GOLF’S EARLY HISTORY
What do you think makes the game of golf unique? It involves striking a ball with a club, cross country, into a hole. No other early club and ball game had these three essential elements of golf.
Many countries have claimed the origins of golf. The Chinese and the Dutch have both claimed to have created the game of golf. The Dutch had a courtyard club and ball game and another game played on ice where the ball was propelled towards a post. Meanwhile, centuries ago, the Chinese played a game using equipment remarkably similar to golf clubs, apparently to hit a ball into a hole in courtyards. However, it is only in Scotland that the three essential elements of golf were met.
The game of golf can be traced to Scotland. In 1457, parliament banned the game so that more time would be spent on archery practice, which was necessary for Scotland’s defence at the time. Following the 1501 repeal of the ban, the game prospered. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was the world’s first golf club, organized in 1744.
THE PLAYING FIELD
The first golf courses were on links, which was a term commonly used for public land close to the sea. This land would be used by locals to graze their sheep, play games and other activities. Golfer wore a red coat to warn others that a golf ball might be coming their way.
The caddie was an essential part of early golf, not only carrying the player’s clubs under his arm, but also marking out the course and spotting the flight of the ball. Caddies survived the introduction of the first golf bags in the 1880s, but the popular use of pull carts and motorized golf cars has all but brought an end to this colourful aspect of the game.
In fact, the traditional 18-hole rounds we have today can be credited to the old course at St. Andrews. Their original layout was 22 holes - eleven holes out and the same eleven back - but eventually they decided that two of the holes were too short. They combined two holes, which made the course 9 out and 9 back and the standard 18 holes of golf was born.
Golf is one of the only games which is played on an ever varying playing field. The rules are set to address the vastly different circumstances this can bring about, and establish equality between players. The original 13 rules have been expanded to 34 rules and more than 20,000 words. In addition, there is a 599-page Decision on the Rules of Golf book that explains and interprets the Rules under actual playing conditions.
Golfers are equal under the Rules, but are not necessarily equal in skill levels. Golf’s unique system of handicapping has allowed the sport to be enjoyed by men and women of all ages and abilities and has helped the sport grow to its present day popularity. One hundred years ago, golfers were measured against the best player in the club, who became known as the scratch player. But the scratch player in one club may not possess the same skill level as the scratch player at a more difficult golf course. To level the playing field and get a true rating of each player’s ability, a system of handicapping was developed that took into account the relative difficulty of every course.
EXPANSION OF THE GAME
The Scots carried golf to other lands, including Ireland, England, India, France, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, Canada and the United States.
Interest in golf remained limited until the 1890s, when the game experienced its first boom throughout the world. Industrial advances brought about great changes to everyday life. The result was reduced working hours, greater access to public and private transportation and a general increase in leisure time. Most importantly, women were being freed from the social restrictions of the Victorian era and started playing golf, making it a family game.
The game grew rapidly from six clubs in 1889 to fifty clubs across the country by 1902. This growth led to national competitions and the formation for governing bodies including the Royal Canadian Golf Association in 1895, Canadian Professional Golfer’s Association in 1911, and the Canadian Ladies’ Golf Association in 1913.
Can you imagine a golf ball costing as much as a suit of clothes? Improvements in the manufacture of golf balls contributed, as much as anything, to the growth of the game everywhere. Until the 1850s, the golf ball was hand-made, expensive and extremely fragile. Far from round, the feathery was made by stitching sections of leather into a sphere, then stuffing it with the equivalent of a top hat full of feathers. An experienced ball-maker could produce only four balls a day.
A new material called gutta percha was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century for making balls. Balls became less expensive and therefore more available. The first gutty balls had a smooth surface, but they were found to fly further and straighter when they became cuffed. This led to the discovery that dimples improve the flight of a golf ball. Gutties were soon “hand-hammered” with patterns and molded to a variety of designs, leading to the modern style dimple we see on today’s golf ball.
Introduced in 1901, the rubber core ball surpassed the gutty in durability, reliability and accuracy. The fore-runner of the ball we use today, it was made by winding elastic thread tightly around a rubber core, then encasing it all in gutta percha. Since the 1920s, many materials have been introduced as golf ball cores, including glass, water and cork, each with varying results. The modern ball is usually a two or three-piece construction which allows for greater compression against the club head. The one piece is still used on many driving ranges.
As with early golf balls, golf clubs were individually hand crafted by Scottish club-makers. As the game became more popular this was no longer practical, so the club head was shortened to aid mass production. Early iron clubs, made by blacksmiths, were used only for digging the ball out of heavy rough and deep ruts. The introduction of the sturdy gutty ball increased the use of iron clubs. Cleekmakers began making drop-forged iron heads which could be mass produced.
To tee the ball, early golfers scooped up a handful or earth or sand into a mound and placed the ball on top. Later, they used a sand tee mold. The first commercial wooden tee was introduced in 1921, and, soon after, golfers were overwhelmed with advertisements for tees of all shapes and sizes. Today, the standard wooden tee is a staple of the game.
The club professional has been a central figure of golf since the mid-19th century when people the likes of Tom Morris became a fixture of St. Andrew’s – the home of golf. Teacher, equipment manufacturer/supplier, tournament organizer, caddy master – the roles have changes throughout the century, but the club professional maintains their place as many players primary contact with the game.
The first golf courses in Canada, as everywhere, were made mostly by nature. Our first golf professionals improved them, but not until a year prior to the First World War did Canada recruit one of the new breed of Golf Course Architects to design the first of many courses that have withstood the test of time.
With the development of golf professionals, came a need to test these leaders of the game for skill. The Canadian Open Championship was initiated for just this purpose in 1904 and is the third oldest National Open championship in the world.
Perhaps the greatest change in professional golf in the modern era was the creation of a semi-permanent home for the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club. With improved opportunity for spectators and consistent conditions for the golfers, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course has produced many great champions. The introduction of a Canadian Tour as a testing ground for young golfers has expanded the number of Canadians competing around the world, as well as the quality of professional golf in Canada.
Golf served as one of the first sports that encouraged the participation of women. The resulting popularity brought about the first Ladies’ open Championship, held in Britain, in 1893. Canada followed suit holding the first Canadian Ladies’ Championship in 1901.
The history of competitive golf in Canada truly begins with the 1st Canadian Amateur in 1895. Since then golfers have sought to demonstrate their prowess. Improvements in transportation and the changing demands of work and life, have enhanced competitive opportunities.
A new world emerged at the close of World War I, the widespread introduction of the radio and other communications, the better transportation in services and a new commitment to the enjoyment of life was reflected in the world of golf. Amateur golf was at its peak of public interest, especially the match play Canadian Amateur. Professional golf was just beginning to draw attention and more significant purses. Canadians competed successfully internationally and were the subject of nation pride.