History of Golf, Part One

In this series of the Mark Rivkin Golf Review we wanted to take a step back and peer into the past of the sport we all know and love. Golf, as defined by Merriam-Webster is “a game in which a player using special clubs attempts to sink a ball with as few strokes as possible into each of the nine or eighteen successive holes on a course;” but what are the origins of the game itself?

The word ‘Golf’, according to the United States Golf Association Museum, is linguistically derived from the Dutch word ‘kolf’ or ‘kolve,’ which translates to ‘club’. But around the early 1500’s the Dutch term became ‘goff’ or ‘gouff’ from Scottish dialect, and sometime during the sixteenth century evolved into ‘golf’. So this of course puts any “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden” acronym arguments to rest!

Club and ball games can be traced to the world’s earliest civilizations, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where sports like hockey, baseball, polo and golf branched out to become the games we know them as today. It is believed, though, that we can attribute many of these games to the expansion of the Roman empire and their sporting past time which was known as Paganica. There is historical evidence that suggests during the thirteenth century the Dutch played a stick and ball game where the goal was to hit a target in the least amount of strokes; but it was during the 1400’s in Scotland where a game in which players used a stick to hit a pebble around a natural course consisting of sand dunes, rabbit runs and tracks was played, and we can find golf’s most recognizable ancestor. It was around this time that the sport began to evolve and spread throughout Europe, and history suggests that King James IV even enjoyed playing the game created by commoners.

Royal involvement only increased the game’s popularity throughout the sixteenth century, and Mary Queen of Scots (who happened to be French) introduced the game to France during her studies there. In fact, while she played she had helpers from the French military who were known as cadets, and the term ‘caddie’ stems from the name given to her assistants. Located near Edinburgh, Leith was the most elite golf course of the time, and even hosted the first international golf match when the Duke of York and George Patterson of Scotland beat two English noblemen in 1682.

Stay tuned for the Mark Rivkin History of Golf Part Two!

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