Origins of Golf

The question is always asked – where did golf originate? – but the answer may never be known. During the Middle Ages many ball and stick games were played. Some involved hitting a stationary ball with a stick (golf); some were stick to stick games (hockey, tennis) and others involved hitting a moving ball with a stick (cricket, baseball).

The aim of golf was to put the ball into a hole in the ground.  In contrast, other British and Continental ball and stick games used above the ground targets.  Pall Mall or Jeu de Mail, was played on a well-defined court where the object was to hit the ball through a hoop.  Jeu de Mail a la Chicane was played across country, with trees or doors as the targets.  Chole or Soule, which was a team game, was also played across country.  Dutch Kolf was played across country, in town streets and on ice, aiming at targets above the ground. 

Although some games had common elements and influenced one another, we may learn more by asking a different question – where did these ball and stick games take root and develop?  There can be no doubt that it was in Scotland that the game of golf, as we now know it, evolved and it is to Scotland that golf owes its cultural continuity.

(1) Kolf Scene, 1610s (2) Jeu de Mail club (3) Ceramic tile showing the game of Kolf or Jeu de Mail

Did you know?

During and just after World War II, golf ball supplies reached crisis point, due to a shortage of rubber. In 1942 the Government forbid the remoulding of old balls. Following R&A intervention, the ban was lifted. One of the arguments used was that the Army Medical Council encouraged golf as a remedial exercise for wounded personnel.