The true origins of the game now called golf have been hotly debated over the years, as throughout history almost every civilization has played some form of a game with a club and a ball. Various competing ideas have been put forward as to its initial derivation and over the years there have been many different ways to play. Probably the one constant that is universally accepted, is that the original essence of the modern game can trace its origins back to the pastime of golf, as played on the links lands of the East of Scotland long before the 15th Century, which has over time grown into the great game of golf as we currently know it.
It was around the seaside towns of Aberdeen, St. Andrews and Leith on the outskirts of Edinburgh, with their expanses of rolling sandy grounds, or links, which lie between the sea and the town, that a game resembling today’s golf really took hold and formed the discernable start of an evolutionary process which still continues right up to this day.
Since this time, there have been many changes within the game with the rules changing numerous times over the years, ever since the earliest surviving written rules created by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith in March 1744. The balls have also been subject to developments, with the introduction at St Andrew’s, in 1848, of an inexpensive and more durable rubbery ball to replace the previously expensive and unpredictable feathery balls which would often not last even one entire game.
Another significant milestone in golfing history was the creation in 1851 of the first purpose-built golf course in Prestwick on the links of Monkton parish, followed soon after in 1860 by the first open championship on the same course. Since that time the game has spread right around the world from Europe to America and even through to China and Japan. The courses however still tend to imitate those earliest of Scottish creations, although American courses have leaned towards longer fairways and softer greens. Competitions have also seen massive growth in interest, following recent sponsorship deals and the introduction of televised coverage.
These days everyone seems to want to play. During the summer, courses become heavily used and parks throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK are filled with people knocking a ball about. There are purpose-built golf courses all around the country, and there are specialist companies offering short golfing holidays who are now tapping into the desire to play on some of the world’s finest courses which are to be found in Britain.
Today the game of golf has significantly evolved from the primitive, haphazard and casual game it started out as, with the very earliest players initially having to carve their own clubs and balls from wood. Now modern casting methods mean that clubs can be made much stronger and more affordably making the game open to all who want to play, while research into synthetic and composite materials has to lead to top-end performance clubs using titanium heads and graphite shafts for those who can afford them. While most designers have sought to improve performance through subtle developments such as materials changes, other ingenious entrepreneurs have tried making clubs that contain a built-in gyroscope or created a single reusable shaft and a selection of changeable screw-in club heads, in order to outwit the rules.
Changes in ball design, official rules, the introduction of more competitive equipment produced by skilled craftsmen such as forged metal heads for niblick clubs which were prone to breakage, increases in the number of courses, and promotion by the media, have made what was a simple pastime in Scotland into a multimillion-pound worldwide phenomenon.