10 Unique Facts About the History of Golf

Summer is one of the greatest seasons for sports. The ability to be outdoors opens up all kinds of options when it comes to physical activity, it comes down to how active you want to be and your interests. For more than 25 million Americans it seems golf is their sport and hobby of choice when it comes to summer.

For National Golf Day, taking place May 8, there is no better time to get acquainted with the sport. It takes a fair level of skill to come close to even starting to perfect it, which means you can’t play golf too often.

But before you hit the links, here’s a look at 10 unique facts about the history of golf. Some of these may come as a surprise to you.

Golf Is an Incredibly Old Sport

Motion action of golfer teeing off with drivers.
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Did you know that golf is an incredibly old sport? It was invented back in 1457 in Scotland. What’s even more interesting is that the Scottish government banned it three times because they thought it was making military training too difficult as it was interfering. It seems the game was so fun and exciting that people quickly became consumed by it, not focusing on anything else.

It took until 1744 for the official rules to be put on paper, and this was done by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The rules quickly caught on and other clubs also used the same ones.

Golf Finally Got the Greenlight in Scotland in 1502

Turnberry point lighthouse at championship golf course with red evening sky, rocks, ocean and restaurant.
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While it’s true that golf was banned numerous times in Scotland, the attempt to stifle it finally ended in 1502 when King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513) approved the sport officially. Once the King allowed golf, it was open season once again and people embraced it wholeheartedly.

Who Brought the Game to France and England

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As golf caught on all across Scotland, word spread throughout Europe in the 16th century. It was King Charles I who introduced England to the sport and then France learned about golf thanks to Mary Queen of Scots.

International Golf Matches Started in 1682

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It was one thing to play with fellow countrymen, but in 1682 golf entered a new stage of competitiveness with the first international tournament. It took place at Leith, which is near Edinburgh, Scotland. The match featured two English noblemen, George Patterson of Scotland, and the Duke of York. The match ended in the defeat of the noblemen, and so began international tournaments.

The Oldest Golf Club in the United States Dates Back to 1786

Historical downtown area of Charleston, South Carolina, USA
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While there is a bit of back and forth on when golf was adopted here in the United States, the USGA named Charleston, South Carolina as the first club in 1786. The first golf courses look very different than they do today and were made of village greens and cattle pastures. It would take another 100 years before professional landscapers and golf course architects would take over.

The Original Game Didn’t Use Clubs and Balls

Trainer teaching woman to play golf
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Looking back at the early beginnings of golf, another big difference was the equipment they used. There was no such thing as golf balls and clubs, as it was originally a pebble that players would hit with a bent stick. They would hit around tracks and over sand dunes. Not at all like what players are used to today.

The first golf club dates back to King James IV of Scotland. He hired a bow-maker to create a professional set of clubs. Before that, the golfer made their version of a club from wood. As golf clubs evolved to be more exact, it also became a sport for the higher class since the cost of wooden heads was so expensive. Fast forward to 1750 and the first iron heads were made.

Tiger Woods Started His Historic Career at a Young Age

American golfer Tiger Woods plays from the rough, third round at the Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes golf course.
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And speaking of history, it’s impossible to talk about the history of golf without also shining the light on some of the greatest professionals to ever play. Tiger Woods is right up there near the top of the list. He holds numerous titles and many would argue his skills make him the greatest of all time. But did you know that this 48-year-old got a very early start to his career?

By the time he was only three years old, Tiger Woods was shot an unbelievable 48 over nine holes. This was done on a Navy course. It only got better from there with him taking part in his first major national junior tournament at age 13.

Women’s Golf Got Its Start in 1811

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Many of these facts and tidbits of history relate to men’s golf, but women also have a history in the sport. It was in 1811 that the first round of women’s golf took place in Musselburgh Golf Club, Scotland. It was a tournament and it was meant to get the town fishwives out to enjoy the sport.

Other notable firsts for women in the sport include 1867 at the historic St. Andrew’s in Scotland where the first ladies’ golf club began, 1890 which was the first mixed foursome match; and then in 1894 when the first U.S.-based ladies’ golf tournament took place in New Jersey.

Golf Balls Have an Interesting Evolution

Antique golf club and ball
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We’ve highlighted how golf clubs began and evolved over the years, but what about golf balls? As mentioned, originally players hit a pebble but thankfully things progressed from there. Today’s modern version of the golf ball went through many iterations over the years.

From around 1486-1618 Scottish players started using a “ball” made from leather and hand sewn. The stuffing was either straw or cow’s hair. The golf ball went through its first change in 1618 when the Featherie ball was embraced. The difference was that the stuffing was chicken or goose feathers. They could be packed more tightly, making the ball harder and able to travel further when hit.

Other materials and versions of golf balls were introduced such as the guttie golf balls and then the rubber core golf balls.

Golf Has Stayed Fairly Consistent in Terms of People Taking Part

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While some sports come in go in terms of popularity, history and stats show that golf has stayed consistent through the years. While it may dip here and there, the participation is pretty stable. You can attribute high participation levels to the sheer number of golf courses across the country, the fact it can be played by all age groups, and that it can be a relaxing and enjoyable sport. You don’t need to be a professional to take part in it.

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