Men on the east coast, in the Kingdom of Fife ' home to St. Andrews ' would hit a pebble around a course laid out by Mother Nature. Golf was far more popular on the east coast than the west coast. The difference was that the west coast was much damper, due to the persistent rains which sweep across that terrain. And the golf balls were highly susceptible to dampness, since they were stuffed with feathers.
Rabbit runs proved to be ideal fairways ' an old sailing term which meant the easiest direction to navigate. The rabbits linked their burrows in the dunes by means of these runs, and foxes and hunters expanded the runs. Sheep and other animals were known to hunker down in the raw winds, wearing away the grasses and preparing the bunker areas. It became a wonderful place to play, with fairways and bunkers and, of course, a hole that was in place already, thanks to the proliferation of rabbits.
The sandy playing areas also were good for something else ' tees which were used to begin play and to continue play after each hole. Early golfers scooped sand to make a tiny platform for their initial shots.
For all these reasons, Scotland is widely considered to be birthplace of golf. And it began haphazardly, a way of hitting a pebble or other roundish object into a hole by means of a stick or club.
It is known that golf was played at St. Andrews before the founding of the university there in 1403, and there is sufficient evidence that it was being played in one form or another in Scotland as much as a century before that, about 1300.
By 1457, the game of gowf or golfe (as it was known in the British Isles) was so firmly established in Scotland, and its playing so widespread, that King James II had an Act of Scottish Parliament to ban it on Sundays so as to preserve the skills of archery. He declared that fute-ball (soccer) and Golfe be utterly cryit doune, and nocht useit! Fute-ball had been banned by his father, King James I, in 1424.
The English were a constant threat and the Scots were inferior to the English in matters of the bow and arrow. Residents of Aberdeen, St. Andrews and Leith on the east coast were the main culprits ' they played and played. That was the first documented reference to todays game ' the edicts of Parliament in 1457. In many parts of Scotlands east coast, parishioners were constantly being punished for playing golf at the time of the preaching of the Sermon.
Two more attempts were made to restrict the playing of gowf, James III banning it again in 1470 and 1493 ' although the people largely ignored it. And the Scots finally had to pay the consequences. At the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, the Scots were assaulted by English bowmen and were no match for them. England routed the Scots, who had spent so much time playing golf.
Kirk Session (church court) records in the 16th and 17th centuries contain many references to men playing at the gowf. At St. Andrews in 1599, miscreants were fined small sums for the first two offenses before use of the repentance pillar. After that, the culprits were deprived of office ' excommunicated from the church.
King James IV (King James I of England), the grandson of the king who originally tried to ban the sport, also tried to prevent the playing of golf. But he, too, found it hopeless and gave up, eventually beginning to play the game himself. The Treaty of Glasgow lifted the ban in 1502.
James has the first recorded purchase of a set of golf clubs, also in 1502, his treasurer paying 14 shillings to an archery bow-maker in Perth, Scotland. Records of his expenses show that from then on, there was a steady stream of bills paid from his royal account for golf clubs and golf balls. History also records several lost bets that were debited from the royal bank account.
King James IV played in the first officially documented match, pitting himself against the Earl of Bothwell in 1504.
It was during this 16th century that it became firmly established on Scotlands East Coast. By this time, the game had gained respectability among high society and was even played by Mary Queen of Scots. She played golf with one of her attendants, Mary Seton. Seton won one match with the queen and was presented with a famous necklace.
Mary Queen of Scots
During this period golf was expanding to England. Political powers in that country provided for land grants to the links ' narrow strips of land only a couple of hundred yards wide that connected the sea to the villages. These links proved to be ideal golf areas, what with the spongy surfaces and the seaside vegetation.
Membership to the clubs and golfing societies which suddenly flourished carried a considerable amount of prestige. Gentlemen Golfers were considered privileged groups who played a legal, honorable, and respectful sport.
It was the royal acceptance of the game that helped spread it throughout the country and beyond. Golf had spread as far north as Montrose in Scotland and inland to Perth, Scotland, by the beginning of the 16th century. It was most likely taken there by James IV.
The earliest centers of golf all had associations with royalty. In the case of St. Andrews, the two pillars of Scottish society were located there ' education and the church. St. Andrews is Scotlands oldest seat of learning, and it was also a powerful church stronghold.
Scotlands capital city of Edinburgh was the seat of the Scottish court, and golf was intertwined throughout the city aided by the royals. The Scottish towns of Dunfermillon and Perth also had royal palaces and they, too, developed strong golf connections.
By the start of the 17th century, golf was actively pursued from the southeast of Scotland and beyond to the far north, to the remote Orkney Islands.
The premier golf course of the time was at Leith.. Indeed, King Charles II was busily engaged in a round at Leith when he got the news of the Irish Rebellion of 1642.
Leith was also important 41 years later, in 1682, when the first international golf match was played. The Duke of York and George Patterson played the match representing Scotland, defeating two English noblemen. Indeed, the game of golf has been primarily an activity of upper-class citizens for much of its existence.