Today, there’s a 24-hour cable channel, magazines, international superstars like Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, and those horrible plaid pants.
But a look at the history of golf unveils times when the sport was dominated by the social elite, as well as times when virtually no one played the game.
The history of golf is a widely disputed matter among historians and golf enthusiasts alike, though the most accepted timeline dates back to Scotland in the fifteenth century when King James II decried the pastime.
At the very least, it can be said that the Scots created the game most like what we have today. They were the first to use holes in the ground, most likely those created by burrowing rabbits. They also scooped up sand to make rudimentary tees, which they used at the beginning of each hole played.
King James IV, the grandson of the man who famously banned the sport, was an avid golfer and lifted the ban in 1502. He would later go on to be the first person to ever purchase a set of golf clubs and, in 1504, played in the first officially documented match, against the Earl of Bothwell.
As the industrial revolution swept across the British Isles, working men did not have enough time for golf, and the game itself almost disappeared, were it not for the Freemasons. One of the earliest golfing societies was the St. Andrews Golf Club, formed in 1754. This club is responsible for settling on a set number of 18 holes in a golf course, and setting the first ground rules, many of which are still used, in some form, today.
Unlike the multi-million dollar golf superstars today, in the early 1800’s, the only people making any money from golf were the caddies, who were generally considered to be the best golfers and advisors to the elite who golfed as a hobby.
One of the most famous caddies, David Robertson, along with his son, Allan, were golf ball makers. Their early golf balls consisted of soft leather outsides stuffed with feathers. The Robertsons also developed and improved on the use of iron clubs.
The 19th century saw the game of golf gain a great deal of popularity in America. John Reid, a New Yorker originally from Scotland, persuaded a friend to bring him some golf clubs and balls from Scotland. He played a quick three-hole round with some friends in February of 1888.
The friends were overjoyed and the history of golf in America was truly born. Quickly, courses sprung up in New York, Newport, and the country’s first 18-hole course in Chicago. The PGA, the governing body of golf in America, was formed in 1916.
The sport has since grown in popularity in America and abroad. Stateside, legends like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods have all earned a place in the storied history of golf.