The Ban of Golf


It will come as no great surprise that the Scots and the English have had a long and sometimes contemptuous relationship. What may come as a bit of a surprise is how this complicated union had a significant impact on the development of the game of golf.
Feeling the need to constantly train their forces, particularly in archery, it was, so to speak, a burr in the saddle of Scottish King James II that his able-bodied men would choose to invest their time in less purposeful pursuits like, golf.
So, in 1457, he banned the playing of game, along with football (soccer), opting to force his subjects to engage in activities that would hopefully result in the protection of his kingdom, rather than wasting time with something as trivial as golf. Perhaps the Kings time would have been better spent on the golf course, as the golf gods apparently got the last word.
As an ardent supporter of the mechanized arms of the day, the King bolstered his forces with massive and powerful cannons to be used to reduce the castle walls of his enemies to rubble.
The golf-ban-making King met his demise soon after his golf ban, as he made the mistake of stationing himself too close to one of his cannons during yet another battle against the enemies of the Crown.
The art of loading a cannon with gun powder, lighting it, and using its explosive power to blast a projectile in the direction of your enemies is a gamey proposition to say the least.
Well, for King James II, this reality hit home, quite literally. You see, the cannon misfired, blowing itself to bits along with King James II. None-the-less, King James successors apparently saw the wisdom of his golf ban (not withstanding the risk of earning the wrath of the golf gods) as it continued to be reiterated and upheld by both his son and grandson, until such time as its practicality could not stand in the way of the game that is very much a part of the Scottish identity.
In 1502, King James IV signed the Treaty of Glasgow, intended to insure ever-lasting peace with England (which, ultimately, it didnt). He also clearly possessed a practical romanticism, as he married Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VI, the man who signed the Treaty on Englands behalf.
Apparently, secure in the fact that a lasting peace had been achieved, it is interesting to note that it was King James IV himself who was one of the first to take to the links, on March 29, 1506, in a match against the Earl of Bothwell, perhaps contributing to the games Scottish lineage as a Royal game.
Their match took place on royal hunting grounds that are now the home to the Sterling Golf Club. No record was kept for who won the match, but my money is on the King.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that the Scottish ban on golf has never officially been lifted.
Copyright 2007 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a golf journalist and member of the GOLF CHANNEL's Champions Tour broadcast team, best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life) and a golf course general manager. To view Matt's books or sign up for his 'Golf Wisdom Newsletter,'go to