History of Golf - Part Three The 18th and 19th Centuries

By George WhiteJuly 10, 2002, 4:00 pm
The sport of golf, which seemed like such a staple in Britain in the 1600s and early 1700s, slowly faded in the latter 1700s. The Industrial Revolution was about to blossom, towns were expanding, and the old links were quickly being gobbled up for more industrious pursuits.
 
Town centers decayed, along with town finances. Epidemics swept through the countryside and many old courses were turned into burial plots. Men slowly migrated to the numerous factories that were constantly springing up, working many overtime hours. Sundays were the only off-days, a time just long enough to rest from the back-breaking work and get ready for Mondays.
 
The sport might well have died altogether were not for the Freemasons. Their enthusiasm alone virtually sustained the game from extinction. For about 100 years, from 1750 to 1850, they played the game with regularity. Golfing societies slowly formed, which were mostly members of the Freemasons. Royalty played very little or none at all during this period, but golf was kept alive by the Freemason groups.
 
Edinburgh, Scotland, claimed the first golfing society. The Gentlemen Golfers ' later known as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and today in residence at Muirfield ' claim their club was already under way in 1744, when they petitioned the city of Edinburgh for a silver club for annual competition on the Links at Leith. Leith was a port town only a short distance from Edinburgh. This was followed in 1754 by the gentlemen of St. Andrews, Scotland, banding together to form the St. Andrews Golf Club. St. Andrews is today known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
 
The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh also puts forth a claim to have been the first golf club. They claim to have been in existence since l735, but those claims appear largely unsubstantiated. At any rate, the earliest golf societies seemed to be as preoccupied with dining as they were with golf. Numerous references in the early journals are made to dinners and not many to golf. Such would be the nature of the Freemasons, who were very big on pomp and circumstance and such fineries as meals served just so.
 
St. Andrews eventually became the traditional center of all golf, thanks partly to a publicity stunt. The Society of St. Andrews Golfers had an open competition ' everyone was invited, regardless if he were a member of the society or not. St. Andrews contributed a silver club to the winner. In a short time, St. Andrews became the premier golfing town. And in 1764, when the St. Andrews course finally settled on 18 holes (down from its previous 22), 18 became the accepted number for all golf courses.
 
With golf spreading across city boundaries and matches being played among competitors from several regions, written rules began to appear. The first such written set is for the Edinburgh competition by the Gentleman Golfers in 1744:
  1. You must Tee your Ball within a Clubs length of the Hole;
  2. Your Tee (area from which the ball was hit) must be on the ground;
  3. You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the Tee before that hole is played out;
  4. You are not to remove any Stones, Bones any Break Club, for the sake of playing your Ball, except of the fair Green, & that only with one Clubs length of your Ball;
  5. If your Ball come among Watter or any Wattery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball & bringing it behind the hazard and teeing it, you may play it with any Club and allow your adversary a stroke;
  6. If your Balls be found anywhere touching one another you are to lift the first ball till you play the last;
  7. At holeing you are to play your Ball honestly for the hole, and not to play upon your adversarys ball, not lying in your way to the hole;
  8. If you shoud lose your Ball, by its being taken up or any other way you are to go back to the Spot, where you struck last, & drop another Ball. And allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune;
  9. No man at holeing his Ball is to be allowd to mark his way to the hole with his Club or anything else;
  10. If a Ball be stoppd by any person, horse or dog, or anything else, the Ball so stoppd must be played where it lyes;
  11. If you draw your Club, in order to strike & proceed so far in your stroke, as to be bringing down your Club; if then your Club shall break in any way, it is to be accounted a stroke;
  12. He whose Ball lyes farthest from the hole is obliged to play first;
  13. Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made for the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholars Holes or the Soldiers Lines, Shall be accounted a hazard. But the ball is to be taken out Teed and playd with any Iron Club.
The Gentleman Golfers of Edinburgh were the first to exercise control of a links. They leased the Leith Links in 1787 at the rate of 37 pounds per year, primarily to control the cattle which grazed here. Others in town leased the links to pasture animals, and though the golfers were tolerant, they did not like the idea of unlimited numbers of cattle on their course.
 
About the year 1830, though, golf had reached its absolute low point. Interest in golf at Leith had ebbed. The Gentlemen Golfers ' later known as the Honorable Company of Golfers ' was about to drown in a sea of debts. The military invaded the links, and with it the town citizens followed, trampling the course, and now numerous sheep followed.
 
In 1834 the Edinburgh golf clubhouse was sold to pay off huge debts owed by the Gentleman Golfers. The town of St. Andrews sold its course in 1799 to, of all things, a rabbit breeder. Estimates were that only 20 rounds a day were played there on a good day. Golf also declined in the west coast of Scotland. The Glasgow Herald reported in 1854 that, We have lost one of the oldest of our Scotch games, viz. the Golf, which used to be regularly played upon the Green of Glasgow, not only by boys, but also by many of our first-class citizens.
 
The gents of wealth, however, kept the game alive during this period. They werent beholden to the factory hours. Almost single-handedly they ' many of which were Freemasons ' persisted in their games, even branching out to playing in the summers. Golf in Scotland had been largely a winter game, the summers devoted to crop-growing.
 
Along about 1850, though, the sport was on the rebound. Wages improved. The epidemics faded out. After 1850, the textile industries which abounded in Britain gave time off from work ' two weeks was the standard, as well as Saturday afternoons. The Victorian Age was on the horizon, a time in which morals were greatly improved. Health and attention to sobriety were now the watchwords.
 
Eventually, the golfers of St. Andrews were able to rescue their course back from the rabbit warrens. In 1821, James Cheape of Strathtryum bought the links and saved the Old Course for golf. The introduction of the gutta percha ball around 1850 took the place of the old featherie, making golf cheaper for all. Railroads were coming into being, making it much easier to get to outlying courses.
 
The invention of the mower was critical. Before, it was hardly possible to play in the summer on inland courses because the grass would grow to such unwieldy lengths. It was cut back, when possible, by scythes. In most areas, cattle and grazing sheep kept the terrain leveled enough in the winter so that balls were not lost. But by 1840, the lawnmower started appearing at courses.
 
The St. Andrews Society of Golfers reached royal status in 1834. Murray Belshes had approached King William IV asking him to be their patron. The King not only agreed, but permitted the Society to rename itself The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. St. Andrews has since become known as the Home of Golf, since the Edinburgh golfers had left Leith and had yet to re-establish itself. There was no challenge to the claims of St. Andrews.
 
From that time on, the authority of the Royal and Ancient has been undisputed, with the exception of North American where the United States Golf Association is the preeminent authority. It was time for yet another era in golf.
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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''