A Brief History of Golf

In 1447, fearful of its citizens becoming preoccupied with hitting pebbles around the sand instead of the coming English invasion, the Scottish parliament banned the game known as golf in the country. By 1470 the ban was lifted. By 1502, King James IV had begun playing the game.

As many players have learned, and the history of golf has shown, picking up a club and hitting a few can be addictive.

The history of golf has a long and indeterminable origin, but there’s no doubt where it took hold and where the modern game has its roots: Scotland.

Scotland is home to the world’s oldest golf course, St. Andrews, founded in the 16th century. In 1754, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club was founded. (No documents exist detailing how long a wait there was for tee times.)

During the 1800s, golf balls started to be made from gutta-percha instead of feathers, and, in 1860, the first British Open was held at Prestwick, Scotland.

old golf ball Tournament golf had been born, and it didn’t take long for the sport to take hold in the “new county.” Canada’s Royal Montreal Club, the first course in North America, opened in 1873. By the late 1800s, 6-, 8-, 9- and 12-hole courses started to spring up around the Northeast U.S. The country’s first 18-hole course was opened near Wheaton, Ill., in 1893.

The United States Golf Association was founded in 1894, and the Professional Golfers Association was founded 22 years later in 1916.

By the 1920s, tournament golf had begun establishing itself as a spectator sport in the U.S. The sport’s first stars also began to emerge. There was Atlanta’s Bobby Jones, who dominated the sport before becoming a lawyer. In the 1930s and 40s, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan – considered by many the best ever – were at the game’s forefront.

Money and interest grew for the sport in the 1950s, with Arnold Palmer emerging in the decade and Jack Nicklaus coming along the next decade.

It’s difficult to go over the history of golf without a large section devoted to Nicklaus. The Columbus, Oh., native won the U.S. Amateur Open at the age of 19 while attending Ohio State University. He turned pro in 1961 and won his first major, the U.S. Open, the following year. “The Golden Bear” would become the all-time leader in major tournament wins with 20, including six Masters, five PGAs, four U.S. Opens and three British Opens.

Spearheaded by Nicklaus’ play, the game of golf has seen in a steady increase in popularity over the last 25 years. While Nicklaus has gone into semi-retirement, players such as Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and, of course, Tiger Woods have taken the game to even new heights. Woods, especially, has taken golf’s popularity to another level, introducing a younger generation and new segment of the population to the “grand old game.”

As the Scottish Parliament learned some 550 years ago, even banning the sport can’t stop golf’s popularity.

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