Golf Extras

History of Golf


Everyone knows golf originated in Scotland, right?

Welllllllll ... yes and no.

It's definitely true that golf as we know it emerged in Scotland. The Scots were playing golf in its very basic form - take a club, swing it at a ball, move ball from starting point to finishing hole in as few strokes as possible - by at least the mid-15th Century.

In fact, the earliest known reference to golf comes from King James II of Scotland, who, in 1457, issued a ban on the playing of golf and football (soccer). Those games, James complained, were keeping his archers from their practice.

James III in 1471 and James IV in 1491 each re-issued the ban on golf.

But the game continued to develop in Scotland over the decades and centuries, until 1744 when the first-known rules of golf were put down in writing in Edinburgh.

Golf as it was then played would be easily recognized by any modern golfer.But can it be said that the Scots "invented" golf? Not quite, because there's strong evidence that the Scots were influenced themselves by even earlier versions of games that were similar in nature.

Here's what the USGA Museum says about the issue: "While many Scots firmly maintain that golf evolved from a family of stick-and-ball games widely practiced throughout the British Isles during the Middle Ages, considerable evidence suggests that the game derived from stick-and-ball games that were played in France, Germany and the Low Countries."

Part of that evidence is the etymology of the word "golf" itself. "Golf" derives from the Old Scots terms "golve" or "goff," which themselves evolved from the medieval Dutch term "kolf."

The medieval Dutch term "kolf" meant "club," and the Dutch were playing games (mostly on ice) at least by the 14th Century in which balls were struck by sticks that were curved at the bottom until they were moved from Point A to Point B. Sounds a lot like hockey, doesn't it? Except that it sort of sounds like golf, too (except for that ice part).

The Dutch and Scots were trading partners, and the fact that the word "golf" evolved after being transported by the Dutch to the Scots lends credence to the idea that the game itself may have been adapted by the Scots from the earlier Dutch game.

Something else that lends credence to that idea: Although the Scots played their game on parkland (rather than ice), they (or least some of them) were using balls they acquired in trade from ... Holland.

And the Dutch game wasn't the only similar game of the Middle Ages. Going back even farther, the Romans brought their own stick-and-ball game into the British Isles.

So does that mean that the Dutch (or someone else other than that Scots) invented golf? No, it means that golf grew out of games that were played in different parts of Europe.

But we're not trying to deny the Scots their place in golf history. The Scots made a singular improvement to all the games that came before: They dug a hole in the ground, and made getting the ball into that hole the object of the game.

In 1353, there is the first recorded reference to chole.  It is a shoot off of hockey played in Belgium and the likely antecedent of golf.  James IV has the first recorded purchase of a set of golf clubs in 1502.  The game of golf has been primarily an activity of upper class citizens for much of its existence.

The first golf ball, the feathery ball, is invented in 1618.  A man by the name of John Dickson is given a license as ball maker for Aberdeen, Scotland. He is suspected to start the first ball making company in the history of golf.  In 1848, the "guttie" was invented.  It was a gutta-percha ball that flew farther than the feathery and was much less expensive.  It helped open the sport of golf to many other classes of people.  Dimples are first molded into golf balls in 1880 because golfers had long been noticing that the "guttie" performed much better after it was hit a few times and scuffed up.  The first rubber-cored ball is designed and patented in 1898 by Coburn Haskell.  William Taylor patents the first dimple pattern for golf balls in 1905.

In 1764, St. Andrews became the first eighteen hole golf course.  It was reduced from twenty-two holes and set the standard for future courses.   Even today St. Andrews is seen as a Mecca to many golfers and given the title of the birthplace of modern golf.  James Durham submitted a score of 94 at the course in 1767, this score stood as a tournament record for 86 year.    
Hickory is first used to make golf shafts in 1826.  Before this, playerswould use just about anything.  It is rumored that some players even brought rakes out to play with.  In 1902, the first grooved-face irons were invented.  The grooves allowed players to control the golf ball better and hit it higher because of the spin the grooves put on the  ball.  Steel shafts are patented for golf clubs in 1910.  The United States Golf Association does not legalize steel shafts for tournament play until 1924.  Gene Sarazen introduces the sand wedge in 1932 and it becomes a necessity in the bags of most golfers.

These events, as well as many others, have helped shape golf into the sport it has become today.  Players such as Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and many others led golf from century to century.  Without these events and players, golf would probably not be one of the most popular sports in the world today.

The 1950's

To this point golf had not played a huge role in the entertainment industry.  The early golf shows were filmed rather than live.  Bobby Jones was one of the golfers who made such films.  They were usually about ten minutes in length and they showed Jones playing with Hollywood stars.

Sportscopes was another successful series of short-subject films.  The show placed professional golfers such as Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Lloyd Mangrum in various locations and captured them on film.  Two of the films featured Joe Kirkwood.  He was a great trick shot artist and in the shows his ball was placed in impossible situations.  Although the director obviously had the use of retakes and viewers did not know how many shots it actually took Kirkwood to succeed, the finished product was perfect.

In 1953 the Tam O'Shanter World Championship became the first tournament to be nationally televised.  The U.S. Open had been locally televised in the St. Louis area in 1947, but this was the first nationally televised golf tournament.  Golf's first piece of luck with television happened on the Sunday of the tournament.  Lew Worsham holed an impossible wedge shot from one hundred yards on the final hole to win the tournament.  He took home an improbable sum of $25,000.  The incident created headlines across the country and it was a great start for golf and television.

The second piece of luck for golf and television came with the emergence of Arnold Palmer. Palmer and television were perfect for each other.  He was highly photogenic, wore all his emotions on his sleeve, and was exciting to watch because of his attacking style.  People fell in love with Palmer and he dominated the game until 1964.

In the late 1950's, ABC began the series, "All-Star Golf."  It was aired from four to five every Saturday for twenty-six weeks.  It pitted two professional golfers against each other with the winner moving on to the next week.  The entire series had a total amount of prize money equaling $80,000.  NBC made a similar program two years later with the same king-of-the-hill format.  It had a total purse of $171,000 and was called, "World Championship Golf."

As golf came more popular and television began to show more interest, the level of prize money available on tour was much higher.  Purses for the tour had risen from $411,000 in 1946, to over $1 million in 1958.  Television knew people would watch golf programs and therefore offered more money for the rights to televise them.  Television enabled golf to make a name for itself and reach out to people that might not have been interested otherwise.  Golf was beginning to grow and television was a main reason for that growth.

The 1960's

The Shell Oil Company's "Wonderful World of Golf" was introduced in 1962.  Many more Americans were buying television sets at this time and this show grew to be very popular.  The format was very similar to that of the earlier golf programs, but in this show the golfers played at courses around the world.  The series showed people that golf was played outside America, and also that we were not the only people to play it well.

The first match to be televised on this program was between Byron Nelson and Gene Littler. Nelson, known for winning eleven straight tournaments, was a little past his prime but still an excellent golfer.  Littler was the U.S. Open champion that year.  The match was to be at Pine Valley in New Jersey, with the winner receiving $3000, and the loser $1500.

The film crew was still trying to figure out exactly what they were doing so it turned out to be one of the longest rounds of golf ever.  A station wagon with a camera on top of it and some other small vehicles with cameras to get to smaller spots followed the players.  The commentator for this match was Gene Sarazen.  He and Jimmy Demaret alternated on the series as announcers.

They started as soon as it was light enough to film, but it took ten full hours to film ten holes.  With a normal round usually lasting around four hours, this was ridiculous.  They got up the next morning and did not finish until that afternoon.  Nelson ended up winning by two strokes in the match and moved on to the next show to play Jerry DeWitt in Holland.  Television was still learning how to present golf.  It was not easy to squeeze eighteen holes into a television screen, and the technology being used was primitive compared to today’s standards.

At the same time that the Shell show was introduced, the World Series of Golf was also introduced.  It took the winners of the four majors and put them together in one tournament.  The tournament has been expanded from its original form but is still a standard stop on the PGA tour.  In the first year, the "Big Three" had all won a major championship.  Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player were the three biggest names in golf.  The tournament may have never received popular merit if it were not for the participation from these individuals.  But, with golf's continuing good luck concerning television, the concept caught the eye of the golf-viewing public.

The invention of color television made golf more popular than ever.  The Masters was televised for the first time in color in 1966.  Augusta National was suited perfectly for color television with beautiful azaleas and dogwoods that surround the course.  Even today, the Masters is one of the most prestigious and watched tournaments.  Television played an important role in gaining viewer’s interest in the event so that it could become such an important and popular tour stop today.

As in the 1950's, the popularity of golf on television was growing.  People began to realize that golf was a global game with good players from all over the globe.  Prize money increased during this time as well.  Arnold Palmer became the first player to earn over $100,000 in official prize money in one year in 1963.  In today's big money era, $100,000 will not even keep you in the top one hundred fifty money winners on tour.

Golf was lucky to have the Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer rivalry to fuel interest in the game during this time.  These two players deserve much of the credit for turning the game of golf into the viewing spectacle it is today.  The success of the tour, and golf as a whole, is unimaginable without these two.

The 1970's to 90's

In the summer of 1971, Lee Trevino made his mark.  Many golf fans were skeptical of his talent even though he had won five times throughout his career, including the 1968 U.S. Open.  After taking advice from Jack Nicklaus to work harder, his game took off.  He beat Nicklaus at the '71 U.S. Open and then went on to win the Canadian and British Open.  It was an impressive national championship trifecta in the span of three weeks.  After the British Open, Nicklaus remarked that he "should have kept his mouth shut."

In 1973, Johnny Miller came up with one of the greatest rounds in golf history.  He shot eight under par sixty-three in the final round of the '73 U.S. Open to take home the championship.  The score of sixty-three still stands as the low at a U.S. Open, even though Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus matched it in 1980.  Miller said, "It was the greatest round of golf in my life by a mile, every shot I hit was no more than two feet off line.  It was a phenomenal feeling."

The tour experienced a huge growth period during the tenure of former PGA tour commissioner Deane Beman.  When he started in 1974, the tour looked over one tour offering $8 million in prize money.  Two decades later when he stepped down there were three tours with 118 events offering nearly $100 million.  PGA tour's assets also grew from $73,000 to more than $200 million during his leadership.  Much of this new profit and growth was due to television.  No sport is as much improved for the spectator as golf.  The viewer is able to sit at home and see all of the great shots instead of walking around the course all day and maybe only seeing a few.  More people were watching golf and many were becoming interested.

A direct result of the popularity of golf on television was the rising money earnings and tournament purses.  In 1980, Tom Watson became the first golfer to earn $500,000 in prize money in a single season.  In 1986, the Las Vegas Invitational offered the first $1 million dollar purse.  In 1988, Curtis Strange became the first golfer to earn over $1 million in a single season.

In 1996, Eldrick "Tiger" Woods became the first golfer to win three consecutive national amateur titles.  He placed his name as being one of the greatest amateurs in golf history, along with Bobby Jones.  Two days after winning the 1996 U.S. Amateur, Woods announced he was turning pro and signed an endorsement deal worth an estimated $60 million.  Woods also became the youngest person to win the Masters at age twenty-one in 1997, accomplishing the feat by the largest margin in history, twelve.  
These events and players listed above helped the game of golf grow to the enormous levels it has achieved.  Tiger Woods might be the most important of those listed above in recent years because of the phenomenon he produced when he turned pro.  Tiger drew many minorities, who were not interested in the sport, to golf.  It also helped that Tiger was one of the longest, most exciting, and volatile players on the tour.