary sports, but for the common good and for the defense of the country,” the ban said.

This ban is the first written mention of a game called golf. But what was this game? “There is both textual and visual evidence that there was a game we would call golf,” says Rand Jerris, a prominent golf historian and former director of the USGA Golf Museum and Library. “One was played on large pieces of property hitting balls in the open. The other was actually a game that was played on the streets of a village or town where they hit a ball in a cemetery or on a street. Historians have therefore differentiated between what they call short golf and the long golf practiced in Scotland in the 1500s.

What Jerris and other golf historians are sure of is that there is enough evidence to prove that in the mid-1500s a game was played with multiple clubs over long distances to a hole in ground. Historians have discovered a Latin grammar book from the time that used golf to teach Latin. Vocabulary, which was published in 1636 by the schoolmaster of Aberdeen, Scotland, David Wedderburn, includes the earliest descriptions of the game, including the first mention of a golf hole.

“All the things that we know to be true at the start of the game – the character of the game and the type of equipment that was used – is because golf is invoked in a Latin grammar book for school children,” said Jerris said.

The first rules of golf

In 1744 the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers wrote the first rules of the game, known as the Thirteen Articles, for their tournament at Leith Links in Edinburgh. Over the next 100 years, these 13 rules were adopted by more than 30 clubs.

There was no attempt to create a standardized set of rules until the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A) issued the first consolidated code of rules in 1899. During this same period, the United States Golf Association was formed in New York City. The rules of the USGA converged significantly with those of the R&A, consolidating these two entities as the two main governing bodies of the game.

According to Jerris, there was a movement from the 1880s to create governing bodies for sport. The golf community has resisted a set of rules. The competition rules have changed from course to course. “It wasn’t until the 1890s that you had in golf the momentum and the impetus behind the formation of a governing body to bring unification to the game,” Jerris said.

St. Andrews: The Home of Golf

A group playing golft the course at St Andrews in Scotland, late 19th century.

Since 1552, golf has been played in St. Andrews, Scotland. It was here at St. Andrews Golf Links that the R&A was formed and the 18-hole round was established. “No text from the 1500s indicates the importance of St. Andrews, but by the time there are texts describing the golf courses, it is really clear that it is considered the ultimate example of what a golf course should be,” Jerris says.

The earliest visual evidence of golf is a painting of St. Andrews, dating from the 1740s. The photo shows four golfers and two caddies. The Old Course at St. Andrews, widely regarded as the oldest course in the world, is the quintessential Links course, meaning it sits on a sandy coastline.

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“Every golf course in the world is an imitation of the landforms that naturally occur on the Scottish coast,” says Jerris. “A lot of the great American courses like Oakmont and Winged Foot have borrowed elements from the Scottish landscape, rearranging them and sort of recreating them in an American landscape where, in most cases, they naturally didn’t belong there. .”

Golf invented in China?

Emperor Ming Xuande playing the chuiwan, found in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.

Emperor Ming Xuande playing the chuiwan, found in the Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.

St. Andrews may be known as the “home of golf,” but in the early 2000s, Chinese historians have claimed their ancestors played the game long before the Scots.

A 2006 exhibition at Hong Kong Heritage Museum exposed what its curators said was evidence that people in ancient China played a version of golf (called chuiwan—or “hit the ball”) as early as 1368. The museum featured an enlargement of part of a Ming dynasty scroll “The Autumn Banquet” showing participants of an imperial court hitting a ball towards a hole in the ‘grass.

The exhibit also featured a book, “Wan Jing” (“Handbook of the Ball Game”), published in 1282. The book laid down the rules of a game that resembled the game of golf.

“With these documents, we can say that chuiwan is quite similar to golf,” said Tom KC Ming, chief curator of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. say it New York Times. “There is a green, there is a hole. When we saw the equipment we were quite surprised at how similar it is.”

Jerris is skeptical of the conclusions drawn by the exhibit. “Every culture has had a game of stick and ball,” he says. “The question is what elements of this stick and ball game have to be in place for it to be called golf. They had a game in a closed court where they hit a ball towards the target. was a hole in the ground , sometimes it wasn’t Usually in the pictures it was a single club so if part of your definition of golf is that they have to use multiple clubs specialized for a specific shot, then you wouldn’t call it golf.

“If it’s played over a wide landscape, you know where there are multiple holes, each presenting different challenges, so you can’t really call what they were doing golf.”

Golf in America

The history of golf

A leisurely round of golf at St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Yonkers, New York, c. 1894.

America’s origins in golf, meanwhile, are closely tied to Scotland. In August 1743, David Deas, a 21-year-old Leith native and slave trader, received one of the first documented shipments of golf equipment to the American colonies – 432 balls and 96 clubs sent from Port Leith to Charleston. Deas had grown up playing Leith Links, a five-hole course, where the first rules of golf were laid down. When Harleston Green was established by the South Carolina Golf Club in 1841 in a Charleston park as America’s first golf club, slaves were used as caddies.

However, the first reference to golf in America came much earlier in 1659 by a Dutch ordinance in Fort Orange, New York, which later became Albany. The practice of this sport has been banned in the streets because it causes “great damage to the windows of houses, also exposes people to the danger of injury and is contrary to the freedom of the public road”.

Charles Blair MacDonald, who attended St. Andrews University and learned the game at St. Andrews Golf Links, is considered the father of American golf course architects. In 1893, MacDonald built the Chicago Golf Club, which was the nation’s first 18-hole course.