History of Golf - Part One The Beginnings

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Since the beginning of time, man has preoccupied himself with a stick and a rock, making his drudgery into a game.
 
In the earliest of times he swung the stick at the rock, propelling it towards some predetermined destination. This, it can be said, was the precursor of golf. Unfortunately, it also is the precursor to just about all the sports that require a ball and some object to propel it.
 
What country invented golf? Many countries did. If there were sticks and objects that could be hurtled along, then there was golf. Though the name didnt come into being until some time in the 15th century, there were many, many games of early man that could be called an ancestor to golf.
 
Nearly every area around the world has some claim to the origination of golf. Scotland, of course, has its claim. But so do China, Rome, England, France, Holland, Belgium, even Laos. Every country has a game consisting of sticks and balls, and every country is correct in its assumption that it invented the game. But there is no one country where golf actually began.

History - 1862 golf photoSome say that it was first played by shepherds tending their flocks, passing the time by hitting rocks to targets with their shafts. Games would have developed between competing shepherds, playing across links land and back to their villages.
 
One theory is that fishermen on the east coast of Scotland invented the game to amuse themselves as they returned home from their boats.
 
Other games which included a ball, a stick and some form of a target included paganicain Rome, a Celtic game called shinty, and khi in Laos. The Chinese claim a form of golf ' chui wan (beating a ball) ' was played as early as 300 BC. The Roman scribe Catullas describes the game of pangea ' an ancient forerunner of modern hockey and hurling.
 
Roman emperors in Caesars empire apparently played the relaxing game of paganica using a bent stick to drive a soft, hair-filled or feather-stuffed ball. The use of hair-filled balls can be traced to the spread of the Roman empire, and similar balls were later used in Europe. Over the next five centuries, the game developed on several continents.
 
Shepherds implements were definitely used in games to hit rocks, we know. In 1338, German shepherds were granted special dispensation to mark their territories by striking a pebble with their crooks. The distance covered was the extent of their grazing rights, a serious use of the rules of the game.
 
The Irish played a very rough game called camanachd and the English played a game, cambuca, in the 1300s. The goal of cambuca is unclear and it may have even been a competition between enemies with one attacking and one defending.
 
The late Dutch golf historian Steven J. H. van Hengel, acknowledged as one of the foremost experts of the origins of golf, believes that golf was probably a mixture of the implements used in chole and the rules of jeu de mail, both games imported into Holland.
 
Chole, which still survives in Belgium and under the name of soule in Northern France, is a halfway stage between hockey and golf. A cemetery gate, a door, a big rock or other large object ' often as far distant as 12 miles away ' could serve as the goal. One player or side would get three strokes at the object, after which the opponent or opponents would get to whack the object in the opposite direction (dechole).
The origin of the name golf is believed to be the Dutch word of 'colf,' which means 'club.' In the medieval ages, golf was also known as spel metten colve, which literally meant 'game with clubs.'
 
Van Hengel traced colf back to Dec. 26, 1297, in the town of Loenen aan de Vecht in northern Holland. On that day, the local townsfolk played four holes of the game to commemorate the relieving of the Kronenburg Castle exactly one year before. The fact that colf was chosen to mark the occasion is proof that the game was already popular by that time, says Van Hengel, although he couldnt say for how long. Colfer, or golfers, were a common sight in contemporary Dutch artworks, suggesting their popularity then.
 
'Colf' continued until the early 18th century when it suddenly fell out of fashion, to be replaced in Holland by kolf, a considerably shorter game played on a course only 25 yards in length. The ball was large, about the size of a baseball, and struck to a post set at either end of the field. The object was to knock the ball from one end to the other, hit the post, and leave the ball as near to the surrounding wall as possible.
 
Van Hengels theory of colf eventually giving way to golf is supported by the frequent trading links between Holland and Scotland from medieval time. The game of colf is believed to have traveled from east to west, across the North Sea.
 
The first recorded reference to chole, another derivative of hockey, was made in 1353. And from this same period of time, around 1350, the stick-and-ball game of kofspel was played in Holland. The Dutch called a similar game kolven. From this came kolf, or in England, gowf.

History - 1872 golf photoHet kolven was played in the Holland and the Low Countries. It was played in open spaces and the player had to drive a ball a good distance, aiming at goal ' a door or a tree, perhaps. Het kolven was played in the American colonies as early as 1657.
 
The earliest traces of golf being played are said to date back to 1340, where in a sketch from a stained glass window ' the Great East Window ' in the east wing of the Gloucester Cathedral, England, scenes of the Battle of Crecy in France showed a man apparently preparing to strike a ball in a golf-like manner. It was probably not actually golf, but the old English game of cambuca or the Flemish game of chole. This was more than 100 years earlier than the first written Scottish golf record.
 
The French staked their claim with a game called jeu de mail.' Jeu de mail was played since the 16th century; also a game called mail a la chicane, another forerunner.
 
In 15th century London, pall mall was a game that derived its name from an early playing place of another game. This contest consisted of knocking a ball from one pre-determined place to another, sometimes as far as neighboring villages. Many believe that golf emerged when pall mall was completely ousted from the towns onto the nearest common land, or land that was not owned by any individual.
 
Certainly, kolf, as it was known in the Netherlands, or goff, as it was referred to in England, was a pastime enjoyed by 15th century kings and commoners. All early fore-runners, though, resembled croquet or billiards or cricket more than golf. Unfortunately for those countries who lay claim to originating the sport, they all lacked just one thing. And it was left to the Scots to make the final refinement.