The Evolution of Golf

Photo Credits: Peter Klerkx

What brought us to the point where we have “long drive championships?” It’s probably best to step way back in time and look at the origins of what is probably the oldest sport in human history.

The game of golf, as we know it today, played over 18 holes, originated in St. Andrews, Scotland in the 16th Century. The exact origin and evolution of the game is up for debate because evidence exists that stick and ball games have been played since ancient times.

One can easily imagine that back in the 16th Century, some enterprising individual hit their ball farther than everyone else, and that caused great mirth and merriment! And perhaps a good reason for a drink or two!

The Scottish word “gowf” is thought to have been derived from the Dutch word “coif” which means a club or stick. The earliest mention of that game was in Fleming poet, Jacob Van Maelant’s manuscript for Beck Merlijn. In coif, players would use a stick and leather ball to hit towards a target several hundred yards in the distance. The winner was the player that hit the target in the least number of strokes. Coif was played in the Dutch Low Country as early as 1261.


Meanwhile, in the Far East, a game known as Chuiwan was played at the Chinese Imperial Court. It is thought to have reached its’ peak in the 11th Century during the Song Dynasty before going into decline prior to the Mongolian invasion.

The Roman game of Paganica was another ancient ancestor of modern golf. The game was played as early as 100 BC and the object was to use a bent wooden club to strike a feathered covered ball to hit a target, such as a rock or tree. I would also easily imagine that many Romans that were less accurate probably wanted the chance to win their money back and challenged their opponents to see who could hit it the farthest. As a popular Roman game it almost certainly found its way to the far reaches of the Roman Empire and places such as Holland and Scotland.

Meanwhile, ancient Greek carvings dating back to 600 BC depict a stick and ball game similar in appearance to modern field hockey, ice hockey and golf.

But, the earliest evidence of stick and ball games was found in a tomb in ancient Egypt dating from 2,600 BC. The tomb featured paintings and bas-reliefs showing men playing games with clubs and balls. The name of that game has been lost to history, but it confirms that ancient ancestors of golfers were playing stick and ball games at least 4,600 years ago.

On whichever shoreline, desert, or field the earliest versions of the game were being played, I would surmise that the first contest ever held was probably the long drive. It is human nature, but it also makes sense since driving for distance involves one dimension while driving for accuracy requires control of two dimensions; distance and direction. Therefore, I would speculate that the long drive contest came first, followed by contests to see who could hit the ball closest to a target. And then, the game of golf, as we know it, began to evolve.

The evolution of the game continues into the 21st century as members of the WLDA Tour now use specially engineered drivers made from space age materials engineered to maximize potential distance that a ball can be hit. And of the over 60 million golfers that play the game, the members of the WLDA Tour come the closest to reaching the maximum potential distance when they launch their prodigious drives down the grid.

In this series on the history of golf and Long Drive, I’ll explore how the game of golf and Long Drive evolved. If you have any unique insights or stories to share, feel free to send them my way!

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