While the origin of golf is debatable, common perception suggests that golf as we know it originated in Scotland in the 15th century. The name ‘golf’ is said to be derived from the Scots word gouf or goulf, which means ‘to strike’.
Even during its initial years, the sport was one of the most popular activities in the country. In fact, so popular was it that in 1457, King James II of Scotland prohibited the playing of golf (along with football, another popular sport) because he found it to be a distraction from military training. The game was once again banned under King James IV, though he is rumoured to be a fan as well. Eventually, it caught the fancy of the royals, including Mary, Queen of Scots, and spread to parts of Europe like London and south-western France
, and ultimately to USA and Japan through immigrants.
The earliest golf balls, fashioned out of leather and feather (hence known as featheries), were rather difficult and time-consuming to make, and thus were unaffordable for the lower strata of society. This lent the game an air of exclusivity, further boosted by the formation of golf clubs. However, leather balls could not fly very far and were soon replaced by the gutta-percha ball, made from the sap of the gutta tree. These balls, which could be hit to a distance of up to 225 yards, are the first versions of modern-day golf balls, which are made of rubber. The dimpled
pattern on the ball came as late as 1905, by when players realised that old and scarred balls travelled further than smooth ones.
Contrary to the golf ball, the golf club has remained more or less standard, with a regular set comprising a mix of wood and iron. The difference, however, is that while irons were initially used to get the ball out of difficult spots, they only began to be used for short approaches in mid-1800s.
Golf as we know it
With the dimpled gutta-percha ball and increase in the use of golf irons
, golf emerged in its modern-day avatar during the 19th
century. In the first half though, the game was still in an informal stage, mostly practised for betting reasons. A formal organisation of the game came about in 1860 with the launch of the Open Championship, also known as the British Open. Towards the end of the century, the game had become immensely popular especially in England and USA, further branching out into amateur and professional golf.
Since then, golf has been a favourite among gentlemen, especially in elite circles, and has come to be regarded as a game of patience and precision. Golf tournaments are now organised all over the world, with the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour—primarily played in the US—and the PGA European Tour being the most prominent.
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Written By : Neehar Mishra