ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Origins of Golf

Updated on April 3, 2009

Most of us must have heard of Sir Francis Drake’s famous words when, playing a game of Bowls on Plymouth Hoe, he was informed that the long awaited and much dreaded Spanish Armada was in sight. There is time to finish the game, the great mariner said. To which statement the Oldest Member replied: If he had been a golfer he would have ignored the Armada altogether. (From The Awakening of Rollo Podmarsh, by P.G. Wodehouse, 1923). Just a few years later, Sir Francis might very well have been playing golf, with the attendant historical consequences of not leaving the course.


Golf, now a universal pastime and occupation, has been associated with Scotland and the Scots for centuries although the game’s antiquity predates its adoption by Scotsmen as the game par excellence. The Romans, for example, played a version of the game, called paganica, which was played with a curved stick and a feather stuffed leather ball. Later, a similar game, called cambuca or bandy bull, was played in England during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) and similar games were also played in Holland. Nonetheless, golf as it has come down to us will always be quintessentially Scottish.


By about the mid 15th century, the game had become the national sport of Scotland, eclipsing all other sports much to the dismay of the authorities who felt that the practice of archery, in particular, was being neglected. Indeed, thrice in that century, 1457, 1471 and 1491, Parliament felt obliged to pass legislation which forbade the playing of golf! But it was all in vain. In 1502, James IV, perhaps the first royal golfer but undoubtedly its first patron, lifted the prohibitions on the playing of golf and since then there’s been no looking back.


In 1553, the Archbishop of St Andrews, John Hamilton, together with his chapter, recognised and approved the rights of the community to use the links for the playing of golfe, amongst other things and, in 1614, this right was reaffirmed by a worthy successor to the archbishopric, George Gledstanes. Barely 6 years later, the final accolade was added when James VI reconfirmed the rights of the good folk of St Andrews, previously confirmed by the churchmen, to play golfe on the town’s links.


It must not be thought that, because of the trailblazing exploits of its prelates and the eventual accolade from the monarch, St Andrews was the only place in Scotland where the sport thrived. On the contrary, there is evidence that, all over the realm, golf was the in thing; if you weren’t into golf, then, you weren’t into anything, so to speak. A couple of examples will serve to show the validity of this assertion. In 1592, the magistrates of Edinburgh banned the playing of golf on Sundays because it interfered with the church going habits of the good burghers, and in the Diurnal of Occurents (Journal of Occurrences), a 16th century manuscript detailing some of the more remarkable occurrences in the kingdom from the death of James IV in 1513 till 1575, mention is made of the game being played on the Leith links.


With the unification of the crowns of England and Scotland, the game was reintroduced down south by James I (James VI of Scotland) at Blackheath in 1608 and since that time many members of the British Royal family have been closely associated with the game. For example, the club that was founded in 1754 at St Andrews was given the title Royal and Ancient by King William IV in 1834.


The first international match, a foursome, took place in 1681 between England and Scotland. Two English gentlemen in the suite of the Duke of York, later James II (James VII of Scotland) had dared to assert that golf was of English rather than Scottish extraction! The Duke, partnered by a shoemaker called Patersone, speedily put the records straight by defeating the English.


 Up until the early years of the 19th century, golf was essentially a Scottish game with a few English outposts; since then the game has caught on and spread like wild fire. It was first played in Calcutta in 1829 and in Mumbai (Bombay) in 1842. The first European course was set out in Pau, France, in 1856; the first Canadian course was set out in 1873; and the first US course was set in New York in 1888.


The first British Open was played in 1860 at the Prestwick Golf Club; the first US Open was played in 1895 at Newport, Rhode Island; the first US Masters (known then as the Augusta National Invitation Tournament) was played in 1934 at its permanent home at the Augusta National Golf Club, and its current name was adopted in 1939; the first US Women’s Open was played in 1946; the British Women’s Open was first played in 1976. The Walker Cup was first played in 1922; the Ryder Cup was first played in 1927; the Curtis Cup was first played in 1932.


Submit a Comment

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Interesting facts that i hadnt known. Nice.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)