The Scots Originated Golf? Not Exactly


While the Scots perfected and popularized what we now know as golf today, they were preceded by centuries of others playing a stick-and-ball game across the countryside.

Most people will claim that golf originated in Scotland, that the Scots invented golf. They’re wrong.

While it’s definitely true that the Scots popularized the stick-and-ball game” that we now play today, the game came from the Low Countries of the Netherlands and Belgium as well as Germany and France.

Part of the evidence comes from the etymology of the word itself. “Golf” derives from the Scots terms of “golve” or “goff.” Those, however, come from the medieval Dutch term of “kolf.”

The Dutch word of “kolf” meant “club” and the Dutch were playing games, albeit mostly on ice, with balls struck by sticks. Sounds like ice and field hockey, but in a cross-country manner also like more modern golf as early as the 13th Century. The Dutch and the Scots were also trading partners and the fact that the word “golf” came about after being transported by the Dutch to the Scots from the earlier Dutch game(s).

Another factor to consider is that although the Scots were playing on grassy parkland surfaces rather than ice, the Scots were using balls many of which were imported from the Dutch. Going further back, the Romans brought their own stick-and-ball games throughout Europe and the British Isles. It was call paganica in which a ball stuffed with wool and feathers was hit with a bent stick.

Though doubtful as an influence to Scotland, an early version of golf now emanates from China in the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) and was featured in painting as late as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Players (Chinese Emporers and royalty) reportedly used ten clubs to hit wooden balls toward brightly colored flags. They even had a compendium of rules and they dug holes in the ground for the flags. Imperial paintings show a striking similarity to modern golf equipment with long, narrow shafts with distinct heads for striking the ball. The game seems to have died out in China early during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

So did the Dutch invent golf? Probably not. It simply means that golf grew out of similar games played for centuries throughout Europe.

Not to deny the Scots their role in golf history. They were likely the first to dig a hole in the ground and make getting a ball into that hole the object of the game, as well as 18 holes, and a 19th. Regardless, we have the Scots to thank!

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