Long ago, a guy named Ugh grew bored sitting around his cave. He picked up a stick and starting making lines in the dirt. The stick hit a rock and the rock flew several feet. This excited Ugh. He tried it again and the rock flew again. Seeing this, his cousin Ork attempted to duplicate his cousin's skill. They grew ecstatic hitting rocks all around the cave - grunting and high five-ing each other. Their mothers made them take their game outside. This was the birth of humans playing games outside and making sport of hitting things with a stick. As descendents of Ugh and Ork evolved and moved to all parts of the world, games with sticks and stones evolved. Sticks became more sophisticated. Stones were replaced with better objects. These games were played all over the world and in every civilization. But everyone agrees, that the game of golf as it is played today was born in Scotland – in the Kingdom of Fife. That is where using a hole in the ground and hitting a ball into it evolved in the 15th century.
The hole in the ground is what makes golf unique from all other games. If you have been to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, you probably have seen the ball courts that the Mayan used for their ball games. They also put a ball through a hole, but the hole was high on a wall and they hit the ball with their hips and their heads. They also killed the losers of the game. The sporting clans in Scotland may have heard of the Mayan game - the Europeans had discovered this side of the world by that time. But if they had heard of the Mayan game, they wisely decided to put the hole in the ground instead of high on a wall. They also decided to hit the ball into the hole with a stick, not their bodies and to not kill the guys that lost. They decided to give them silly nicknames and make fun of them in the clubhouse.
Golf became so popular during the mid 15th century, that King James II and the Scottish parliament in 1457, banned the games of golf and soccer. The country needed to be preparing its defenses against invasion from England on its southern border. But Scottish men instead of practicing archery in preparation for war – were playing golf and soccer instead. This ban was repeated by succeeding monarchs, until King James IV who finally threw in the proverbial towel and became a golfer himself. The ban was largely ignored anyway and golf's popularity had spread. In the 16th century Mary Queen of Scots was living in France, before becoming the Scottish queen. She introduced the French to golf. It is there that the term "caddie" originated. Mary's helpers on the golf course were French military personnel. They were cadets – therefore caddies.
The historic, Scottish town of St. Andrews in Scotland is known throughout the world as the "Birthplace of golf". They claim golf has been played on its links since 1400. It was there in 1754 that the Royal & Ancient (R & A) Golf Club was founded. It was also there that the Society of Golfers was formed to compete in its own competition in 1764 when the 18- hole course was adopted. Up until that point there had been 11 holes out and 11 back. Golfers played the same holes going out and back. That would cause some confusion on today's courses. They wisely combined some holes and settled on the 18- hole course. St. Andrew's had royal patronage. It set the rules for the game – and it had the golf course that set the standard for all golf courses. They had some trouble in 1797 when the bankrupt town sold the links to local merchants who turned them into a rabbit farm. There ensued twenty years of 'war' (legal and physical) between the rabbit farmers and the golfers. The golfers won in 1821 when a local landowner bought the links and saved them for golf.
By this time golfers were using proper clubs and balls. Some club heads were made from wood and some from hand-forged iron. Shafts were fine woods. The balls by then were made of tightly compressed feathers wrapped in stitched horse- hide. Golf equipment was handcrafted and very expensive. Therefore, golf was the sport of the elite. The ability to play golf up until this time depended on three factors – having the free time to play – having the open space on which to play – and being able to afford the equipment with which to play. That changed with the Victorian Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Railways sprung up spawning mass tourism. For the first time ordinary people could explore the countryside on day or weekend trips. Metal club heads and shafts were introduced and mass- produced, and therefore affordable, along with less expensive golf balls. This contributed to the phenomenal growth of golf as a sport for larger populations.
The decade between 1900 and 1910 had monumental effects upon the game. Golf was confirmed as a global sport when it was made an Olympic sport in 1900. That was also the year that the Haskell one-piece rubber cored ball was introduced. It practically guaranteed an extra 20 yards on hitting the ball. Grooved faced clubs were introduced in 1902. In 1905, the dimpled ball was invented and in 1910 steel shafted golf clubs were available. In that decade golfers were provided innovations in equipment that could allow them to hit farther and more accurately than ever before and with products that were mass produced and affordable.
World War I and World War II had far reaching affects on the sport, especially in the British Isles. In Scotland it is said that the first war took the men – the second war took the courses. Every village in Scotland has a memorial that tells of the number of Scots that were killed in France during the First World War. Many of the golf clubs lost their best and brightest players. Also, many of the players that did survive the war wanted to get away from the devastation and moved to America where they could find lucrative jobs as golf pros. Some later returned to Scotland. Some never returned.
If the First World War did irreparable damage to golf - the Second World War almost totally destroyed golf in Scotland. Scottish golf courses were typically in remote, sparsely populated locations, along sandy beaches. Military minds found these perfect for disembarkation's of enemy troops and weapons, as well as for airborne landings. Today you can still see large concrete blocks that were erected to thwart these invasions and massive wooden poles erected to stop aircraft landings. Along with all the ravages of war, these once beautiful golf courses had permanent scars. Yet, golf survived. The Kingdom of Fife today has 45 golf courses.
American golf became more and more prominent after the wars. America had not experienced the social and economic upheaval or the long interruption of play that Europe had endured. Not to mention, that just by sheer numbers of players in the U.S., it held the numerical advantage. Where the British Isles were once the bastion of the game of golf, it is now a truly global sport played all over the world by all cultures. We, in the Bay Area are lucky to have - not only weather that permits year round play, but some of the best- designed, beautiful and challenging golf courses in the world. What more could an aficionado want? Golf is here to stay – FORE!