The game of golf as we know it today evolved from a game played in St. Andrews in Scotland, in the 15th century.
Some would like to believe that the game Kolwen from Holland or Chole from Belgium influenced the game, which was introduced into Scotland in 1421. These games, while played with sticks and balls, were missing a vital part—the hole.
Golf, once called Gauf (a term still used with affection by the Scots today), was played by hitting a pebble among the sand dunes and animal tracks using a primitive wooden club. The first golf balls were made from wood and graduated in time to leather stuffed with feathers. The pitted golf balls we know today weren’t made until 1905.
During the mid-15th century, the parliament of King James II banned the game because the enthusiastic pursuit of golf and soccer cause the neglect of military training. It was reaffirmed in 1470 and 1491, but nobody paid any attention to the ban and continued on with their favorite pastime. It was lifted in 1502 when King James VI (James I of England) took up the sport, giving it a royal endorsement.
Scotland’s golf status quickly spread during the 16th century when King Charles I promoted the game in England and Mary Queen of Scots, who was French, introduced the game to France when she studied there. The term “caddie” comes from the name given her helpers who were the French military, known in French as cadets.
The first international golf match took place in Leith, near Edinburgh in 1682 when the Duke of York and George Patterson playing for Scotland beat two Englishmen. In 1744, The Gentlemen Golfers Club of Leith (later renamed the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers) was the first club formed to promote an annual competition with a silver golf club as the prize.
The first actual reference to golf in the historic town of St. Andrews was in 1552 and the clergy permitted public access to the links a year later. In 1754 the St. Andrews Society of Golfers was formed to hold its own annual competition.
Stroke play was introduced in 1759 and the 18-hole course was built, which has become the de-facto standard. King William IV, honored the club with the title “Royal and Ancient” in 1834 and the now world famous club house was built in 1854. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews became the premier golf club because of its fine course, the publication of rules, royal advocacy, and its promotion of the game as a real sport.
By the early1800s golfers were using proper clubs and balls. The club heads were made from beech, or the wood of fruit trees. Some club heads were made from hand-forged iron with the shafts made from ash or hazel. After 1826, hickory was imported from the USA to make both club heads and shafts
The first women’s golf club in the world was formed in St. Andrews in 1895 and “across the pond” the U.S. Open and the U.S Ladies Amateur Open were both inaugurated the same year.
Links courses were labeled according to the terrain of any rough grassy area between the sea and the land and the term “links” is now used to refer to any golf course. There are 92 golf courses in Scotland, but only 17 per cent are true links courses. Unlike the courses in the United Kingdom, American courses are often specifically landscaped parklands.
Today, worldwide golf is jointly regulated by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews and the United States Golf Association, with a summit held every four years.