FAQs

Where does the term ‘golf’ come from?

The term possibly originated from the old Scots words golve, gowl or gouf and is possibly borrowed from mediaeval Dutch (colf being club and ‘spel meten colven’ being game (played) with club – this was a Dutch game resembling golf). As time passed, the term ‘golf’ came to be used more consistently; however, some older Scottish golfers still refer to the game as ‘the Gowf’, in keeping with the older Scots name. Indeed, a golf club in Ayrshire bears the name of the Loudoun Gowf Club.

How did golf begin?

It is impossible to know when the game of golf was first played. There are many different theories but we do not know for certain when the game that we recognise as golf was introduced. What we do know is that in the Middle Ages a number of similar ball and stick games were played.

In Scotland, the aim was to strike the ball into a hole in the ground. Games played in Europe, such as Pall Mall or Jeu de Mail a la Chicane, had different rules which involved players aiming at a target above the ground. In Pall Mall the player had to hit the ball through a hoop and in Jeu de Mail a la Chicane the target could be a tree or a door.

When was golf first played?

The earliest known written reference to golf dates to 1457, when King James II of Scotland banned golf and football on the grounds that they were keeping his subjects from their archery practice. The ban was repeated in 1471 by James III and in 1491 by James IV for the same reason. The fact that the game was banned in 1457 suggests that it was played prior to that year and it may have been many years earlier.

When was golf first played in St Andrews?

The first surviving written reference to golf in St Andrews is contained in Archbishop Hamilton’s Charter of 1552. This reserves the right of the people of St Andrews to use the linksland “for golff, football, schuteing and all gamis”. As early as 1691, the town had become known as the ‘metropolis of golfing’.

Who was the first lady to play golf?

Documentary evidence of 1567-1568 indicates that Mary, Queen of Scots “was seen playing golf and pall mall in the fields beside Seton”.

What is the role of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club?

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was founded on 14 May 1754 with the first Challenge for the Silver Club. Evolving over 250 years of British history, it has grown from a small society of no fixed abode to a Club whose membership of almost 2,400 extends worldwide.

From the late 19th century, the Club increasingly came to be regarded as a governing authority, both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Between 1897 and 2003 it developed three distinct areas of responsibility, namely the administration of the Rules of Golf, in conjunction with the United States Golf Association, the running of The Open Championship and other key golfing events, and the development of the game in existing and emerging golfing nations.

A major re-organisation took place in 2004 when the Club devolved responsibility for these functions to a newly formed group of companies, known as The R&A.

Who owns the Old Course?

It is often thought that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club owns the Old Course. In actual fact, the Club does not own any courses. There are seven courses in St Andrews, all of which are managed by the St Andrews Links Trust.

Why is St Andrews so important for golf?

A document of 1552, bearing the seal of Archbishop Hamilton, provides the earliest written reference of golf being played at St Andrews. In it, he refers to the public ownership of the links which people used for grazing livestock, playing golf and football, shooting and other games. This suggests that all of these activities, including golf, had been played for some time previously.

In 1754, St Andrews was referred to as “the Alma Mater of the Golf”. Clearly its reputation as a centre for the game was well established.

What does ‘golf links’ mean?

A golf links is a stretch of land near the coast characterised by undulating terrain, often associated with dunes, infertile sandy soil and indigenous grasses such as marram, sea lyme and the fescues and bents which, when properly managed, produce the fine textured, tight turf for which links are famed.

Why are there 18 holes on a golf course?

Initially, there was no standard number of holes on a golf course. In the 18th century, golf was played on common land, usually by the sea, and the number of holes varied. Leith and Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh were both normally 5 hole courses, as was Blackheath, in London. St Andrews had 11 holes, which were played twice to form a 22 hole round, but this was changed to 18 holes in 1764.

There is no specific date for when 18 holes became the standard number of holes on a course. In 1842, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club issued new rules for its members; Rule 1 stated:

“one round of the Links or 18 holes is reckoned a match unless otherwise stipulated”.

Clubs were not expected to follow this example, but by the 1870s, with more and more clubs looking to the R&A for advice, a round of golf was increasingly accepted as consisting of 18 holes.

When were the first Rules of Golf written?

The earliest known Rules of Golf appeared in 1744. Known as the Articles & Laws, they were written by the Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh (later the Honourable Company) for a competition in which they were to compete for a silver club. There were only thirteen Rules. Ten years later, these were adopted (with slight changes) for a similar challenge that was being played in St Andrews.

What is the Claret Jug?

The Claret Jug is presented to the winner of The Open Championship. First played at Prestwick in 1860, it is golf’s oldest major. The original prize was the Challenge Belt, a red Moroccan leather belt with an elaborate silver buckle. The belt was won outright in 1870 by Tom Morris Jr after his third successive victory. Because the prize had been claimed, The Open was not played in 1871. The following year, Prestwick, the Honourable Company and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club decided to co-host the Championship and it resumed, again at Prestwick, in 1872. Because of the timing of the decision, it was too late to organise a trophy, so the winner, again Tom Morris Jr, received a gold medal. By 1873, the Claret Jug was ready. The Championship was held at St Andrews that year, the first time it had been played outside of Prestwick, and it was won by Tom Kidd.

Why are fourteen clubs allowed?

The number of clubs that players are allowed to carry was first debated in November 1936, when it was proposed by a member of the Rules of Golf Committee, Robert Harris, that it should be limited to fourteen. In his autobiography, Sixty Years of Golf, Harris explained the reasons for proposing the motion:

"With the legalising of steel shafts there began another flurry and flutter in the game. It was soon realised by players that the rigid steel shafts could not be made to work the same as hickory with its torsion qualities".

As a result of a loss of finesse, a wider variety of lofts had been introduced. The result being:

"Imagination ran rife or lack of imagination brought ruin, and the scramble of the buying of the shot forced the set up to twenty and even twenty-five clubs being carried by some players, in a quest for results which before were obtainable from five or six shafts of hickory".

His ideas met with little resistance on either side of the Atlantic. The R&A announced that it would be recommending that as of 1st January 1938, no more than fourteen clubs would be allowed. The USGA statement was more explicit:

"We have come to the conclusion that the limitation of clubs would tend to restore the making of individual shots, and increase the skill of the player. The multiplicity of clubs tends towards mechanisation of the game. In earlier days players used to change their swing in order to execute the various types of shots. In recent years the tendency has been merely to take a different club".

Due to a delay the motion was again proposed in September 1938 and become effective from 1st January 1939.

What does the term ‘Bogey’ mean?

The term bogey, when it was first used in golf, referred to a type of competition. Introduced in about 1891, the method of play involved each competitor scoring as in match play - on holes won, lost or halved - against the ground score set in advance. A player referred to the frightening mythical opponent as the Bogey man, an evil or mischievous spirit, and the name stuck. It is reputed that he became ‘Colonel Bogey’ on Haslar Links. The rank was bestowed by United Service Golf Club members to allow him to ‘play’, because the club was for officers only.

What does ‘Par’ mean?

The dictionary definition of par is ‘usual’ or ‘average’. It was adopted in golf by the 1890s to mean the standard score in strokes for each hole of a given course. Par can also be set for the score for a round. Originally, bogey was the score that a player of high amateur standard should reach, while par was the standard for professionals and championship-level amateurs. On some holes bogey was one higher than par, so bogey came to mean failure to reach par. This led to the current usage of this term, to mean one over par. In golf scores are often measured against par.

…and ‘Birdie’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘Albatross’?

As with many terms used in golf, the exact origins are not known. The term birdie, which means one under par, seems to have been accepted into common usage over a period of time. It possibly originated from the phrase ‘a bird of a shot’. In US slang a bird was used as an exclamation that something was wonderful or excellent. When used by golfers it may have implied that the ball ‘flew like a bird’. The term has been in use since the 1910s.

The terms eagle and albatross where coined as an analogy with birdie. As the score under par increases so does the size and rarity of the bird. The term eagle, which was first used in the 1920s, means two under par and albatross, which became a golfing term in the 1930s, means three under par.

Why do golfers shout ‘Fore’?

The term may be derived from forecaddie. The forecaddie was employed to go ahead of players to mark the lie of balls in play. In 1881, Robert Forgan in The Golfer’s Handbook, makes the following reference “…shouts “Fore!” to give the alarm to anyone in his way.”

Where does the term ‘Caddie’ come from?

The term may derive from ‘cadet’, which is French for youngest. Traditionally the youngest son of the family would join the army, and so the word became associated with army cadets. Most European languages adopted the term. In 18th century Scotland, particularly Edinburgh, some odd-job men and messengers, many of whom had previously been in the army, became known as caddies.

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