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The origins of golf in the Netherlands and Scotland

Tijana Radeska
Golf in Scotland

There are records from 1297 of a golf-like game in Loenen aan de Vecht, where the Dutch played a sport with a stick and a leather ball. The one who could hit the ball into a target a few hundred yards away with the least number of strokes was the winner.

This game is the first one recorded to be similar to the modern game of golf, which is a Scottish invention.

The MacDonald boys playing golf by 18th-century portrait painter Jeremiah Davison

The MacDonald boys playing golf by 18th-century portrait painter Jeremiah Davison

The modern golf originates from a game that was played on the eastern coast of Scotland, near Edinburgh. In the early version of the game, the players were trying to hit a rock over sand dunes and around tracks, with a bent stick or club. The Scots enjoyed playing the game so much that they delayed enlisting into the military. So, at the peak of the game’s popularity, the parliament of King James II banned golf in 1457.

But the game was too good and too much fun for the Scots to simply respect the restrictions by the parliament, so they continued playing it regardless.

Not only was the ban ignored by the Scots, but the game even took over the royal court, and in 1502 King James IV of Scotland became the world’s first golfing monarch. During the 16th century, the game had been introduced to the English by King Charles I and to the French by Mary Queen of Scots while she studied in France.

Golfers at Leith Links in 1867 (left to right) Andrew Strath, Davie Park, Bob Kirk, Jamie Anderson, Jamie Dunn, Willie Dow, Willie Dunn, Sr., A. Greig, Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris, and George Morris

Golfers at Leith Links in 1867 (left to right) Andrew Strath, Davie Park, Bob Kirk, Jamie Anderson, Jamie Dunn, Willie Dow, Willie Dunn, Sr., A. Greig, Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris, and George Morris

The earliest known instructions for playing golf were found in the diary of Thomas Kincaid, a keen Edinburgh medical student, golfer, and archer. He played on the two premier courses at the time – Bruntsfield Links, near Edinburgh University, and at Leith Links. At the former, the first international golf match took place in 1682, when two English noblemen lost the game to the Duke of York and George Patterson, who represented Scotland.

Pub sign on the Golf Tavern on Bruntsfield Links. Photo credit

Pub sign on the Golf Tavern on Bruntsfield Links. Photo credit

During the 18th century, the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith formed the first golf club and established the annual event of golf competition with silverware prizes. The rules of the game were drafted by Duncan Forbes and some of those rules are still applied in the game, while others still sound familiar since they are similar to the modern rules of the game.

When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands in 1852, the railroads were extended to the town of St. Andrews, where the first ever 18-hole course was constructed. Ever since, the town has been closely associated with the game.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Photo credit

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Photo credit

Today the city is recognized as the historic home of golf. In 1864, the club in St. Andrews was honored with the title “Royal & Ancient” by King William IV.

A young trained elephant used as a caddy on a Florida golf course in 1922

A young trained elephant used as a caddy on a Florida golf course in 1922

We have another story on Scotland: Abandoned: The Largest Medieval palace in Scotland

During the 19th century, the game of golf spread massively outside of Scotland, in Britain, Europe and all British colonies, where it remains a popular sport to this day.