The following is not quite as brief as I wanted, but is a mostly verifiable history of golf (with a focus on equipment):
I spent some time looking into the history of golf —especially as regards the equipment — but I had the dickens of a time discovering anything that revealed the game’s initial seed and its germination. Fortunately, life is filled with miraculous moments of synchronicity; last week, one of those miraculous moments — in the guise of Jock McIntosh — sat down beside me at the Moose-head Pub (and this event has convinced me to reacquaint myself with Carl Jung and his theories).
I was sitting quietly, half-watching a football (soccer) match, nursing my pint, attempting to imagine the creation of the game of golf, when Jock sat down next to me. He asked me what I was pondering, and I explained my yearning regarding the birth of golf. At first, Jock was reticent; but, as he became increasingly lubricated, he began to drop hints that he might know something about the origins of the sport. When I offered to buy the next round, Jock became even more loquacious. I loosened my wallet further, and he agreed that, for the price of the ales that he consumed, he would relate the myth — nay, tale — of the beginnings of the game of golf; apparently, he was descended from one of the lads that invented the game (I was skeptical at first, but as Jock did not claim to be descended from the original creator of the game; rather, the lad who helped further develop the sport, I was more inclined to accept his story. And he had the soulful, open glint in his eyes that, for me, always seals the veracity of a tale). Jock is a spirited drinker, and his story cost me a fair penny, but it eased my mind’s longing. I consumed a good deal more than my usual allotment that night (it was a chore keeping up with Jock, but I did my family proud); nevertheless, I remember the lion’s share of the story that he related…
It was Graeme McDuffie, Jock told me, who was golf’s inspired creator (Jock had a thick accent and used words like wee, nae, auld, bonny, lad, laird, and their ilk, but — as a favour to myself, and the sensibilities of Scottish folks everywhere — I’m going to stick to my conventional Canadian). Graeme was a solitary young boy from a town in West Lothian (“…that’d be Lodainn an Iar in the lovely Gaelic tongue,” Jock informed me). Graeme liked to walk, with an aimless gait, through the sweeping expanse of the links. The walks served as a balm after a day working the farm, a time for Graeme to be alone with his thoughts. He carried a stout walking stick, which had a large knot at the top end. When Graeme stopped at the top of a mound, he would rest both hands on the knot of his stick, stare into the distance, and enjoy the open vista of links and Firth. It was on one of these mounds — the slope of which is now referred to as Graeme’s Brae — that the game of golf was born.
It happened on a late-morning walk; a rare occurrence for Graeme: vestiges of morning mist drifted between the mounds, bestowing the links with the faint wash of magic. He headed for a particularly large mound and, when he’d gotten to the top, he noticed a small, rounded stone on the ground. He picked it up; it fit nicely inside his loosely curled hand. He tossed the stone into the air and took a mighty swing at it with his walking stick, but the stick completely missed the stone, which fell with an unsatisfactory thump onto the earth by his feet. He turned his walking stick around (grasping the thin end with his hands), and struck the stone with the large knot at the other end. Fortunately (for future generations of golf-lovers), the stone took off like a shot and Graeme was delighted. He’d watched to see where it landed and hurried down the mound to find the stone; and, when he did (it took some time: the stone was hidden within a gorse-bush), he struck it again and again, more delighted each time he hit it. He then decided to attempt to aim the stone at certain landmarks; a boulder, a mound, a bush. And then he had a remarkable inspiration: he dug a hole in the ground and returned to the mound: he wanted to see how many strikes it took to get the stone from the mound to the hole (he couldn’t see the hole from the mound, so he found a long, straight stick and pushed it into the earth in middle of the hole: this gave him a perceptible target). The first time it took eighteen strikes, but he got better, and could soon consistently get from mound to hole in less than ten strikes (his record was five, which became his goal). Sometimes the stone landed in a spot from which it was impossible for Graeme to strike at it with his stick; he decided that he should be allowed to move the stone, but he would add a strike to his total (this was a fair punishment, he thought, for striking it into a dangerous position). He decided to call his game goulf, a Scottish word meaning to strike or cuff.
Graeme’s game of goulf evolved. For example, he sometimes spent an interminable time searching for his round stone, so he gathered a dozen equally rounded rocks and carried them in a sack across his shoulders; if he couldn’t find his stone after striking it, he’d add two strikes to his total and exchange the lost stone with a new one. Finding spherical stones became increasingly difficult (he had lost many stones playing goulf), so he decided to carve a small block of wood into a sphere; the wooden sphere worked well, so he made more and replaced his stones with wooden balls.
He expanded his game by creating three holes that formed a large triangle within the links; one hole was quite long, the second was short, and the final hole was even longer than the first (he started at his original mound, struck his wooden ball to the first hole, walked up to another mound (that was close to the first hole) and struck to the second hole, etcetera). He grew extremely fond of his game and often stayed out on the links until the sun had completely disappeared below the horizon.
Iain McIntosh, a lad from a nearby farm, saw Graeme swinging his stick (sometimes cursing) and walking aimlessly across the links. Iain watched for quite some before walking over to see what manner of madness Graeme was involved in. Iain was instantly enchanted with the game, and the two lads became inseparable friends and lifelong goulf partners.
Iain and Graeme developed the game considerably in the months that followed: they cleared and packed down the area around the hole, cleared the area between mound and hole, and added more holes (and the holes were placed in a strategic manner so that the final hole ended where the first mound began: the complete tour of all holes — there were eleven in all — made for a game lasting almost two hours. After playing for a few weeks, they amalgamated some holes, and the eventual number of holes was perfected at nine. Most days they’d play ‘around’ the nine-hole adventure twice). The stick became known as a gaulf-club, and the wooden sphere was referred to as a gaulf-ball.
Soon all the young lads in the area (and some of their fathers) were playing goulf, and the sport grew until it leaked into surrounding areas, and farther afield than anyone in West Lothian imagined.
Goulf became so popular that in 1457, James II, in an Act of Parliament (more…)