Knowledge Base

How Was Golf Invented?

There is nothing more relaxing than a game of Golf. It helps you to unwind after a busy day at work; it allows you to ease off after a hard day and think about the truly important things in life.

That’s why it is such a fun game – it allows you to both relax and stimulate your mind at the same time as you choose which iron you are going to use to get your hole in one. 

However, you might be wondering what the true history of Golf is – how was the game invented? Who first thought that it would be a good idea to create courses specifically to play the game on?

Well, this article will tell you all that and much more. Read on to find out how Golf was really invented. 

How Was Golf Invented?

So let’s deal with the simplest and most straightforward question first – How was Golf invented? 

Origin of the word Golf

The word Golf comes from Dutch strangely enough – the word was originally kolf which means club. The word was transmuted in Scotland from goff and eventually golf.

The hint that the world changed from Dutch to Scottish perhaps gives you a clue as to where people most often associated with the birth of the good game – Scotland. 

Golf, like many other popular sports, did not have one clear origin but rather evolved over time.

The first time that the game as we know it is ever mentioned is in 1450 when James II of Scotland passed an Act of Parliament decreeing that both golf and football should be banned because they were seen as distractions to men doing a more profitable sport like archery. 

During this period, it was pretty much compulsory for all men of a certain age upwards to regularly practise archery. The reason being that if the Scottish had to face an invading army from England or if they were planning on invading England, they needed the necessary skills to be able to successfully attack one another. 

Therefore, it is clear that golf was not only in existence and being played by the mid-1400s but it was popular enough to be considered a threat to the sport that was seen to be more important for the status of the nation – archery. 

Origin from Paganica?

The truth is that it likely evolved from a version of the Roman game paganica which was converted over time into a game played by the Dutch who then imported it into Scotland.

This is one scenario; there is no reliable historical lineage for Golf so the issue will likely always remain somewhat contentious. 

The issue of the strict origins of Golf are unclear but its evolution over time is more detailed. Although it was banned in Scotland by one James it would be another James who would not only take up the game but embrace it with some gusto that it would become one of the most popular sports in the world. 

The Evolution And Popularisation Of Golf 

It would be James IV who would become one of the most ardent supporters of golf. Unlike his grandfather James II, James IV was an enthusiastic golf player and the earliest recorded purchase of a set of golf clubs comes from James during the 1490s.

James made sure to get rid of his grandfather’s banning of the game and encouraged others to play it. James would slightly hypocritically again ban the game of golf but continue to play it himself. 

It is during the reign of James IV that we find other elements of golf’s history beginning to emerge. The links, the very first version of a golf course, is known to have been used during his reign both in Leith and in other parts of Scotland. 

Naomi Hagen

However, the art of golf has changed over the years. Whilst the eighteen holes is seen as a permanent fixture of the golfing scene this wasn’t always the case. Indeed, it is noted that during the 15th and 16th centuries golf courses seemed to only have 11 holes with the extra seven being added over time. 

Despite James IV’s enthusiasm for golf, it did not spread outside of Scotland until the time of his great grandson, James VI.

James VI would inherit the throne from his cousin Elizabeth in 1603 which would bring the game to England for the first time. 

When James moved from Scotland to England he brought many of his noble men along with him and attention was soon brought by the English nobility to the strange games that the Scottish nobles would play on Blackheath

James VI’s eldest son Prince Frederick is reported to have been spotted playing the game on Blackheath in 1606. So popular with Blackheath for playing golf on that The Royal Blackheath Golf Club was founded to ensure that there was always a place for golfers to meet prior to a game. 

Whilst the English Civil War and the turmoil of the reign of James’ son Charles I and the subsequent Republic in England under Oliver Cromwell stifled the game in the United Kingdom, at the same time it was beginning to find its feet in America. 

In 1650 Dutch settlers played the first recorded game of golf in the United States although the game would not take off in the US until much later. 

By the 1670s with Charles II on the throne, golf again became popular with Charles’ younger brother being recorded to have played the first international game of golf against two competitors. During the same period, in 1672 the famous Musselburgh Links began to be played, the oldest continuously used golf course in the world. 

Whilst golf would continue to be popular in Britain, and in particular Scotland, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it would not be until the reign of Queen Victoria that the game became truly international. 

The reason that golf became popular under Queen Victoria is simple – the expansion of the press. When the Queen and Prince Albert bought Balmoral, a former Royal Hunting Lodge that they converted into an impressive castle, the press descended on Scotland and worldwide interest turned to all things involving Scotland including golf. 

The golf boom was generated by the press’ publicity of the Royals various activities including Prince Albert’s playing of the game. As such publications helped spread the game across the British Empire and the United States. Soon golf was being played in India, Singapore, New Zealand and wherever a British flag flew. 

This ensured the game’s place not merely as a distinctive local tradition to the people of Scotland but one of the premier entertainment games in the world. 

1900s and Forward

By 1910 in the USA alone there were 267 golf clubs, cementing the popularity of the game. The need to play golf would only grow over time with it soon being associated with being a gentleman. It would be during this period that the supposed acronym  for golf – “Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden”.

So popular did the game become that during the 1920s P G Wodehouse, the creator of Jeeves and Wooster, even wrote a series of short stories specifically about golf and the funny antics of golf players. Golf had truly arrived, and nothing could stop it. 

By the turn of the century, Golf was everywhere. Although every President from Taft up to and including Roosevelt (prior to being struck down by polio and entering the Oval Office) had played golf.

It would only from President Eisenhower onwards that the game would be seen as being one that Presidents of the United States would regularly play. 

Eisenhower’s successor JFK was the best of the Presidential golfers, reportedly being able to use a single digit handicap. The Bushes had the strongest lineage in terms of golf with both being avid golfers; Bush senior is even in the World Golf Hall of Fame and Bush junior’s maternal grandfather was the man responsible for naming the Walker Cup.

Perhaps the President who actively played Golf the most was President Trump at 285 trips to his golf course in Florida, costing the US taxpayer an astonishing $145 million dollars. That’s certainly some dedication to the game!

It is perhaps also thanks to President Eisenhower’s enthusiasm for the game that golf became associated with older men. A stereotype that has been thankfully put to bed in recent years, with the surge in younger golfers of both genders and from a variety of different backgrounds playing the game. 

Golf has come a long way from its origins in Scotland, but it is still one of the most exciting and yet relaxing games that anyone can play and long may its reign as one of the world’s premier sports continue. 

Why It Is Important To Know About The History Of Golf 

Golf is one of those games that anyone can play with enough practice. It is a game that requires not only a cool temperament but also the patience to be able to strike your ball at the right moment and to tell which iron you will need for which hole. 

This is why knowing about the past of this truly wonderful game is so important. Because it allows us all to think of the heritage that rests on this game and that despite opposition to it almost from its very beginnings, it had become a game that cannot be but down.

“The History of Golf” by SarahLevine11 on YouTube.

Golf has and can be played by anyone – from Kings and Presidents to ordinary people like you or me.

It is a game that has helped millions to relax and enjoy themselves. Also, it has given us all an enjoyable excuse to get outside in the fresh air. 

Golf is one of the greatest games that has ever existed and as such, we should take pride in its history.

Frequently Asked Questions about the History of Golf

When was golf invented?

It’s believed that it was invented in 1744. The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers noted down the first rules of the game, known as the Thirteen Articles.

Who invented golf in the US?

Charles Blair MacDonald is normally attributed to inventing golf. He built the Chicago Golf Club in 1893, the country’s first 18-hole course.

Where does the word Golf come from?

The word Golf comes from Dutch strangely enough – the word was originally kolf which means club. The word was transmuted in Scotland from goff and eventually golf.

By Naomi Hagen

Hi! I'm Naomi Hagen, the Lead Editor of Golftlink. Me and Andrew met during a casual game of golf at Seminole in Florida. I've got a hcp of 5, one of my key achievements in life apart from raising four beautiful children (one is a scratch golfer!). I live with my family outside Florida and absolutely love the game of golf.