You may not know it, but every time you step out onto the green, freshly cut grass of your favorite golf course, you’re participating in an ancient ritual that has, in one form or another, been part of Western Civilization since the Roman Empire. The Romans played a game called paganica with a bent stick and a stuffed leather ball that any golfer would recognize as the parent of their sport.
As the Romans spread across Europe and Northern Africa, soldiers spent years manning distant outposts and forts. When they weren’t suppressing uprisings, these bored soldiers passed the time with the games they played at home, including paganica. Inevitably, the locals would have picked up the game and put their own personal spin on it.
The Dutch Go Golfing
By the late 13th century, records of a Dutch game played with a stick and a leather ball begin to appear. The point of the game was to hit the ball into a target several hundred yards away in as few strokes as possible. The stick was called a colf or kolf club, depending on the source material. Unfortunately, the game was banned by the council of Brussels in 1360–punishment was a fine of 20 shillings or the overcoat of any man caught playing the forbidden sport.
Just 27 years later, though, the Duke of Bavaria, Duke Albert I, signed the charter for the city of Brielle. In it contained laws against playing games for money, except for the game of colf, which was specifically allowed. By 1389 Duke Albert I offered another city in his jurisdiction, Haarlem, a field designated for playing games that were too dangerous to play inside the city walls — the most popular pastime there was colf.
Modern Golf in Scotland
Golf took on its modern form in Scotland, where innovations like the underground cup and 18-hole course originated. In 1457, golf was temporarily banned in Scotland–apparently it was so popular that it took too much time away from archery practice, which was vital for national defense. But by 1500, golf was back on and the Scots took their time perfecting their sport. It wasn’t until 1744 that the rules of golf were finally solidified and recorded, the game was finally in a form we’d easily recognize today.
We can thank The Gentleman Golfers of Leith for organizing the first annual golf tournaments, using the rules they themselves designed (and printed) in 1744. The prize for winning was a silver golf club and bragging rights. St. Andrews would follow with their own tournament in 1754, using Leith’s rules and by 1764 the 18-hole course came into being.
Although the game of golf hasn’t changed much since the 1700s, golf club technology has come a long way–nobody knows that better than the guys at 3balls.com. We’ve got a huge selection of clubs, both new and used, to help you master the ancient and beloved game of golf. Check out our website before your next weekend on the links.
Adriaen van de Velde [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons