The Evolution of the Game of Golf

The game of golf, as we know it today, played over 18 holes, originated at St. Andrews, Scotland in the 15th Century. However, stick and ball games are known to have been played around the world for many centuries before the game was formalized at St. Andrews. The exact origins and evolution of the game are up for debate because these games have been played since ancient times.

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 that game, 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 of Paganica was to strike a feathered covered ball and hit a target, such as a rock or tree, using a bent wooden club. 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 2600 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 longest drive. It is human nature, but it also makes sense since driving for distance involves one dimension while driving for accuracy requires both control of 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.

That evolution has continued into the 21st century as Long Drive Professionals from around the world use specially engineered drivers made of space age components and materials that are designed to maximize potential distance off the tee. And it is the Long Drive Professionals that come the closest to reaching the maximum distances when they launch their prodigious drives down the grid.

by Rich O’Brien