15 Interesting Facts About Golf History

Where did the game of golf originate from? How did it gain popularity and where is golf most popular?

You’ll discover this and a lot more in this list of facts about golf history.

1. A similar was being played in ancient Egypt

Just as with any other sports such as football, tennis, and badminton, a game similar to golf was played in various cultures in ancient times.

The first known mention of the game was in Ancient Egypt in an image found on the tomb of Kheti (Beni Hasan site) dating back to around 2600 B.C.

It appears to be two men playing a game with a ball and sticks, which is similar to either hockey or golf.

ancient egypt golf
An early version of a game similar to golf being played in Ancient Egypt. / Wiki Commons

2. The Greeks also had a variation of golf

It’s believed that the game that the Egyptians fervently played found its way north, where the Ancient Greeks, known to be great sports lovers, started playing their own variation as well.

As you can see from the image below, the game looks very similar to the game that was being played in Egypt and actually resembles the modern game of hockey more than modern-day golf.

An early version of a game similar to golf was played in Ancient Greece. / Wiki Commons

3. The Romans had a game called Paganica

Obviously, if we talk about European history, the Romans play one of the most prominent roles. This means that the Romans also had a game similar to golf referred to as “Paganica,” or “Paganicus.”

The Romans seem to have been the first to play the game with similar rules as to the modern-day game of golf. They attempted to hit the ball toward a certain target, which could be a tree or a rock.

This means that in Roman times, there seems to be a divergence from the game which resembles modern-day hockey to a game that resembles modern-day golf.

4. Could it be that the Chinese invented modern-day golf?

If we solely focus on European history, then it seems plausible that the game that was first played in Ancient Egypt found its way into Europe somehow. First through Greece and then spread all through Europe in the Roman Empire.

More evidence is being found, however, of a game being played in China as early as the 7th century in a game called “Buda” by the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.).

This game was later referred to as “Chuiwan” by the Song and Yuan Dynasties (960-1368 A.D.) and it appears to be last played by the famous Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.).

One of the most interesting facts about golf history is that the Chinese version resembles the modern-day game of golf the most of all similar games that were played in ancient history. It was played with sticks, and the goal was to put the ball in a hole in the ground.

Whether or not the Chinese game of Chuiwan made its way to Europe by traders during the Middle Ages remains uncertain.

Chinese golf Chanui
The Chinese version of golf is called Chuiwan. / Wiki Commons

5. The Roman game found its way north

As the Roman Empire expanded north, it’s possible that their game, Paganica, found its way in that direction as well.

The earliest written history of a similar game, however, dates back to the 14th century when a game called “Cambuca” was being played in England.

This game could potentially be the foundation of modern-day golf because it probably resembled the game of Paganica in which the goal is to hit a target in the distance with a ball. This was to be done with a wooden stick.

Whether or not this game resembles the game that diverged from the game more similar to modern-day hockey remains unclear.

6. A game played in Holland could be the original golf

The Dutch town of “Loenen aan de Vecht,” in the province of Utrecht, appears to be the birthplace of modern-day golf. The first game was supposedly played on February 26, 1297, even though that also remains unclear.

Even earlier in 1261, the same game which was called “Kolf” of “Colf” was mentioned in a manuscript by Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant.

More evidence was found from a statement made by the council of Brussels which prohibited the game of colf in the year 1360.

Colf in the netherlands

7. Was this the first golf course in the world?

The game of colf was being played in very much the same way as modern-day golf is played. A small ball was being hit by a wooden stick in an attempt to put it in a small hole in the ground.

Because medieval cities were walled, it was impossible to play the game inside these city walls. Therefore, the game of colf got banned.

Because the game was so popular, the regent of the city of Haarlem offered the citizens to play the game outside of its walls.

In the year 1389, he created a course referred to as “De Baen,” (literally translates to “The Course“) which was basically the first-ever golf course in the world!

Kolf player with stick and small ball. / Wiki Commons

8. Or did the Scots invent the modern-day game of golf?

Even though it’s generally accepted that the word “golf” is the Scottish version of the Dutch word “kolf” or “colf,” it’s assumed that the modern-day game of golf is actually a Scottish invention. Originally, the Scots called the game “gowf

The earliest mention of the game of “gowf” is when it was also banned by the Scottish Parliament in the year 1457.

Why was golf banned? Because it distracted from doing what was much more important, which was the practice of archery, which both had a leisurely and military purpose.

9. If Golf is a Scottish invention, then this is the oldest golf course in the world

Even though the game was being played in Scotland as early as 1457, most mentions in the following centuries are references to the game being banned for various reasons.

The first reference of the game being played on an actual golf course as we know today is from an account book of lawyer Sir John Foulis of Ravelston, who claims to have played golf at “Musselburgh Links” on March 2, 1672.

Some stories claim that Queen Mary of Scotland played at the Musselburgh Links golf course as early as 1576, but these can’t be verified.

Because of this, the “Musselburgh Links” golf course, has been officially recognized as being the oldest golf course in the world.

Musselburgh links

10. The earliest instructions and rules for playing golf

The earliest instructions for playing the game of golf were written by Thomas Kincaid, a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, on January 20, 1687. He was also the first to come up with the system of “handicap,” the way to measure a golfer’s ability to play the game.

The first surviving rules of the game of golf were written in the year 1744 by a group of golfers who called themselves “The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.”

Golf was played in 1750 in Edinburgh. / Wiki Commons

11. This is the oldest golf club in the world

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews” claims to be the first golf club in the world. It was founded back in 1754 as the “Society of St Andrews Golfers.”

The club became known under its present name when King William IV became the patron of the club in 1834, something that emphasizes its importance and prestige.

The club even became the governing authority of the game and organized tournaments all over the world when it codified the official rules in 1897. This role was taken over by a collective of companies known as the R&A in 2004.

st andrews golf course

12. Golf spread all over the British Isles in the late 19th century

Halfway through the 19th century, when railways were being constructed and a direct line from London to Edinburgh was established, golf started spreading like wildfire all across Great Britain.

With the invention of the “Gutty,” a golf ball made of “Gutta Percha,” the game was accessible to the masses as well since this type of ball was easy to mass-produce.

To emphasize this growth in the popularity of golf, England had a total of 12 golf courses by 1880, and had over 1,000 by 1914!

facts about golf history

13. Golf spread all over the world as well

As the game of golf experienced a boom in the late 19th, it didn’t just spread all across Great Britain, the game spread all over the world as well!

In the 1880s, there were already golf courses in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa, and the first golf course in Singapore was developed in 1891. The first golf course in Japan was established in 1903.

14. Golf spread to the United States early on

There’s a lot of evidence of gold being played in the United States as early as the 18th century. There was golf equipment sent to South Carolina in 1739, there was an advertisement for golf clubs and balls in 1779 in New York, and a golf club was established in South Carolina in 1789.

There were, however, isolated references to golf, and the game didn’t start to become established in the late 19th century, the same period as the game became popular all over the world. By 1910, The United States was home to 267 golf clubs.

The Roaring Twenties was the time, however, when the boom of golf came in the United States, and by 1932, there were over 1,100 golf clubs in the country.

elephant as caddy in 1922
An elephant was used as a caddy in Florida in 1922. / Wiki Commons

15. Golf is one of the most popular sports in the world

Because of the expansion of golf courses all around the world, golf has become one of the most popular games in the world.

One of the most amazing facts about golf history is that the game which only started to grow in popularity in the late 19th century has managed to become one of the top 10 played sports in the world.

It’s estimated that over 60 million people frequently enjoy playing a round of golf regularly!

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