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The Scots are attributed with inventing the game of golf, yet with the spread of the game worldwide, other countries have laid claim to be the country of origin. The fact that almost every civilisation developed one or more games based on hitting a ball with a stick, bat, or club, give rise to these, sometimes ingenious counter-claims.

We Irish have our National game of 'Hurling 'which according to myth and legend, can be traced back to 1272 BC, when the native Fir Bolg, were invaded by the Tuatha De Danann, and it was agreed to have a hurling match between twenty-seven of best players from each side. Yet we do not claim to be true father of the game. The first record of golf in Ireland is 1762, 'Faulkners Dublin Journal ', dated 23rd October 1762 records "The Golf Club meet to dine at the house of Mr. Charles Moran, at Bray on Thursday the 28th October, at half an hour after three o 'clock". This claim is further substantiated by an advert for the letting of a house at Seafield, Bray, in the Sunday News Letter, dated 3rd May 1773 which reads "Among the many virtues of the property is that it is bounded on the East by a Common, famous for the manly exercise of Golf".

The French and Belgians, however, had a game called 'Chole ' which can be traced back to the 1100s.The clubs were similar to golf clubs but the game was between two teams, the object being to hit the ball through a distant target and the opposing team to prevent them from doing so. Yet there are some that would argue that this was the origin of the game as the game of 'Chole ' was very popular. Many Scottish troops were stationed in France plotting the downfall of the English King certainly some of them would have introduced the game on their return home. This is a very absurd claim to be the foundations of the wonderful game.

The Dutch make the most persistent and plausible claim to have invented the game of golf, for they had a game called 'Golf 'and it has been established that there was a Course measuring 5,500 metres in a village called Loenen, as far back as 1296.The game was played by four players on each side, who struck a wooden ball in turn at the 'hole ', the object being to get the ball in the hole with a minimum of strokes. The game continued to be played in Loenen until 1831,when part of the Course was demolished.

Many of the Dutch and Flemish artists have made paintings of their countrymen playing "Golf", the earliest being an illustration in the 'Flemish Book of Hours 'housed in the British Library, London dated c 1500-1510.It depicts a fourball playing 'Golf 'in the countryside with a clubhouse in the background whereas most of the other paintings are winter scenes with the game being played on ice.

As early as 1486, the Scots were importing balls from the Low Countries the balls would have been either white sheepskin leather filled with cows hair or wooden.

On the 5th August 1618, James VI of Scotland (1567-1625), issued a Royal Decree that "no small quantity of gold or silver is transported yearly out of his Hienes Kingdom of Scotland for buying of golf balls ". After this decree, James Melville together with a few others were given the rights to make golf balls within the Kingdom of Scotland for a period of twenty-one years. It is worth noting there were strong links between the Dutch and the Scottish in the fifteenth century, when the maritime Dutch followed the herring shoals that had deserted their shores and found new spawning grounds off the British coast. Between 1574 and 1826 many Scottish mercenaries served in the forces of the Dutch State and many of them inter-married with Dutch women. However, we must come down on the side of the Scots as having invented this game that has now become an incurable, national disease in Ireland.

In an Act of the Scottish Parliament dated 1457 in which James II banned the game of golf, it read "The golfe be utterly cryit downe and not be used". This was so the Scottish men could concentrate on practising their archery, which was needed to drive the English out of their remaining strongholds in Scotland.

Where the game came from and how it was so popular in Scotland at this time we may never know. It is safe to assume the game did not develop over-night, or by a group of enthusiasts but rather evolved over decades if not centuries. The most likely development is that on the east coast of Scotland, where the sea had receded great chunks of land remained between the farmland and the shore, hence the name Links. These areas were used for catching rabbits walking and practising archery. They were also used as commons for grazing sheep and goats, it is not too difficult to imagine a young lad bored silly making himself a club and hitting a rounded stone at a target in the distance. When he became proficient at the skill challenging another to compete against him, others would join in and a contest would develop.

However it evolved, we know that the early Course at Leith had five holes all over 400 yards, with one just under 500 yards. The original Course at St. Andrews had 22 holes, but only had 12 greens and 11 fairways.

Golf was haphazard happy-go-lucky play where and when you liked, with no fees, clubs or committees, until 1744.On the 7th March, 1744, the Magistrates and Council of Edinburgh approved a request from the "Gentlemen of honour skilful in the ancient and healthful exercise of golf" to compete for a silver golf club to be presented at an annual event over Leith Links. Of Course at this time there were no rules of golf unlike today, so rules had to be drawn up and agreed the entry fee was five-shillings and open to Noblemen or Gentlemen or Golfers from any part of Great Britain or Ireland.

The first rules of Golf numbered thirteen in all and read as follows

1. You must tee your ball within one club 's length of the hole.

2. Your tee must be on the ground.

3. You are not to change the ball with your stick off the tee.

4. You are not to move stones, bones or break any club for the sake of playing the ball, except on the fair green and then only within a club 's length of your ball.

5. If your ball comes among water or any watery filth, you are at liberty to take out your ball and bringing it behind the hazard and teeing it, you may play it with any club and allow your adversary a stroke for so getting on your ball.

6. If your balls be found anywhere touching one another you are to lift the first ball till you play the last.

7. At a holing you are to play your ball honestly for the hole and not to play upon your adversary 's ball, not lying in your way to the hole.

8. If you should lose your ball by it being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the spot where you struck the last and drop another ball and allow your adversary a stroke for your misfortune.

9. No man on holing his ball is to be allowed to make his way to the hole with his club or anything else.

10. If a ball is stopp'd by any person, horse, dog or anything else the ball so stopp'd must be played where it lyes.

11. If you draw your club in order to strike and proceed so far in the stroke as to be bringing down your club, if then your club shall break in any way, it is to be accounted as a stroke.

12. He whose ball lyes farthest from the hole is obliged to play first.

13. Neither trench, ditch or dyke made for the preservation of the links, nor the Scholar's Holes or the soldier 's lines shall be accounted a hazard but the ball is to be taken out, teed and play'd with any iron club.

It is remarkable that today we have thirty-four rules of golf with over three hundred subsections, yet the original thirteen are the core of today 's rules governed by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, who have the power to revise them every four years. Did the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith have any idea of what they started on that fateful day of the 7th May 1744 with their rules and annual tournament? Either way they must be accredited with being the first and oldest golf club in the world. The club moved from Leith to Musselburgh, before constructing their own championship Course at Muirfield in 1891.By this time they had changed their name to "The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers". Strangely, Royal Blackheat, near London has laid claim to being the oldest club in the world, giving its Instituted date as 1608.There is no written evidence to substantiate its claim. It bases its argument around the fact that James VI of Scotland who became James I of England in 1603,was an avid golfer, as was his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, whom we are told was seen playing golf in the fields outside Seton Castle in 1569,after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley. Their claim is that James brought his love for the game with him and formed a club in 1608, yet the first silver club was not played for until 1766.

There is some argument that The Royal Burgess Club, in Edinburgh, is the oldest and was formed in 1735, but there is no documented proof that it was founded as a club until the 1770s. The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith were followed by the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, who bought their first silver club and started life in 1754.This club was to become the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews- the governing body of golf outside of the USA. They in turn were followed by Bruntsfield Links Golf Club in 1761,Royal Musselburgh Golf Club 1774 Royal Aberdeen Golf Club 1780 and Glasgow Golf Club 1787.

Golf from its inception has been associated with friendship, revelry, sportsmanship, entertainment, good food and drink. Then records of The Royal Burgess Club in Edinburgh tell us a great deal of what the club members got up to in the 1770s. A young servant called to his house on Saturday morning to enquire if he wished to dine at the local Tavern that evening. After the golfers had played their matches they would join their fellow members in the Golf Tavern (built 1456), and settle their wagers over dinner. The wager would normally be a flaggon of wine or a gallon of brandy. We are told that "club golfers rarely retired to bed with less than a gallon of claret in their bellies and that a typical meal consisted of venison, beef, mutton, pigeon or pheasant and everybody had a serious helping of each". Things may have changed, considerably since those heady days, but the conviviality, crack and sociability associated with the game still remain.

The game was slow to develop from the East Coast of Scotland, where it had been played for over four centuries. Three things changed everything, the development of the railway, the arrival of the guttie ball and the development of the tubular steel shaft. In the 1860s,there were only three golf clubs in England, as against over thirty in Scotland. The development of the railway network, made it possible for golfers to get to golf clubs and get hooked on the game, indeed the Railway Companies were the first early sponsors of the game in Ireland. The Northern Railway Company offered free tickets to the members of Royal Belfast to play at the open at Portrush in May 1888.The Great Northern Railways gave reduced fares to Ulster competitors to play at The Royal Dublin first open in 1891. The Great Southern &Western Railway offered cheap fares to golfers going to Lahinch on the famous West Clare Railway. The Lartigue Railway Company played a significant part in the foundation of Ballybunion. The Northern Counties Railway Committee were responsible for Greenisland, Larne, Portstewart and Royal Portrush; they received significant funding and help from this Railway. It is fair to assume that the Railway Companies in England were equally supportive of the game there and golf flourished.

Until 1848,a skilled ball-maker could make four to six balls a day. He used shaped pieces of bull 's hide, soaked them in alum water and stitched them together leaving a small hole, through which he stuffed boiled goose feathers. As the feathers dried out they expanded and the leather shrank. These balls were expensive and the ball-makers couldn't keep pace with demand. They were fine in dry conditions, but tended to disintegrate in the wet. In 1848,a revolutionary discovery was made, when it was found that the milky juice of the gutta percha tree growing in Malaya was suitable for moulding into golf balls. It was a tough, rubbery substance, which when heated and clamped produced an almost indestructible, perfectly round golf ball in minutes. The new guttie ball reduced the cost of playing golf, which brought many new and enthusiastic recruits to the game. Indeed, a famous song was written in celebration of the new ball entitled "In Praise of the Gutta Percha". In St. Andrews, there was a retired blue captain, who was constantly experimenting with the new gutta percha, adding iron filings or cork to the mixture before moulding the balls, for himself and his friends. He hit on the idea of winding yards of rubber around a core of gutta percha and then moulded another layer of gutta percha around the outside as a cover. In essence he had invented the golf ball as we know it today. It was another thirty years before Coburn Haskell, an American, invented and produced commercially a ball, which featured rubber windings around a central core, with a gutta percha cover. It was an over-night success and made him a fortune. Sandy Herd used one to devastating effect to win the Open Championship in 1902. The new balls brought about major design changes to golf shafts and to the golf swing itself. Before the advent of the American hickory, blackthorn and hazel were the preferred timbers for making club shafts. The hickory was introduced to Scotland about 1825, when Spalding imported a quarter of a million shafts and sold them on to club-makers in batches of 1,000 to 10,000. It was springy, tough and resilient, making it the ideal as a club shaft. When technology advanced to the stage where tubular-steel could be produced with walls thin enough, it became the ideal material for club shafts. It could be mass-produced and unbreakable. In the early years the golf club had a very long shaft, giving a very wide angle between player and club-head, necessitating a very open stance, the ball was swept off the tee with a flat round-the-body swing. It had a low trajectory and it was impossible to float a high ball in and stop it on a hard green. The tubular shaft changed everything, the stance became upright and the golfer could hit down through the ball taking a divot, which gives much better control of the ball. There is much argument about the skills of the modern professional golfer and that of the older pioneers of the game. To try and put it into context and considering the equipment, balls, lack of golf shoes and wet gear, together with a whole host of other advantages the modern golfer has at his disposal, the pioneers of the professional game must have been highly skilled.

Take Willie Park who won the first Open Championship at Prestwick in 1860,in dreadful conditions. He posted a score of 174 over 36-holes which would be equal to two rounds of 87.The early Open Championships were played over three rounds of twelve-holes. The following year, Old Tom Morris won with 163 strokes, rounds of 81 and 82. In 1870,when Young Tom Morris won his 3rd consecutive Open, his score was 149 or the equivalent of rounds of 74 and 75.A major contributory factor to his 3rd win was an eagle three at the 578-yard 1st.He also has the distinction of having the first recorded Hole-in-One, on the 145-yard 8th at Prestwick in the 1868 Open Championship. As a result of his three consecutive wins, Young Tom was entitled to keep the leather belt with silver buckles for which the members of Prestwick Golf Club had contributed £25.00,the consequence being there was no Open Championship in 1871.In the first eleven Open Championships, there were never more than 17 entries. This was soon rectified on the resumption of the Championship after the silver claret jug was purchased jointly by Prestwick Golf Club, The Royal &Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. From 1872,the Championship alternated between the three clubs. By 1873,the entries had risen to 26 and in 1879 it attracted 46 entries. With the rise in popularity of the game in Scotland and England, the entries steadily increased, as did the numbers involved in the organisation. In 1919,it was decided to hand over the running of the Open Championship to the Royal &Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

With the proliferation of golf clubs in Scotland and England, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the game of golf was spreading its wings much further afield. Courses sprung up in Ireland, Wales, France, Portugal, China, Canada, Japan and Australia. The Empire builders also planted it in India and America. Indeed, the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) is the oldest Golfing Union in the world. It was formed at a meeting held in the Royal Hotel, Belfast, on the 13th November 1891 Nine clubs have the distinction of being the founding clubs. They are: The County Club (Royal Portrush), County Down, Royal Belfast, Killymoon, Dungannon, Aughnacloy, Ballycastle, Portsalon, and Buncrana. However much the game flourished in Ireland in the boom years between 1890 and 1899,nowhere in the world was it taking off like in America. John Reid is regarded as the father of American golf in recognition of this, his portrait hangs in a place of honour in the headquarters of the United States Golf Association. Reid was a Scot from Dunfermline, who had emigrated to America long before 1887,when he asked his friend Bob Lockhard, who was returning to Scotland on a visit, to bring back some golf clubs and balls. On 22nd February,1888, after Reid had constructed three makeshift holes, in the meadow opposite his home, he demonstrated the game to some friends. There was tremendous interest in this strange game among his neighbours and friends. He was encouraged to call a meeting in November,1888,at which the St. Andrews Golf Club at Yonkers-on-the-Hudson was formed. This led to an explosion of new Courses in America and by the end of the century, America had well in access of 1,000 golf clubs. The United States Golf Association was founded in 1895,and the first American Amateur Open Championship was played the same year. Walter Travis became the first American to win the British Amateur Open Championship and the American raids on the Open Championship were soon to follow, with Walter Hagen to lead the charge in 1922. The Scots had a leading part to play in the development of the game and design and construction of the Courses in America, in the early part of the 20th century. Hundreds if not thousands of professional and promising amateurs were recruited to help establish and promote their national game in America. It would not have been hard to recruit the very best as professionals then and for many years later were treated very shabbily at home (much like our artisans today).In America they walked straight into positions of authority, respect and responsibility. They were revered, and treated as the star of the club. They would have been recruited by one of the wealthy members, who couldn't wait to introduce the golf expert to his friends, all a far cry from what they were used to at home. It is said that at this time a total of 287 golfers left the Carnoustie area for America. As not everybody could afford membership of some of the smart country clubs, the Americans set about building public Courses and more affordable clubs on the outskirts of the cities, making the game open to everybody who wished to play.

The Americans developed their own legends, such as Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and many others, who were to dominate the game for decades, until Tony Jacklin made the break- through in the 1969 Open Championship. Their dominance in the game is reflected in the Ryder Cup Matches, with America winning seven times from 1935 to 1955,Great Britain &Ireland won it in 1957,they got a half in 1969,but the USA retained the Ryder Cup. It wouldn't be until 1985 at the Belfry that the Ryder Cup would return to this side of the Atlantic, when the European team won by 16 matches to the USA 11.It is hoped the Belfry will have given us moments to cherish as a result of the 33rd Ryder Cup match played there last September 26th to the 28th.

   
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